I recently got involved in a weight-loss contest with my boyfriend because I’d been experiencing some joint pain (and I respond “well” to competition). He was super supportive, but he also wanted to add all these extra rules, like a week with no sugar and a mandatory half hour of exercise every day.
“No, no, that won’t work,” I told him. “If you try to put restrictions on me like that, I won’t do them just to be contrary.”
He laughed and said, “Babe, you are so, so difficult.”
And you know what? In a lot of ways, he’s right. I’m outspoken, sarcastic, and argumentative. The older I get, the lower my tolerance for bullshit sinks. I’ve been told several times that my love/life would be much easier if I would just chill the fuck out and sit down. But honestly, I don’t see that happening any time soon—and as a difficult woman, I’m in very good company anyway.
Everybody knows Cleopatra VII, Ancient Egypt’s most famous female figure. But outside of the academic world, the name of Egypt’s arguably most successful female ruler, King Hatshepsut, isn’t nearly as well-known. Yeah, you read that right: Though she was meant to rule as regent for her infant stepson, Hatshepsut wielded absolute power during much of her reign, and she took the title of pharaoh for herself. She was responsible for reopening trade routes that brought prosperity and peace to Egypt and financed massive building projects. In fact, the sheer amount of works she saw to completion are the only reason we even know her name today, since her stepson removed many public references to her after her death.
But what about us mere mortals? I hear you ask. Never fear, I say. Let’s talk about pugnacious Rosalind Franklin, the actual discoverer of DNA’s helical structure. She was well-known for questioning the ideas of her colleagues (as well as using them to sharpen her own theories), which led to oodles of resentment from her male peers. Her mousy lab partner hated her so much that he gave some of her research, including the now-famous “Photo 51” demonstrating DNA’s structure, to Watson and Crick, who rushed out a paper and took all the credit. To this day, she is still mostly overlooked in public circles, though thankfully not in academic ones.
Difficult women are creators too, and not (just) in the biological sense. From Sappho and Artemisia Gentileschi to Maya Angelou and Nicki Minaj, difficult women have been pushing their way to the forefront of their creative circles for thousands of years—and often paying the price for it. You’ve heard of Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone, but what about Hazel Scott, the musical prodigy who was not only accepted to Juilliard at the age of eight for piano, but was given a scholarship to attend? She would go on to play in multiple jazz groups and become the first African American with their own television program, The Hazel Scott Show. But due to a combination of civil rights activities (like refusing to play in segregated venues) and public opposition to McCarthyism, her show was cancelled after less than a year and she was blacklisted from many places and productions.
When it comes to revolutions, policymakers and activists are often largely responsible for bringing about tangible change. These days, women like U.S. senator Elizabeth Warren (the inspiration for the now-famous “Nevertheless, she persisted” quote) and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai (the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate) are carrying the torch. But in the second half of the 20th century, activism had one very different face: That of drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender and AIDS activist. She was part of the vanguard at the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and along with fellow activist Sylvia Rivera she co-founded S.T.A.R. (an advocacy group for transvestite and gay individuals) and opened the first gay and trans youth shelter. When the gay and lesbian committee in charge of organizing the 1973 pride parade banned drag queens from marching with them, Johnson and Rivera defiantly marched ahead of the parade.
“Difficult women” aren’t just in our history books (or, in the case of the women from this article, Tumblr posts and Wikipedia pages); they’re in our board rooms, on our bookshelves, and in our communities. They’re our mothers and cousins and friends. They’re us.
So even though my boyfriend definitely meant his comment as a joke, I don’t think he realized what a compliment it actually was. Historically, “difficult women” got shit done. They were the ones who refused to sit in the background. They were the troublemakers and revolutionaries. They were demonized and discredited, sanitized and forgotten. And it was my great honor to be — if only just for a moment, if only just by one — counted among their ranks.
- Guys, please go research these women. Due to length restrictions, I seriously cut down on their accomplishments: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatshepsut; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Franklin; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazel_Scott; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsha_P._Johnson
Want to read about more difficult women? Visit http://www.rejectedprincesses.com