One of the bloggers that I enjoy, Porcelina of Porcelina's World, said something that I found really interesting in her book review of The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg, the author of Fried Green Tomatoes. She had been reading other reviews of the book and disliked the way that they characterized the main character, calling her weak or a pushover, when she saw her as kind and self-sacrificing. I agree that there are all kinds of strength in the world, and the kind of strength that lets you make sacrifices for your family, support others, and respond with gentleness and kindness in any situation should not be thrown over in favor of traditionally masculine, physical strength. It's less obvious, less flashy, but no less valuable in society or in fiction.
That said, there is something undeniably awesome about the unexpected ass kicker, and what is more unexpected than a woman from the turn of the 20th century doing the kicking? The corsets and bustles and gowns and culture that said that women are weak, fragile things that must be protected for their own good - they had to overcome all of that, which makes a display of physical toughness all that more interesting.
Victorian Strangeness: The Tale of the Women Who Turned Vigilante
A historical antecedent to the Gulabi Gang of India, this group of women decided to make sure a wife-beating miller never brutalized his family again. They dragged him from his house, flogged him with whatever came to hand, and then threatened to drown him in the mill pond if he ever hit his family again.
Now, we could go into all of the causes of domestic violence, and I realize that this kind of retaliatory violence often leads to escalation. That said, who hasn't thought that people like this just deserve a taste of their own medicine?
The Amazons of Edwardian London: Kick-Ass Suffragette Bodyguards
This one is my favorite. Seriously, if I ever have a chance to get reincarnated, I want to suffragette who knows jiu-jitsu.
Police and civilians alike were incredibly violent against suffragettes in Britain, and in order to protect their leaders, they formed the bodyguard - about 30 young women who provide security, and keep the leaders from being arrested. Many of them trained in jiu-jitsu, and would also practice with wooden clubs.
After the battle of Glasgow, in which 50 police with truncheons brutalized 25 members of the bodyguard armed with simple wooden clubs, then dragged Emmaline Pankhurst, the leader of the movement, off the jail, things began to change in the movement. Members began to resort to acts of vandalism and arson in order to get their point across, which of course endeared them to absolutely no one. With the outbreak of WWI, the issue was temporarily shelved, but in 1918, British women finally won the right to vote.
If You Will: Topless Female Duelists
Game of Thrones fans, you probably already love a girl with a sword. This topless duel, though, takes the cake. It was the first duel ever to take place between two women, with female seconds and a woman presiding over the whole thing, and at the suggestion of the presiding judge, it was done topless. For, you know, health reasons. (No, really. The judge, who had worked as a nurse, realized that wounds that became fouled with cloth were more easily infection, and the obvious solution was to get rid of the clothes. Duh.)
Also great - the fact that they were fighting over floral arrangements.
Badass of the Week: Milunka Savic
I am a massive fan of Terry Pratchett, and one of his best novels, in my opinion, is Monstrous Regiment. After endless years of war and famine in an Eastern European analog, a young woman disguises herself as a man to join the army and try to track down her beloved brother. Of course, she's not the only woman to have that bright idea.
Milunka Savic is the most decorated female soldier in military history. Very handy with a hand grenade and utterly fearless in the face of what normal people would be sensibly afraid of (like gunfire and cannon fire and lots of enemy soldiers), this Serbian broad fought in three different wars, personally taking over 50 soldiers captive over the course of it. Even in her 60s, after marrying and having children, she remained tough as nails, refusing to attend a Nazi banquet during WWII and then surviving her subsequent internment in a concentration camp.
There is no shortage of tough women in history who decided that the rules were not going to apply to them. These are some of my favorite from this particular time period, but who are some of yours?