We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.
— Anais Nin
by lulusomewhere Jean Rhys when she was a chorus girl. Scan from Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography.
Women have historically critiqued and challenged their subordinate role. In 248 ce, a Vietnamese peasant woman, Trieu Thi Trinh, told her brother that: “My wish is to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill the sharks. I want to drive the enemy away to save our people. I will not resign myself to the usual lot of women who bow their heads and become concubines”. Women also challenged the male claim to religious authority and power. A’ishah, Muhammad’s third wife, for example, battled a Khalife in 656, and afterwards created her own religious laws. In eighth-century India, women involved in the bhakti (a popular revolt against a form of Hinduism) broke with their families, created their own spiritual writings, and demanded that men treat them as spiritual equals. European women preachers and heretics claimed direct connection with God thus creating religious and feminist impulses. Guillemine of Bohemia, a late-thirteenth-century preacher and mystic, challenged Catholic dogma, and created a women’s church that attracted aristocratic as well as ordinary women.
Barbara Winslow, Feminist Movements: Gender and Sexual Equality
The next time someone tells me that you can’t have feminism in historical settings I’m going to print out 1,000 copies of this post, bind the paper, and throw it at them.