The Soviet Union had an entire program dedicated to train female snipers. Some 2,000 of them saw war, and accounted for 12,000 confirmed kills between them.
Feminism is a fad that has caught on quite recently. It started with the right to vote, to drive automobiles, and then led to the notion of gender equality. Before the 20th century, this notion was non existent. Women were expected to be subservient and house-holdly. They had gender-specific chores to do, and some cultures even trained them in that.
However, there have been cases in history where a woman has risen to break the shackles of sexism. The women listed below (in no particular order) have influenced their subjects the way men do, and have gained respect due to actions and not lineage. And because their time was so horrible to women, they had to prove themselves much more.
These women have impressed and were rare. And since they were rare, their actions have been duly noted in the annals of famous warriors.
c. 1200 BC
Fu Hao was one of the many wives of Emperor Wu Ding of the Shang Dynasty. China, in 1200 BC, was segregated into many provinces ruled by independent rulers. The Shang Dynasty ruled the northeastern part of China for almost 500 years. Multiple rulers meant that the situation was always unstable. If a year was economically good, the ruler of a dynasty would go out on a campaign to bring as much land under him as possible.
This role was exclusively held by male generals. Fu Hao led many of such conquests, breaking an age-old tradition. This meant that she was an extremely efficient general. She conquered many of the surrounding provinces. Some of these provinces had held out for many years. Some of them were conquered for the first time.
Although not much of Fu Hao's history is known, the excavation of her tomb showed that she was buried with weapons. This meant that she was an exceptional warrior, to be given such a ceremonial warrior burial.
19 November 1828 - 18 June 1858
Born in a Brahmin family in India, Lakshmibai was taught the art of fighting with weapons and self defense. She was married to the Maharaja of Jhansi. During this time, the British were expanding their trade in India. She bore a biological son, but he died in 4 months. The maharaja adopted a son the day before he died. This child was not recognized by the British as a worthy heir, and hence, moved to annex the state of Jhansi.
During the Sepoy unrest of 1857, some of the soldiers captured the fort in Jhansi. Lakshmibai negotiated with them and took over the fort. She then negotiated with the British about the administration of Jhansi. No agreement was reached, and the British laid a siege on the fort. Despite the fort's defenses, it could not hold to the unrelenting shelling by the British forces. The fort fell, but no quarter was given. Lakshmibai fled to Gwalior when the British got too close.
She raised another significant army there, but this was interrupted by the British forces. They fought with them as Lakshmibai's forces were trying to leave the city. Heavily outnumbered and out-gunned, she died a martyr. She was described by Sir Hugh Rose, Commander-in-chief, Indian Army, as "the most dangerous of all Indian leaders".
Tamar of Georgia
c. 1160 - 18 January 1213
Although not a warrior in the conventional sense, Tamar is considered one of the most dominating women rulers of the medieval times. She led the Kingdom of Georgia to a golden age. She was crowned the heir and queen by her father King Georgi III, when she was just 18.
She ruled with an iron fist, and was extremely good with management of people and diplomacy. The Church and other nobles opposed her selection to the throne, and many overtly showed their displeasure. Tamar did not go all out aggressive on them. She phased them out one by one with shrewd politics. By the time her work was done, the clergy of the Church was cleansed of her detractors. None of the nobles who opposed her survived.
She fiercely defended her kingdom and never gave the throne away, even to her husbands. She married twice. The first one botched up the marriage and was thrown out. The second became a leading general and gave Tamar two sons. Georgia, under Tamar, defeated the massive army of Abu Bakr, and annexed huge areas around Georgia. Very few women have achieved whet she has―complete and utter domination.
c. 240 - c. 275 AD
Zenobia was married to the king of Palmyra, the kingdom on the shore of the Mediterranean sea. Palmyra is where present-day Syria is. Her husband was assassinated and she took control of his empire. She suspected a Roman hand in the assassination, and hence, left for a campaign to conquer Roman territories.
The first one she conquered was Egypt, and she declared herself as the queen. She beheaded all the Roman generals she defeated. This was probably a wrong decision on her part, since it resulted in a even fiercer Roman backlash. Roman Emperor Aurelian led his forces against her and defeated her comprehensively. She was taken captor and was taken to Rome in chains.
Zenobia was a dynamic queen, very akin to the soldier-generals of Rome who marched with their troops. She marched with her troops and usually was always seen on horseback. This made her an inspiring figure.
c. 12 - c. 43 AD
In 40 AD, China's Han Dynasty went on an expansion drive. It looked south at Vietnam. Although ethnically similar, the Chinese and the Vietnamese were culturally very different. China sought to control Vietnam and spread the philosophy of Confucianism.
The Trưng sisters were daughters of a Vietnamese general based in Hanoi. Trưng Trac, the elder sister, lost her husband to the Chinese when he was executed for objecting to a Chinese policy. With her younger sister Trưng Nhi, she raised an army of almost 80,000 soldiers and fought against the Chinese.
For a single conquest or invasion, this number is great, but for a lengthened campaign, where the army will have to defend against counterattacks, the number is grossly insufficient. Thus, the Chinese army, led by General Ma Yuan, defeated the Trưng sisters and clamped down on the Vietnamese army hard. They ruled Vietnam for the next 9 centuries. Although the Trưng sisters were not victorious, they were commended for the show of resistance to the very intimidating Chinese power.
Joan of Arc
c. 1412 - 30 May 1431
Born off a farmer, Joan was a religious warrior. When she was just 16, she was visited by angels of gods, prophesying her life and whispering to her the deeds she had to do. With these visions in mind, she set out to serve in the French army. The English were just starting to begin their conquest of France again, after a long truce. The French royals were wrestling to take the crown, and the English capitalized on the infighting.
Joan approached the royal court with a prediction that the French will drive away the English assault in Orleans. This came to be true, and she was conscripted. She served valiantly, taking many English strongholds, which were supposedly impenetrable. Encouraged by her success, Charles VII granted permission for further offensive assaults. This resulted in recapturing Paris and taking back France.
After a successful campaign, Joan turned her attention to other wrong-doers. She loathed anyone who wasn't devoted to the Church. The Burgundians fell in this category, and she led an assault on them. However, she was defeated, captured, and imprisoned. The English paid the Burgundians and asked them for Joan. She was transferred to England, tried, and executed by fire. Joan of Arc is probably the most popular female warrior in history.
Artemisia I of Caria
c. 480 BC
Originally of Greek origin, Artemisia chose to fight for the Persians, as she chose Xerxes as her overlord. Her history is very vague, as most of it is recollections of Greek historians. She is said to have been an efficient commander, and led from the front. No reasons are given as to why she chose to serve for the Persian king. It makes vague sense, as she herself was a noble born off a king.
Artemesia is famous for her role in the Battle of Salamis, where the whole battle was fought in the waters. Although the Persians outnumbered the Greeks, they were inexperienced in sea-warfare. Artemisia had even warned Xerxes about this disadvantage, but she was outvoted in the pre-battle council.
The Persians lost the Battle of Salamis, but Artemisia was applauded for her leadership abilities. She was the only commander who inflicted significant damage to the Greek navy. After the battle, she retired to her own lands, gifted to her by Xerxes, and lived a content life.
c. 1260 - c. 1306
Khutulun was the great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan, and thus, had warrior Mongolian blood in her. She was raised with 14 brothers, and hence, got tough by growing up with them. Her father, Kaidu, was also the most powerful ruler of the time.
Kaidu and his brother Kublai Khan had attitude problems, and this resulted in a lot of skirmishes between their armies. This way, Khutulun always has constant battle experiences. She was proficient in fighting, riding, and wrestling. She was so good at wrestling, that she had defeated thousands of men. She had a condition of marriage, that a man who can defeat her in wrestling can marry her.
She died in 1306, although the causes are not known. She was a favorite of her father, and his death may have caused some friction between Khutulun and her brothers regarding succession. In any case, she remains to be known as a great and formidable woman warrior.
c. 61 AD
Boudica was the queen of the Iceni tribe. At that time, England was under the rule of the Romans, and with their policy of pax romana, the local leader was allowed some autonomy. Boudica's husband ruled the Icenis. When he died, the Romans decided to have a direct ruler installed, and plundered Boudica's palace, flogging her and raping her daughters.
Boudica swore revenge and raised a very huge army. She even defeated a legion and recaptured the British Roman capital. She was defeated at the Battle of Watling Street eventually, and supposedly consumed poison to evade capture.
Her story is similar to that of the Trưng sisters. Though she had the courage to take on the Romans, she lacked the organizational capabilities of maintaining a large army and the discipline of organized fighting. Whatever her shortcomings, her efforts to remove the Romans from Britain almost came to pass.
12 July 1916 - 10 October 1974
Swords and bows and arrows of the Middle Ages is fine. Women warriors in that age is also acceptable. Conditions were harsher, women were tougher. How about the 20th century? Lyudmila has to be mentioned. She is one of the best snipers to have ever lived. In her career, she notched up more than 300 confirmed kills.
She did her basic education and enrolled herself in the army in World War. She was offered the position of a nurse, but rejected it, requesting a field job with combat experience. She was trained as a sniper, and started carving a reputation for herself.
She killed many German snipers too, many of them having hundreds of kills for themselves. This made her an important asset for the Soviets, strategically and politically. When she was injured in mortar fire, she was taken off field, and was told to rest. After the war, she was promoted to the rank of Major, and was given the Order of Lenin, which is the highest honor of Russia. An impressive feat indeed.
Women serving in the military is still a sensitive issue. Many developed countries like the United Kingdom still do not allow women in combat roles. However, in the military of countries like Israel and the United States, women are allowed to fight for their nation, although there are widespread issues of sexual assaults and sexism prevalent. The only consolation is that, people have somewhat stopped calling them the weaker sex, and eyebrows are raised when they read the heroics of a woman soldier. It is getting acceptance, and maybe one day, like the warriors above, there will be many great female warriors in the future too.