Warrior Women Lost in History

by | Jul 31, 2022 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

In my experience, I have often seen many sexist men on the internet arguing about men being better than women. They will point to history and argue that men, like Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla, have given numerous great contributions to humanity, what had women contributed to make them equal to men?

But women have made countless contributions. Since the dawn of time, women have survived and suffered through great amounts of pain and discrimination because of their gender. Women were mocked for using their minds or going to fight in battles, so they were never given the same educational or work opportunities as men. Therefore, when we see successful women in history, it is equally impressive when those women overcome tremendous obstacles to achieve success. You may have heard the tales of female revolutionaries like Joan of Arc or Catherine of Aragon, but many of the most fearsome warrior women get lost in history.

This first story takes place in 43 AD. Before we got ‘modern-day revolutions’, like the French revolution or the Haitian revolution, the people in this time had Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, two Vietnamese sisters, who spearheaded the rebellion to protect their ancestral homeland of Vietnam from Han Chinese Invaders.

As a backstory, both sisters led semi-privileged lives and were fiercely educated in martial arts and literature when they were young. During this century’s Southeast Asia society, women’s rights were progressive enough that women could have access to education, property, and high social status.

Trung Trac grew up to marry Thi Sach, who was a general from a neighbouring district. But when the Chinese increased taxes on salt and forcibly took bribes from local Vietnamese officials, Trung Trac’s husband began to organize a rebellion against the Chinese empire. The conflict reached a boiling point; the Han people were trying to take authority away from the aristocrats. So, the aristocratic class made up of chieftains and overlords, tried to prevent the Han from taking their power.

Trung Trac helped her husband execute the rebellion, but eventually, he was captured and executed without a trial. Outraged by her husband’s death, Trung Trac tried to mobilize an army of her own with her sister, Trung Nhi, to fight against the Chinese. Their army would number 80,000 soldiers and include both peasants and aristocrats: it was truly a people’s revolution. The battalion was led by 36 women generals. Armed with swords, bows, axes, arrows, and spears, the Trung Sisters and their army stormed 65 Chinese-run citadels and the governor’s home. They forced the Chinese leader out of the region and gained control over Vietnam.

Trung Trac was crowned the queen of independent Vietnam. She ruled alongside her sister, as two sisterly queens, for two years of freedom. Eventually, the Han empire sought to recapture Vietnam. The sisters were unprepared when the Chinese warriors stormed their country once more. Unfortunately, the sisters’ army was defeated and Vietnam lost its independence. No one is quite sure what happened to the Trung sisters after the war. Most likely, they were captured by the Han army and executed, but some people say they drowned in a river so they could perish with their hard-earned freedom.

In the 2,000 years since their death, the sisters served as an embodiment of hope during the French colonization of Vietnam and the Vietnam War. They exemplify how two brave women ignited a rebellion against colonialism, and eventually ruled an independent nation as queens. In current-day Vietnam, the Trung sisters are celebrating the anniversary of their deaths. They are depicted riding on elephants in battles and have been hailed in portraits as a symbol of Vietnamese resistance.

While Ching Shih may have been hailed as ‘The Chinese Pirate Queen’ instead of as a warrior woman like the title of this article suggests, she is considered to be the most successful pirate in history.

Ching Shih was born in 1775 in a poverty-stricken society during China’s Qing Dynasty. Later in her life, she was forced to board one of Canton’s floating brothels and began to work as a prostitute for money. In 1801, she was carried off to marry a pirate commander named Cheng Yi. While the marriage proposal was more a threat than an offer, Ching Shih wanted a few conditions first. She wanted an equal share in the pirate commander’s plunder from conquered ships and a say in his business.

She put in place numerous reforms on their pirate ships that helped female captives and managed to get weak or pregnant captives free as soon as possible. Their teamwork was a massive success until six years later Cheng Yi was killed in a typhoon.

After his death, his wife took over her husband’s pirates, the Red Flag Fleet, one of China’s biggest pirate crews. Sailing wasn’t her foremost strength so she put her first mate to work at the helm and instead played the mastermind of this massive pirate operation. Her force numbered 1800 ships and 80,000 pirates under her command.

By 1808, a year or two after her husband’s death, her force was so formidable that several armies had to be sent after her. The Qing Dynasty sent its ships to defeat the Red Flag Fleet but were defeated due to the fleet’s firepower and Ching Shih’s leadership. British and Portuguese navies, some of the most fearsome naval armies at this time, were also defeated. Eventually, she negotiated a truce with the Chinese government. Nine years later, she signed a very favourable contract with the Chinese emperor which got her pirate crew new jobs, the right for them to keep their loot, and the title of “Lady by Imperial Decree” for herself.

After she retired, she opened several businesses and died in peace at age 69. She is remembered as one of the greatest pirates to have ever lived.

“We simply couldn’t grasp that the Soviet airmen that caused us the greatest trouble were, in fact, women,” one top German commander wrote in 1942. “These women feared nothing.”

Jumping about 140 years in the future, we arrive in 1943, during the time of WW2. From some of the most gruesome fighting, history has ever seen, emerged a highly trained squadron of Russian female pilots who bombed Nazis in pitch darkness. They were nicknamed the “Night Witches” by their enemies because their whooshing pilots resembled the sound of a sweeping boom. They successfully dropped more than 23,000 tons of bombs on Nazi targets and became one of the Soviet’s most crucial assets in winning World War 2.

Even though these women dealt with issues of disrespect, sexual harassment, and sexism on the ground, they were so feared and hated by the Nazis that any German airman who killed one would automatically win the prestigious Iron Cross Medal. Officially, these women were members of the all-female Soviet Air Forces’ 588th Night Bomber Regiment which made the Soviet Union the first nation to officially allow women to engage in combat.

Before all their glorious success though, women were completely barred from combat. Since women were seen as delicate homemakers, the idea of female fighters made people laugh. This changed when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, a full-scale invasion of Soviet Russia. By the fall, the Nazis were pressing on Moscow and the Soviet army struggled enormously. If the Nazis succeeded in taking over Russia, they could have won WW2 by conquering all of Europe. Finally, at a point of desperation, the Soviets needed help.

The all-female squadron was the idea of Marina Raskova, the “Soviet Amelia Earhart”. She noticed she received hundreds of letters from women asking to join the army after their husbands or sons had been killed. While they were allowed to play a few support roles, women wanted to avenge their fallen families by being gunwomen or pilots. Raskova petitioned Joseph Stalin to let her form an all-female fighting squadron.

The ‘Night Witches’ were both young and intelligent: they consisted of ages 17 to 26 and underwent a pilot education, that took male soldiers years to learn, in only a few months. They received meagre hand-me-down uniforms, and oversized boots, and were provided outdated Polikar Po-2 biplanes that were originally used as crop dusters. They also lacked radars, parachutes, guns, and radios that the men used and were expected to use tools like rulers, stopwatches, flashlights, maps, and compasses instead.

Male soldiers didn’t like ‘little girls’ going to the front line. They believed it was a man’s thing. But these ‘Night Witches’ flew entirely in the dark, dropping bombs, and engaging in the crossfire. During harsh Soviet winters, their planes became so cold that just touching them would rip off bare skin. But the pilots rose above the jeers and hardships and became the most highly decorated unit in the Soviet Air Force.

These women became so deadly that Nazis truly believed it was because they were all, either former master criminals, or had been given special injections that allowed them to see at night. Their abilities thus earned them their legendary nickname.

Written by: Zara Jamshed


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