5 True Stories Behind Iconic Pictures of Badass Women
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.
This girl didn't make the list.
The Woman Who Isn't Having Your Bayonet
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.
"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.
The Women Who Took "Stoic" to the Next Level
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.
"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?"
The Woman Who Brought Glamour to a War Zone
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:
The Woman Who Wouldn't Let Death Separate Her from Her Man
It's hard to imagine now, in an age when all God's children seem to be getting along like gangbusters, but there used to be a time when things like race and politics were actually pretty divisive. I don't have any American examples for illustration, so let's look at the Netherlands, where the entire population was once strictly divided by religion. Protestants and Catholics each had their own separate schools, newspapers, banks, hospitals, and windmill stores, and the two groups never mixed except at the government level. You could think of the Catholics as oil and the Protestants as water and the Dutch parliament as a very pious salad dressing.
So when a Catholic noblewoman named J.C.P.H. van Aefferden married Protestant commoner J.W.C. van Gorkum in 1842, you can imagine they faced some social ostracization for their illicit union. You can also imagine they got to have some dirty, taboo sex in the process, but only if you're an awful person. For almost 40 years, Mr. and Mrs. van Gorkum got to enjoy their forbidden lovin' night after night (after night) until Mr. van Gorkum finally died in 1880 (from too much dirty sex). We'd like to think that's when the sex stopped, but we'll probably never know.
As a Protestant, Mr. van Gorkum was buried in a special walled-off section of the cemetery, separate from the Catholic section, which was separate from the one Rastafarian grave in town. Mrs. van Gorkum buried her husband in the appropriate place, went into mourning, and started thinking about the future, specifically her own death. When she died, she'd be buried in the Catholic section of the same cemetery, probably in her own family's big ol' fancy tomb with her crappy Catholic family ... forever. Mrs. van Gorkum couldn't stand the thought of spending eternity away from her lover. So she came up with a plan.
"Hooooo boy! This is going to be good!"
When Mrs. van Gorkum died eight years after husband, she wasn't plopped down in the family plot at all; instead she was placed on the other side of the wall where her husband was buried. And the two graves were connected over the wall with a pair of hands.
"Finally, after 40 years I can be alone ... what the?"
The Woman Who Straight Up Jumped on the Iranian President's Car
Say what you want about former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- that he's short, that he thinks the Holocaust was a lie, that he honestly believes the West invented AIDS to get rich off of HIV medicines, that his beard is stupid but he has a pretty nice smile and kind eyes, etc. But you can't say that he spent his whole presidency locked away in an ivory tower avoiding his people. President Ahmadinejad was known for getting out there and mixing it up with people from all walks of life.
Even nuclear scientists!
In April 2012, Ahmadinejad toured the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, probably thinking he'd just drive to the beach and Instagram the fish market before calling it a day and heading home. Instead, he found himself mobbed by a crowd so strong that they actually stopped his car in its tracks. Bodyguards were helpless as Iranians handed the president notes asking for help (a common thing that happens wherever he goes, apparently) and yelling things like "Ahmadinejad, I'm hungry!" and "Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust was real! Look it up!"
"This is, like, fourth grade history, Mahmoud."
Amid the chaos of the AhMADdening crowd, a hijab-clad woman pushed her way to the front of the president's car, then climbed it like a Duke brother. While bodyguards pulled at her feet, angry men shouted and gestured wildly in her direction, and Ahmadinejad himself stared as if she had just whipped a boob out and slapped him with it, the nameless woman kept climbing. Before she gives the president a piece of her mind, she turns around and tells the crowd they can kiss her Persian grits.
Then, for a few amazing seconds, this lady went eye to eye with one of modern history's most notorious anti-woman evildoers. And you can tell from the video that this wasn't a "Hey, I think you're great, I'll be on my way" conversation. She's got something important to say and big gestures to get her point across. Maybe that she'd like some policy changed or her home is not getting enough food, or that no one's responded to her spec script for Real Housewives of Persia, even though she knew that last one was a long shot and she should move on to other creative projects. Whatever it is, she climbed his car to say it. When's the last time you climbed a despot's car in a desperate attempt to reach him? And enthusiastic games of tag don't count. For a full picture of how this ballsy encounter played out, watch the video below. Then cringe at the last time you were too shy and polite to tell your waitress she got your order wrong.
Kristi is a senior editor at Cracked and a minor Twitterer on Twitter.