The New York Times: Historian Amanda Foreman upends the story of civilization to give women their due


The Ascent of Woman

The Ascent of Woman

Enheduanna. Hatshepsut. Empress Wu. Murasaki Shikibu. These ancient women were the first feminist trailblazers, yet they’ve been largely expunged from the historical record.

Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon the Great of Sumer, became the world’s first recorded author in the third millennium BCE. Hatshepsut ruled the Kingdom of Egypt for 20 years, adopting the full regalia of a male king — beard included — before her successor had all signs of her reign erased. Empress Wu, also known as Wu Zetian, united the Chinese empire and reigned as sole monarch for fifteen years before her successors also tried to obliterate her achievements. Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world’s first novel, the Tale of Genji, between 1001-1010 AD. Her real name and personal details remain largely unknown.

These influential women are just a few of the female iconoclasts featured in The Ascent of Woman, Dr. Amanda Foreman’s four-part BBC documentary that premiered to U.S. viewers on Netflix earlier this month. The series aims to “retell the story of civilization with women and men side by side for the first time,” as Foreman declares in the introduction. Reinscribing women into their rightful places in the human story, the documentary corrects the erasures of history’s male heirs. Continue reading…

BBC History Magazine: 5 female trailblazers in history

This article was first published in the August 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine.

1) Enheduanna: Priestess, poet, princess, and the first named writer (c2285–2250 BC)

The daughter of the Mesopotamian king Sargon the Great, the Akkadian who unified central and southern Mesopotamia, Enheduanna was appointed high priestess by her father in a bid to prove his right as the empire’s ruler.

Enheduanna was the unifier. The Sumerian civilisation of southern Mesopotamia had been conquered but the two peoples needed to be melded into one empire. It was her job, as high priestess, to use her religious power and influence to unite them.

But Enheduanna is not remarkable only for the power that she wielded, she was also an accomplished writer who is widely recognised as being the first known person to attach a signature to her written works.

Enheduanna makes an offering to the gods in this votive plaque from c2300–2275 BC. © Penn Museum Continue reading…

PORTER Magazine: Are we ready for the most powerful person in the world to be a woman?

Are we ready for the most powerful person in the world to be a woman?In 1974, the possibility that a woman could lead one of Britain’s political parties, let alone become Prime Minister, seemed so remote that bookmakers set the odds at 50-1. Since the woman in question was Margaret Thatcher, those brave enough to gamble a large wager walked away with a fortune.

Today, when there are 19 female world leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and South Korea’s Park Geun-hye, the shock and awe provoked by Thatcher’s election victory seems almost quaint. Which makes it all the more surprising that the two countries with the world’s largest economies – America and China – have yet to follow suit. There have been more than 400 US cabinet secretaries since women won the vote in 1920, but only 27 have been female. As for China, no woman has ever been admitted to the ruling Politburo Standing Committee.

For America, at least, that anomaly could be about to change with the allbut-declared candidacy of Hillary Clinton for the White House race in 2016. The timing of her new book – a memoir of her years as the US Secretary of State – is surely no coincidence. For Clinton to secure the prize that eluded her in 2008, she must first persuade Americans that she is somehow different from the woman they rejected six yeas ago.

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The Wall Street Journal: The Special Vilification of Female Leaders



Thirty-five years ago this Sunday, Margaret Thatcher became the first woman to be elected British prime minister. She wasn’t the first woman to be at the head of what had often been “Her Majesty’s Government,” of course, but only Thatcher had fought her way to parliamentary power via a general election. Standing on the steps of 10 Downing Street, she acknowledged the sexual and political revolution that had taken place. To her naysayers, Thatcher offered the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony…where there is doubt, may we bring faith.”

During her 11 years in office, Thatcher repaid her Tory supporters’ faith, eradicating any last doubts that a woman could govern as well as a man. But her wish to bring harmony was in vain. Judging by the names she was called, Thatcher attracted a unique hatred among some Britons that was hard to separate from the fact she was a woman. After Thatcher’s death in 2013, a vociferous minority campaigned to propel the song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” to the top of the official U.K. singles chart. It stopped at No. 2.

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