Someone once said "Well-behaved women seldom make history" immediately before mistakenly attributing the quote to Marilyn Monroe and tattooing it on a calf muscle. Even if you've never heard of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who came up with the phrase, history and common sense tell you it's true: Whether you're a man or woman, changing the status quo means getting a little rowdy. Rebellious. Defiant.
Lucky for us, there are a few moments in history when a woman's single act of defiance was captured by a photographer. The stories behind them are just as badass as the pictures.
Paul Viant/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
This girl didn't make the list.
Not today, not ever.
In 1963, Gloria Richardson lived in Cambridge, Maryland, a town so divided that a street called Race Street literally kept blacks on one side and whites on the other. No word on where everyone else lived, but we're guessing it was "Not White Lane" or the alley behind Hooker Town. Even though Cambridge had a terrible record at race relations, it was held up as a model of "separate but (winky eye) equal" to the rest of the country. Which was weird for local African-Americans when they couldn't get hospital care, jobs, or representation in government.
Norbert Schafer/Radius Images/Getty Images
"Whaddya gonna do about it?"
Gloria Richardson led the Cambridge protests to make things right. The thing to remember here is that in 1963, lots of cities around the country were fighting for desegregated restaurants and theaters and tree forts. Participating in a sit-in was as common as changing your Facebook avatar to support favorite causes today, only you were actually leaving the safety of your private home and using your own physical body as the symbol for progress while men with guns arrested and beat you. So it wasn't the same at all, really. Sorry I made the analogy.
What was different about Richardson was that when the white establishment reached out to her to find a nice, safe middle ground between the blacks and the whites, she said "No thanks" and kept going with the protests. Robert "Effing" Kennedy himself summoned her to the White House to hash things out with white leaders of the town, and she ended up refusing to vote on the proposal they wrote together. Basic rights weren't up for a vote, in her eyes. What's next, voting on whether or not people could marry? Crazy, right? She put it this way:
"A first-class citizen does not plead to the white power structure to give him something that the whites have no power to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights."
Long story short, the protests continued and the National Guard/Bayonet Brigade was deployed to Cambridge. And that's when we got this picture of Richardson treating Fatty Buttbuckle's bayonet like it's got an invisible dirty diaper at the end of it, and she's the only one who can see it.
Worst superpower ever.
Today, when you see a woman with a shaved head, you know she's spunky and self-reliant, or that she's got a juicy role in a potentially Oscar-nominated movie, or that she's about to start chemo. If you saw a French woman with a shaved head in the 1940s, something was terribly wrong. Specifically, she was in a concentration camp, or she had an affair with a Nazi soldier and her countrymen have punished her for her love crimes.
Ironically, none of the hair was donated to Locks of Love.
What do you get when you put mental trauma, mob mentality, and female sexuality in a room and shake them up? You get the Shorn Women of France, who were forcibly shaved and paraded around towns as punishment for doing the nasty with Nazis. The parades were known as ugly carnivals, which is a pretty good name if you're looking at the jeering, maniacal faces in the crowds.
Lucky for her, no one remembered where the old guillotine was stashed.
It didn't matter if the woman was a prostitute who was just getting by during the war or a stupid teenager who fell in love with the wrong Rolfe or ladies who liked the danger of messing around with the enemy. Once the Germans left town, the collaborators were left with nothing but memories, a French mob, and, every now and then, a baby. Eventually, about 20,000 women were subjected to the humiliation of the head shave parade.
Robert Capa/Royal Academy of Art
"And a good time was had by all!"
It's not until you put yourself in their shoes that you appreciate the defiance it took to make that walk without breaking down. True, there are pictures of women crying as their heads are shaved, others with downcast eyes accepting their fate, trying to put their minds in another place as the minutes pass and the ordeal is over. Then there are other women who look right at the camera, as if saying to future generations, "Can you believe this shit?"
Oh wow, check out this sophisticated dame hanging out in the potato sack district of Sarajevo. Is that 1960s era Sophia Loren on her way to a Vogue Italia photo shoot? Or maybe a queen trying to go incognito among the people and failing miserably? You could walk into a thousand potato sack districts and never find one woman with half the sophistication and elegance of this lady.
My bad. I forgot to show you the rest of the picture.
This is Meliha Varesanovic, and she's not going to high tea with the queen, she's going to work. It just so happens that she's working in Sarajevo in 1995, during the longest siege of a capital city in modern history. For over four years, Bosnians were trapped by a force of approximately 13,000 Serbian soldiers who wanted to claim the city for a new independent Serbia. And the best way to do that, in their eyes, was to starve the Bosnians out. But starving took fooooorrreeeeverrr, so the Serbian army hurried the process of depopulating the town by shelling crowded areas and shooting at civilians, one by one. For years, Bosnians couldn't get from one place to another without worrying about hidden snipers shooting at them from buildings. Running errands was like living out the single-shot battle sequence in Children of Men.
"Watch out! Sniper! Not a joke sign!"
So how do you counter bombs, psychological torture, actual torture, and trained, hidden gunmen when you're just a regular person trying to live your life? How do you cleave to normalcy when your world has turned to hell? For Meliha Varesanovic, the answer was putting on her lipstick, heels, and pearls, holding her head high, and walking to work day after day like the Serbian army didn't exist. She's looking past the guard who's holding her town hostage like he's not even there. Like he's nothing. You can scream slurs, you can give dirty looks, you can choose to walk on the other side of the street, but nothing is more powerful and insulting than acting like someone doesn't exist. Especially if that person can kill you on a whim and you both know it. The man who took this picture of Varesanovic described her message as a very simple "You will never defeat us."
Twenty years later, he went back to Sarajevo and found Varesanovic again. She was still as classy as ever: