Women. From Eve being labeled as the one who tempted Adam and got them both thrown out of Eden for their “original sin” to being branded as the fairer sex (read: weaker than men), women have not had it easy. They have been lusted after and taken forcibly and yet on the flip side have been blamed for inciting lust in men in the first place.
They have been attributed with being good wives and good mothers, key to the success of their husbands or sons, but mostly as background figures who have provided the comforts of home and hearth so that their better halves and sons were able to reach the heights of success.
Strong women have always been under the spotlight, be it for their good deeds or evil ones, perceived or otherwise. Women who have not followed societal norms and have strayed from doing what most “good and godly” women of their times did are indeed the most dangerous women ever, in the history of humankind. These women, some good and some horrific, stepped out of the cage of what “women were supposed to do” and led the way for female emancipation, though sometimes in horrible and horrific ways. Meet the most dangerous women in human history to date – they have been game changers in how men look at women, and how women look at themselves too!
15. Bonnie Parker: Stuck To Her Gun Till The End
Before Bonnie of Bonnie & Clyde fame, women weren’t really looked at as being perpetrators of serious crimes. Women were often unwilling victims and Bonnie was viewed more of a gun moll than an actual criminal – all of this changed with a few photographs found by the police when their residence was raided. Bonnie and Clyde escaped but the photographs uncovered were leaked to the media and considered as damnable evidence, in which Bonnie was in pictures smoking cigars and posing with guns.
And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back – though Bonnie had never pulled the trigger or killed anybody, her 21-month-long murderous robbing spree combined with her salacious photos and the fact that she was having dirty sex with Clyde (they were unmarried) put the public against her.
Admittedly, the gal was up to no good, but she loved and loved intensely and then went down with Clyde in a hail of 130 bullets. Unofficial reports state that she had over 50 bullets in her body at death – which means the authorities were chicken-shit scared of a gun-toting gal!
14. Rosa Parks: The Courage To Say No
In a racist America where the Ku Klux Klan ruled, Rosa Parks was a double negative. A woman, and a black woman at that, her lot in life was to sit in black-allocated seats, do menial labor for pittance, and never, ever talk back to a white person. And we are not talking about the 17th or the 18th century – we are talking about America in the not so distance past of 1955.
Always a part of the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks became the face of the anti-segregation campaign in Montgomery, Alabama when she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger in a racially segregated public bus.
The rest, as they say, is history. 382 days later, Montgomery buses were unsegregated! When Rosa Parks was asked if her tiredness or age made her refuse to give up her seat, she replied, “I wasn’t tired or old. I was 42. But I was tired of giving in…” And her determination to fight, to not give in, made her one of the most dangerous women in the word ever, making women realize that they too have a voice that can shatter misogynistic and racial beliefs, even if the voice is raised softly!
13. The Night Witches: Bravery Doesn’t Need Balls
Officially members of the Soviet Air Force’s 588th Night Bomber regimen, these female pilots were one of the three all-female Soviet squadrons formed in 1941 under the order of Joseph Stalin. These women, hand-picked and chosen from thousands of volunteers, were the first women in modern military who had combat orders. Flying in plywood planes, which were better suited for crop-dusting rather than bombing, in the stealth of the night, they put the fear of God in Nazi soldiers and their moniker – Night Witches – was given to them by their German enemies in a moment of begrudged respect.
The Germans couldn’t believe that these daredevil airmen, who switched off their engines midair and glided down towards their target to drop the bombs, were actually women! These 80-odd women were fearless, and any German who shot down even one plane was automatically awarded the Iron Cross, for they had to be brave to shoot down the bravest.
12. Hedy Lamarr: More Than Just Good Looks
So it’s not as if women weren’t inventors or as good looking as Hedy Lamarr before, it’s just that there’s something about her onscreen sass and off-screen intelligence that actually made men feel a little threatened by her sheer magnitude.
She started out her life as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, and became an Austrian actress, even starring in a scandalous film, Ecstasy, in which she is shown swimming and running naked, and with a close-up of her face in the throes of orgasm. It was rather controversial at the time!
She later escaped her dominating husband and came to America where she changed her named to Hedy Lamarr, it was then that she and a friend, composer George Antheil, developed a radio system from Allied torpedoes – the basis of all Wi-Fi, CDMA, and Bluetooth technology. The awesome thing also being, Hedy had no formal education and was self-taught! Hedy was dangerous because she was a beauty, with brains!
11. Ching Shih: A Prostitute Turned Pirate Turned Lady
So, Ching Shih is still mostly a mystery. Nothing is known about her origins except that she first burst into history in 1810 where she was a prostitute aboard one of Canton’s many floating brothels. For some reason, she was carried off to be married to a notorious pirate, Cheng Yi. She, badass as she was, demanded an equal share in his loot and a say in his piracy. He agreed. Barely had they become a success that Cheng Yi was killed in a typhoon upon which Ching Shih (widow of Cheng) took command of both piracy and fleet.
So successful was she, that she became the head of one of Asia’s biggest and baddest pirate crews, the Red Flag Fleet. Rich at sea, she decided to become rich on land too, and resorted to extortion and blackmail. Finally, the governments of China, Britain, and Portugal gave up trying to defeat her and the Emperor of China offered a truce. Wherein she won amnesty for herself and almost all her men, jobs in the armed forces for any pirate, a title of “Lady by Imperial Decree” and then retired to Canton to open a gambling den, married, and died at 89, as a sweet old grandmother.
10. Ada Lovelace: Women & Technology Do Mix
For those of us forced to learn the “history of computers,” we may remember the name Ada Lovelace with the same frequency as Charles Babbage. For if Charles Babbage was the father of computers, Ada Lovelace was certainly its fairy godmother.
While Charles thought of computers as a calculating machine, it was Ada who saw the potential of a machine like this and created the very first “algorithm” of what a computer could do. In effect, she is the first ever computer programmer!
What many don’t know is that she was also the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the poet, though she never actually met her father after he abandoned her when she was a month old, and died when she was eight. Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace was pushed toward mathematics and logics by her bitter mother who hated both her ex-husband and literature with a vengeance, and she really did do the world a favor, though like many others, she died too soon at 36 in 1852.
9. Griselda Blanco: The Murderous Queen Of Cocaine
Most movies portray the drug mafia as having its own brutal and feudal drug lords and drug kings who rule with an iron first. But they all could probably take notes from “grandmotherly Griselda” who bloodied the streets of Miami for decades, ruling the drug world with her style of bloody vengeance.
Griselda was Colombian by birth and involved in the drug trade since her teenage years. Her education was all about plying drugs. She had 20 aliases, was moving 300 kilos of cocaine on a monthly basis, and was feared by even the most hardened of Colombian cartels.
She sort of invented the motorcycle drive-by killings that were so popular in the 70s and 80s, innocent bystanders be damned. Unofficial counts say that she orchestrated the killing of at least 250 people and in a rather infamous and legendary show of temper, gunned down her husband and six cohorts, suspecting them of stealing profits. She served 19 years in the US for murder and was then deported to Colombia. There, in a fitting end, she was killed when a motorcyclist shot her.
8. Lizzie Borden: The Perfect Murder?
“Lizzie Borden took an axe/ gave her mother forty whacks/ when she saw what she had done / she gave her father forty-one.” Or so goes the rhyme! In actuality, Lizzie’s stepmother suffered 18-19 blows and her father suffered 11 blows.
Lizzie Borden was tried for the brutal axe murders of her father and step-mother but was acquitted, mostly because the police were lax in collecting evidence (why would a daughter murder her parents?) and then the jury decided to acquit her (particularly after she fainted upon seeing her parents’ heads, presented as evidence).
After the acquittal, Lizzie and her older sister Emma chose to remain in the same town, though they shifted homes and lived somewhat of a grand life with plenty of servants and parties, considering their father’s estate was partly theirs. Later Emma too left Lizzie, after a fight over a party thrown for an actress, and both the sisters lived alone and never married. To date, the murders have not been solved.
7. Jeanne Manford: I have A Gay Son, And I Love Him
At a time when being a homosexual was considered a mental illness, Jeanne Manford took a stand… with her son. After her son, a gay activist, was attacked inside a hospital for distributing flyers advocating gay rights in the 1970s, Jeanne wrote to the editors of several newspapers registering her protest of police inaction against her son’s attacker who had kicked and stomped him while the police were leading her son away.
Later, she walked right along with her son in a New York Pride March, holding a hand-lettered sign reading “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children” – when homosexuality was a mental illness and sodomy was a crime. Jeanne later recalled that she was hugged and kissed by so many closeted gays, some even begging her to speak to their parents about their being gay.
And this led to Jeanne, who was a teacher, her husband, and a few others forming the support group organization Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), for which she was awarded the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal.
6. Emmeline Pankurst: Reshaping Women To Make Decisions Like Men
Emmeline Pankhurst was perhaps one of the most important women in Britain’s women’s suffrage movement that demanded that women get the right to vote. She chose her spouse based on this as well, and she and her sisters campaigned hard for female suffrage. In 1903 she founded the Women Social and Political Union, a non-partisan organization that was dedicated to helping women gain the rights to vote, unequivocally.
However, this organization was infamous for its violence and many a time its members engaged in violent and physical altercations with the authorities and were arrested on multiple occasions. When asked as to why they resorted to violence as means to an end, Emmeline said, “We are here not because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become lawmakers!”
5. Cleopatra: The One Who Was Not Triumphed Over
Our fascination with this pharaoh queen remains, long after her death, and long after many movies have been made on her. Cleopatra was inaptly named in Greek as “glory of the father,” for in a male-dominated world of power and ruling, Cleopatra became known for her independence, strength, and sheer power and is an idol for many women even today. Much has been written about her beauty, but perhaps her beauty lay not in her looks or her body, but in intellect and her ambition.
Cleopatra wanted power – so much so that when she and her younger brother were named co-rulers, she made it clear that she had no intention of sharing power with him. She had to flee for her life, after which Julius Caesar took control of Egypt, so she smuggled herself inside a rolled up rug and became Caesar’s mistress. After Caesar’s assassination, she then married Mark Antony. And upon his death, she committed suicide by snake or wasp bite, or by poison – stories are conflicting.
4. Coco Chanel: She Thought For Herself And All Women
Not a ruler, murderer, or radical activist, but Coco Chanel did something that we now take for granted. Put pants on women, fashionably!
An activist in her own right, Coco Chanel liberated women from the confines of the corset and redesigned the female silhouette as free-flowing. She made pants fashionable and introduced tweed and jersey as “wearable” fabrics instead of just undergarments that they had been used for up until then.
Despite claims and counter-claims of Coco having been a Nazi spy, nothing was proven and Winston Churchill himself was instrumental in having her acquitted from these accusations. That said, Coco lived life on her terms and decided that fashion did not have to be uncomfortable and style did not have to mean being slowly choked to death by corsets!
3. Elizabeth I: To Have Ruled, Without A Man
Elizabeth I is said to have famously remarked, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too!” Historians are in awe of her 44 year rule, often referred as Elizabethan. And she did it all by herself, with no man by her side and declared herself to be married to her kingdom, calling her subjects in 1599, as “all my husbands, my good people…”
Dubbed The Virgin Queen, she was not faint-hearted but not as bloodthirsty as her ancestors or even her own father, Henry VIII! But she ruled fair and square and England was always on her mind so much so that over the years, she did become as feared and revered as her father, Henry VIII, with Pope Sixtus V declaring: “She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all.”
2. Edith Cavell: She Died Serving, Branded A Traitor
British nurse Edith Cavell did not deserve the death she got, having been shot by German Forces at just 49, for she is known and revered for having saved the lives of both sides without any discrimination. She helped 200 allied soldiers escape German-occupied Belgium during WWI and she was arrested and accused of treason for the same.
Germany found her guilty by a court martial and despite international pleas for mercy, Edith was shot dead by a German firing squad. Well known for her statement that “patriotism is not enough,” her strong religious beliefs led her to help everyone in need, be it German or allied soldiers. And she was once even quoted as saying “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.” For her efforts, heroism and saintly work, the Church of England commemorates her in their Calendar of Saints on October 12.
1. Mata Hari: The Original Femme Fatale
Born Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod, Mata Hari was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was convicted as a German spy in WWI and executed in France. After her mother died, she and her sisters were sent by their father to an orphanage, where she stayed till 18. She then answered a marriage ad by an aging soldier though the marriage was unhappy and she was often beaten.
She briefly abandoned the marriage only to return once the lover she had taken up abandoned her, but her beating continued. The last straw came when both her children (by her husband) fell ill because of syphilis and one of them, a son, died. Margreet and her husband divorced and the husband took custody of the daughter. This is when Mata Hari, an exotic dancer and courtesan, was born. She made the best of her circumstances and took great pleasure in performing “strip dances” which she ended with just a jeweled bra. Though she was hired by the French to spy on Germany, she was branded a German spy by her masters when she could not bring anything to the table. She was executed at 41 and it is said that she refused to be blindfolded and blew a kiss to her executioners, just as she was shot.
She was dangerous for her wits as she survived her life the best she could, and as unafraid of using her body as means to an end.