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Women Behaving Badly

American historian, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich famously said: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” Throughout history, it has been shown that women are marginalized or silenced by men in power when they express their political views because sexist societies deemed their voices unworthy of worth listening to. But whenever women do take a stand, even at great cost, society changes.

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Women Bring Political and Religious Change 

    According to Times Magazine, Anne Boleyn was a lady in the court in England during the reign of King Henry the Vlll, who rose to popularity due to her conduct at social events. This well-educated woman knew what academic and political topics to discuss with the men and they found that entertaining. Anne was determined to advocate for the poor, specifically to fight to get them food and housing. She had no power or influence as a mere member of the court, however, King Henry was attracted to her brilliant qualities and pursued her to try to convince her to become his lover. However, to really have a voice of power, Boleyn knew she had to rise to the position of Queen. So, she drove King Henry to break from the Roman Catholic church which would not grant him a divorce from his current wife. Anne was persistent and calculating, demanding that there be a national church where she could be married and become queen before would sleep with the King.

 This demand resulted in a major political change as King Henry broke from the Catholic church and married Anne; they became the first King and Queen of the Church of England and made the monarch the acting head of the church in their nation. When Anne failed to produce a male heir to the throne, which was the presumed role of women in the monarchy at the time, she was sentenced to death.
  In Spite of her sad end, Anne Boleyn acted as the major catalyst for the Protestant Reformation taking hold in England. And according to historians at Portland State University, once the consequences of the Reformation spread across England they caused drastic changes to the religious, economic, and cultural structure of European society. Anne Boleyn not only legitimized the Protestant Reformation in England, but she also helped her nation grow in power. With Henry as head of the English Church, he had the power to expand and double the state. They gained more wealth than they ever could with the Roman church taking most of their riches by seizing the land where monasteries stood and selling the goods within them. Anne’s critics called her a seducer and witch, but all she did was use the power she had so her voice would be heard.

Historian Hayley Nolan writes that the public reception of Anne’s story parallels how the stories of women are dismissed or minimized today. Nolan explains that those already in power are “always trying to discredit the victim when actually we need to be defending the victim — that’s why we can’t dismiss the romanticization of Anne’s story. It filters down and has an effect.” Boleyn’s intentions were good. Those who thought otherwise were threatened by a woman with power. 


Women Win and End Wars

Another woman who challenged the status quo of male leadership is Jeanne d’Arc  (Joan of Arc). During her lifetime, in the 15th century, the men of France did all the challenging work, farming, building, and going to war, while women were expected to stick to domestic duties. Joan grew up while her nation was at war with England. She dedicated herself to try and help expel the English from France. Joan felt guided by the voices of saints, who gave her the mental and physical courage to walk from her little village to Vaucouleurs and request an army from the general. What did the French Army leadership do? They laughed at the 16-year-old girl who thought herself a man.

  Yet Joan’s faith was so strong that she felt deep in her heart that God himself was calling her out to the war. So she returned and fought for the same army who had rejected her until her confidence and ingenious battle strategies won their approval. Her military victories often came because she opted for offense instead of defense–charging into the battlefield. 

    Her name and reputation grew throughout the kingdom. Joan reached the castle of Dauphin Charles (King of France) and they discussed how she would lead victory against the English and crown him King. Her victories were questioned once again, for being a woman in battle. She underwent various tests to see if she was a witch or not. An intelligent woman being accused of being a witch, sound familiar? She passed them and proved them wrong, therefore earning her army. Over and over Joan proved herself in the eyes of all the men of the court, her fellow soldiers, and now the country as she won the war against the English. But she was a woman achieving more than a man, and this was too much of a threat to the Patriarchy. This is why when the English captured Joan they accused of being a relapsed heretic and executed her at age nineteen.

  Those who questioned Joan and her calling to lead the French people on the battlefield pointed out that there is no proof that she was guided by God. Rather, they claimed she was risking the victory of the country with her delusions and her claims. If she claimed to be so religious, they argued,  then why would she use God's name as an excuse to dress up as a man when it was clearly violating a divine law to do as such? As well as rejecting the authority of the church in favor of the “voice of God.” It is sexist to assume that a person is less likely to hear from God simply because of their gender. Not only is it questioning someone's faith but also goes against the beliefs of God who created mankind equally. So why should women be limited to their faith only because they are women?

But perhaps the strongest argument in favor of Joan of Arc’s legitimacy is that she won a war for her country that would have never ended if not for her military strategies. Although women were not seen as strong or as intelligent as men and did not have any leadership positions in the church, Joan defied all of these sexist beliefs. She waved her banner into battle and was victorious. The fact that Joan of Arc was a woman showed that strength and power through her faith proved that religion did not belong to men alone. Women Chart Graphic 23

According to Pew Research Center's recently released report “The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World.” The study finds that women are generally – but not universally – more religious than men in several ways. (61% female and 39% male.) But when it comes to leadership in the church, there doesn't seem to be any that are led by women other than the American Baptist Churches USA and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Those are the only groups in Pew’s analysis with women in their top leadership positions. Susan Gillies is interim general secretary of the Baptist churches and Elizabeth Eaton is the presiding bishop of the Lutheran group. 

While in the US government, women make up more than a quarter (28%) of all members of the 118th Congress – the highest percentage in U.S. history and a considerable increase from where things stood even a decade ago. Counting both the House of Representatives and the Senate, women account for 153 of 540 voting and nonvoting members of Congress. They represent 50.2% of the workforce as of September 2022 but only held 35% of senior positions. While men represent 49.8%, but hold most of the senior positions in careers.

In order to take action and change the positions women hold in politics and in the workplace, we need to stand together and force our voices to be heard by those who silence us. Times have changed and women are allowed to lead, so why shouldn't we?