How To Be A Woman And A Warrior: Lessons From History

When you’re mopping up spilt milk, trying to stop your toddler from eating your dog’s favourite bone, while tweaking your marketing strategy hours after it was due, you don’t feel much like a warrior, do you? The surprising news is, the skills you apply to those menial tasks are the same as those used by women warriors throughout history.

Your fortitude in the face of disaster, your endless patience and your relentless perseverance are all warrior qualities. You may not be armed with a bow and arrow like Lozen or navigating the rough Irish seas like Grace O’Malley, but you can be sure you have plenty in common with these ancestral influencers.

Your can-do attitude, your ability to respond with determination when faced with disappointment, your conviction that your words and opinions count all prove your natural ability as a leader.

When you know who you are, when you’re dedicated to speaking the truth in the face of opposition, you are a warrior when you harness your creative powers to make a change.

Better still, you are a warrior woman, comparable with the likes of Boudica, Artemis of Caria, Queen Njinga, Lozen, Joan of Arc, Grace O’Malley and Triệu Thi Trinh.

In this series, we will highlight seven historical women warriors whose strengths have inspired and continue to inspire women worldwide. We will recognise their inherent coping ability and how that skill is central to becoming the leaders, mothers, businesswomen, and confidants that we truly are.

#1 Grace O’Malley

Grace O’Malley, or the Pirate Queen of Ireland, ruled the mighty O’Malley clan during the tumultuous years of the 1500s, rebelling against the encroaching English rule and establishing herself as “a fearless leader, by land and by sea”.

Hardly surprisingly, the men of the era didn’t think much of Grace, calling her “a woman that hath impudently passed the part of womanhood”. For many women, however, Grace is one of the first feminists – a woman who epitomises “the business of living your life to fullest”.

Are you the kind of woman who is determined to survive against the odds, who’s willing to “use the great experience and the knowledge” accumulated through your life to overcome obstacles? Then you are living proof that Grace’s influence lives on today.

As a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, matriarch, political practitioner and rebel, Grace has much to teach us about being willing to break the mould but still protect our families and beliefs.

If any part of you doubts your ability to defend yourself in the face of authority, think of Grace standing before the Queen of England, refusing to bow, “because she was herself a Queen and not a subject”.

Remember – your crown may be heavy but, with a little self-belief, you can wear it as lightly as a feather.

#2 Trieu Thi Trinh

Being born in a small village in Vietnam wasn’t the most illustrious start for one of the greatest warriors of the 3rd century. Being born a woman was even less advantageous but didn’t stop Triệu Thi Trinh from standing up against her oppressors and “going into battle astride an elephant”.

Something of a mythical figure, Triệu Thi Trinh is described as nine feet tall with “breasts 3 thước [1.2 m] long”. Historical records, however, prove she really did exist. Not only that, but she also defeated Chinese occupiers in 30 separate battles.

It wasn’t only on the battleground that Triệu Thi Trinh showed her warrior-like qualities. She refused to bow down to men, saying, “Why should I imitate others, bow my head, stoop over and be a slave? Why resign myself to menial housework?”.

Triệu Thi Trinh is also one of several historical figures who “inspire us and give us the courage to fight against police brutality, environmental catastrophe, and discrimination”[1].

The next time someone suggests you can’t complete a task because you’re a woman, toss your figurative breasts over your shoulders and repeat Triệu Thi Trinh’s words to yourself:  “I only want to ride the wind and walk the waves, slay the big whales of the Eastern sea, clean up frontiers, and save the people from drowning”.

#3 Queen Njnga

This 16th-century African queen was more than just a warrior – she was a brilliant politician and diplomat. The first woman to rule over the Mbundu tribes of Matamba and Ndongo in modern-day Angola, Queen Njinga was a courageous leader who brought a combination of both guerrilla warfare and diplomacy to her reign.

Queen Njinga “She is remembered for her intelligence, political and diplomatic wisdom, and brilliant military tactics“. Still, She has equally been vilified as “an uncivilised savage who embodied the worst of womankind”[2].

It is said that, on meeting a Portuguese governor in Luanda, “in a sign of disrespect, the Portuguese offered her no chair to sit in, instead of providing merely a floor mat fit for servants”.

Njinga refused to be put down and thwarted this blatant attempt at humiliation by asking her servant to kneel so she could sit on her back and negotiate the peace discussions on an equal footing.

Queen Njinga’s legacy teaches us the importance of knowing when to be brave, when to be ruthless, and when to rely on diplomacy to win your battles. She also highlights the importance of self-reliance and survival – two of the greatest qualities in any woman or woman warrior.

#4 Lozen

Born into the Chihenne Chiricahua Apache band in 1840, Lozen quickly established herself as a talented horse rider, prophet and warrior. Lozen was highly respected as diiyin (“one who has the power”) and could discern the enemy’s direction and location.

Lozen means “dexterous horse thief”, and that was another of Lozen’s celebrated skills – she is said to have been capable of using her unusual powers “to infiltrate enemy lines undetected and to steal away with their horses”[3].

Lozen’s nephew, Kaywaykla, described her as being able to “ride, shoot, and fight like a man” and said, “I think she had more ability in planning military strategy than Victorio”, her brother.

Lozen never married, “instead she devoted her life to the survival of her people”.

This powerful woman warrior was also a healer and a midwife, showing us that we, as women, can both fight our battles and nurture our families. She shows us that spiritual strength is vital to our survival and success, physical and mental tenacity.

Lozen fought for and protected her people while using her power to both heal and soothe. Trust in your spiritual power and use it to achieve your goals and heal yourself and others.

#5 Artemisia of Caria

A complex historical figure, Artemisia of Caria, took over the reign of the ancient Greek city-state of Halicarnassus in around 480 BC. Despite having little military or political training, “after her husband died, she took over his tyranny.”

Far from being the “psychopathic killing machine” the movie 300: Rise of an Empire turned her into, Artemisia was “brave, but not to her own detriment”.

While “she risked her neck to speak her mind”, when faced with the prospect of death and defeat, “Artemisia ordered her own ship to ram and sink an ally, killing everyone but leading her ally, Xerxes, to believe she had sunk an enemy ship. This act led Xerxes to announce, “My men have become women, and my women men”.

Artemisia’s candidness gained her many enemies, and she “was not popular among all her peers”. By harnessing our internal Artemisia, we can take courage and speak our minds, knowing that popularity is not a success and that surrender does not necessarily equate to failure.

Following in Artemisia’s footsteps, we should speak our minds without fear and stand bravely in the face of hostility while accepting that not every battle is there to be won.

#6 Boudica

Boudica has been called many things, among them arsonist and feminist. She’s also “known as the first woman who led a freedom movement.”[4]

Although Cassio Dio noted that “the person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans… was Buduica”, he also notes that this Briton woman “possessed greater intelligence than often belongs to women.”

Boudica is a positive influence that many have celebrated over the years. Even today, she is upheld “ as a symbol of freedom, rebellion, [and] courage”. She was brave, intelligent, and “in appearance most terrifying.”[5]

She rejected Roman promises of wealth, telling her followers, “you have come to realize how much better is poverty with no master than wealth with slavery.”

She burnt London to the ground and tortured her enemies, regardless of gender, establishing herself as the epitome of strong, female leadership. Over the years, Boudica has been seen as a “heroic antitype” of Queen Victoria while Margaret Thatcher was referred to as a “bargain-basement Boadicea”.

As much as Boudica was a warrior, willing to put her life in danger as she fought for her country, she was also a mother and a rebel. Her ability to switch between roles is one many modern women possess, seamlessly shifting from businesswoman to lover, mother to confidant, and warrior to diplomat.

#7 Joan of Arc

Rather than being a strong leader or warrior, Joan was a soldier of God who used “strategy and tactics [that] reflected her belief that she could do no wrong.”

She didn’t care that as a peasant girl, she “did not know how to ride or lead in war”. She believed that “she, and only she, could save France from the English.”

A complex and elusive historical figure, Joan of Arc has become “all things to all people” – both a Catholic saint and a heretic, a hero to both right and left. Almost certainly, “Joan didn’t see her mission as a demonstration of God’s approval of womankind”, so can we claim her as a feminist icon and inspiration to modern women warriors?

She is an “uncomfortable fit” as either “an icon of female solidarity or democratic rights”, but still, she shows us that as much can be achieved through drive and passion as it can through training and education.

As a consequence of her actions, women gradually began to win some semblance of equality. It is partly thanks to Joan of Arc that they started being “allowed to fight in wars, play in dominantly-male sports, be educated in traditionally male schools and universities, [and] be employed as equals alongside men in the workforce”.

Joan of Arc reminds us to believe in ourselves, believe in a higher power, and have the faith to go outside our comfort zones to achieve our dreams.

 

[1] History vs Women: The Defiant Lives They Don’t Want You to Know by Anita Sarkeesian & Ebony Adams. Feiwel & Friends ebook.

[2] Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen by Linda M. Heywood. Harvard University Press, 2017, pp.1.

[3] In the Days of Victorio: Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache by Eve Ball, pp.21.

[4] “Boudica, The Warrior Queen: Power, Memory and Feminism” by Tais Pagoto Bélo. Published in EAA Glasgow 2015: Abstracts, pp.245.

[5] Roman Histories by Cassio Dio. Book LXII, 2:3. Loeb Classical Library edition, 1925