Ascent of Woman: A Fascinating Documentary About Women Throughout World History

Looking for a new show to binge on? Ever wish history texts and documentaries didn’t ignore the “other” half of the population? Have you ever wondered, “yes, yes, but what were the ladies doin’?”  Cheeeeeck out this new BBC show. It’s on Netflix. Ascent of Woman is a fascinating look at the history of the world, based on how it has affected women, and based on the incredible contributions women have made. It is in four parts: Civilization, separation, power and revolution. It starts from around 1350 B.C.E in Turkey and goes allllll the way to current day. Rad, I know. The show is engrossing, fascinating, and based on research. It is written and hosted by Historian, Dr. Amanda Foreman, who travels around the world taking viewers to real sites where events took place. Not only is Foreman a Historian and popular documentary writer/host, but she is also a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and has written numerous eye-catching articles, including this one about Hillary Clinton, and is currently the chair of the Man Booker Prize.

To give you a sneak preview of the shereoes in Ascent of Woman, here are just a few blurbs about some of the amazing people discussed in the series. (The following blurbs are based on information from the series. C.E refers to Common Era, which replaces the term, A.D/after death.) 

Unknown.jpegEmpress Wu Zetian = Emperor of China during 684-705 C.E. She steered China away from Confucian policies that were harmful to women and towards Buddhist principles and maintained, what many historians regard as a peaceful empire. She was the only female emperor in Chinese history.




Tizian_123.jpgRoxelana = 1504-1558 C.E. During the Ottoman empire in Constantinople, she rose from a sexual slave to the wife of the Sultan. She completely changed how royal women helped rule. Before her, there was a system of sexual slaves having to supply sons to the rulers and provide heirs. After the women supplied male heirs, they would be banished from the harem, or the place where the women were held. But after her as a role model, women were allowed to stay with the sultan. The heseki hurrem hababa was commissioned by her, a bath house where only women could go and she brought in the era, called the Sultanate of Women.


Nurjahan.jpgNur Jahan- Empress in India who lived from 1577-1645 C.E. She broke away from the stereotypical female identity and turned femininity in Mogal Court on it’s head. She was loved by all people. She had artists depict women in art, for a change, and created less restrictive clothes. She allegedly was also very good at hunting with a bow. Since the law then was that women couldn’t show their face, she had to rule without her face being seen. And yet, all traders had to work under Nur Jahan’s authority. All contracts and trade agreements required her signature. Coins even had her name on them, demonstrating just how far-reaching her authority was. Her style ideas were used in buildings in India: Never before had white marble been used until she ordered a building be constructed for her parents. The structure had white marble and intricate flowers, design ideas which went on to be used for the Taj Mahal.

Marie-Olympe-de-Gouges.jpgOlympe de Gouges- 1700’s France. When the infamous Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen was written, there was no mention of woman. So Olympe de Gouge wrote these ideas herself into her own Declaration of the Rights of Women. She was a fundamental figure in The Enlightenment, and yet, even today, has not been recognized in the Pantheon among the rest of the heroes. (Goes to show just how far we still have to go to gain the acceptance of women’s contributions in history.) She advocated for freeing slaves and outcried against the abuse of women and children. She was executed/assassinated via guillotine for supposed “opposition to the revolution.” This, of course, is tragically ironic considering she was a major part of the revolution. Her ideas just happened to not be in a male-centered way because, well, her revolution included women.

So check out the BBC show, Ascent of Woman, on Netflix. 


If Rom-Coms Presented Reality

This video is so true and hilarious!

(Also, something interesting to note is the options Youtube gives you after watching this clip. One would think they would provide similar searches to the one you’ve clicked, right? That’s usually how search engines/websites work. But in this case, they provide the opposite: They provide anti-feminist rhetoric. Why? Interesting…)

#chicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator

MV5BMTgwODIxMjM3NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzYzODA2NjE@._V1_UY268_CR9,0,182,268_AL_As the Syrian revolution has been fighting long for their freedom from the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Hafez al-Assad, and as the refugee crisis intensifies, this documentary offers a harrowing, and incredible perspective about these massive, current issues. With the immense help of gathering people via Facebook and other social networks, the regimes of Egypt, Tunisia and and Libya had successfully been dismantled by the people, and Syria was attempting to follow suite. But al-Assad’s reign of terror has continued.

This documentary titled, #chicagogirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator, takes you into the world of a Syrian activist fighting for her people through the power of the connections through social networks.  This film is available on Netflix, and follows the life of Ala’a Basatneh, the young woman leading the revolution in Syria from her home in Chicago. Through the power of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, Basatneh functions as the main person bringing the pieces of the revolution together on the internet. Be aware that this documentary shows graphic scenes of the violence and terrifying real footage of people outrunning snipers and blasts from the regimes army. I highly recommend this film for the understanding it provides in relation to the Syrian conflict and for the incredible young woman behind the scenes in the revolution.


The Force Awakened My Love of Star Wars

Notice in this official movie poster, the female character isn’t below the male characters for a change, and has a fierce stance, instead of a sexualized position, as we are used to seeing. Photo Credit:

(No spoilers here.)

The new Star Wars movie, the Force Awakens, which has already set records and earned $813 million dollars worldwide, has a fierce female lead and demonstrates how epic movies can be when they utilize a female character fully. Just check out how refreshing, and awesome this movie is! Go see it.

Us ladies are just so used to not seeing women getting to do anything interesting in films, cause it’s so few and far between, when they actually do get to be an integral part of the story, it’s very refreshing. Movies like this, (Mad Max, Fury Road is another great example) are going to set the trend going forward, showing that women are real people, with depth of character and extraordinary talents that make movies epic. These new movies are going to make the films that exclude women look very old fashioned. People are hungry for characters who aren’t just white males, and Star Wars delivered.

Rey, the female lead, has depth of character, tremendous fight in her, a mysterious back story, and she kicks ass and takes names. Also, it passes the simple Bechdel Test, something majority of films amazingly cannot do. (A movie that has more than 2 female characters who have names, who talk to each other, about something besides men.) Throughout the movie, I saw many scenes where at least one woman was present, (also something most movies cannot do) and there were many occasions, where women were an integral part of the story line, not just on the side lines of the story.

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During a scene where the Resistance is fighting back, there is a female character flying one of the planes and shooting at the evil First Order and taking part in discussions with her fellow fighters. Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Maz Kanata, makes me think of Yoda, except even more quirky and interesting. Maz Kanata runs her own business and is a crucial source of information in the story and supplies something very critical to Rey. And a certain female General commands a terrific presence in which she is a confident leader. There were females on the dark side though too, including a robot leader.

Why is all this so important? It is important to have women in roles where they are a part of the story, because, in the real world, women are a part of the story of life too, something that should be reflected in media so girls (and boys) aren’t brought up thinking women can’t, or shouldn’t, do things. It’s amazing what having role models in movies can do. The alternative to having women in movies is to ignore women’s existence in films, something I think we all can agree is not only old fashioned, but a rough deal for everyone involved, particularly women. I was also glad to see a man who is black as a lead role too, changing the dynamic of whiteness, at least a little bit, in the film. He was an integral part of the story as well and emerged as a moral hero from the beginning.There could have been more female characters at the table making decisions in some scenes, but overall this film was wonderfully refreshing and the lead character, Rey, was a ruler of her own destiny and a crucial leader propelling the storyline forward. I am now a huge fan of Star Wars and hope they continue to include epic female leads going forward in the remaining Star Wars films. 


Something is Missing

One night, I decided to sit down, relax and watch a little Apple TV. So I cruised the gazillion channel options and landed on the History Channel. These were the TV show options I faced:

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Photo credit: Screen shot of History Channel options, Julia View

The above options, (Mankind, The Men Who Built America, Mississippi Men, Monument Guys, Mountain Men, No Man’s Land, Noreaster Men) were only a smattering of my choices. Don’t worry, there was also, Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy, Rivermen, The Woodsmen, The Great Satini Brothers and Axmen, among similar others,  to choose from. Who can tell me what’s missing from these TV show choices? Yes, you  in the back. Women. Yes, women are missing.

Out of the entire 84 TV show choices available to choose from, only one seemed to have anything to do with a woman: Bonnie & Clyde. That’s it. The rest were staggeringly lacking in a key ingredient to humankind: Women. Oh, and there was one small History Special about the sex lives of “our nation’s leaders” and how said sex lives changed America. So there were probably some sexual female bodies in that show, draped across men who did stuff. Great.

I’ve watched many other TV shows from the History Channel, ( including the entire series called Mankind: The Story of All of Us) and this trend of the near-nonexistence of women appears to be nothing new. Mankind: The Story of All of Us is intended to be a show about all of humankind. But, in the entire series, it is rare to see a female face or even hear the mention of a female figure in history.

According to the History Channel, women have done nothing of value to contribute to society and we have nothing to see. This is the message they are sending to the general public, whether it was their intention or not. I guess, after all, it is called his-story…

Let’s get some herstory up in here. Better yet, some heristory.

Mad Max: Fury Road is Epic

MM-Main-Poster Wow. What a crazy, kick-ass movie. I absolutely recommend this film for several reasons:

1. Firstly, there is an incredible female protagonist in the forefront, a rarity in movies. Holy shit, it is so refreshing to actually have an interesting female front runner in such a movie! I’m consistently disappointed by the nearly-complete absence of female faces on movie screens, but it looks like that’s starting to change for the better. Charlize Theron plays Furiosa, a powerful hero who drives her own destiny and steers other characters in the direction of the insane plot. (Both puns intended because she drives a semi truck. Har-di-har.)

2. Secondly, the desolate world these mad-characters live in is a stark and horrifying depiction of our obsession with oil and how we are effectively destroying the planet. “Who killed the world” is a phrase heard throughout the film. Water and plants are a rarity in the ravaged wasteland and human suffering is a clear symptom.

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3. Thirdly, it’s just a mind-blowing action film. The way it’s filmed is thrilling. The cars and trucks (and characters) were all created to look vastly unusual, the action never stops and it was all filmed in real life settings in Namibia.

4. Last, and certainly not least, I also recommend the film for how it admonishes the way women are treated in our real world by demonstrating the grotesque treatment of women in the movie as baby-ovens, mere sexual bodies and  milk producers. Director George Miller said, “I can’t help but be a feminist.” And who could help it when feminism means equality and respect? Who wouldn’t want women to be equally represented in films, unless they were blatantly sexist and wanting to keep women in their ‘place’?

One outspoken, small-potatoes opponent of the film decries it saying “It looks like that action guy flick we’ve desperately been waiting for” but instead he calls it “feminist propaganda.” Yeah, cause women finally playing interesting roles for a change is ‘propaganda’. Is he sad because he’s been desperately waiting for yet another guys-action film? Women have been waiting for any interesting film about them. Hollywood gives us nearly nothing. I think this guy is a pretty good representation of  the people who wouldn’t like the film because, waaaaah, women get to do stuff in it.

He calls himself the “Captain of Capitalism” and runs an advisory for “Asshole Consulting.” Well, at least he admits it. Ha. You just can’t make this stuff up. So the film has had some meager push-back from people like him,  for having strong female leads and I just find that argument more and more absurd. Every time a woman gets to play an interesting or complex role and gets to be on camera doing something on her own instead of being a sexual toy for a man, or a token character, all of a sudden it’s like “Woah, woah! Feminism! All these women in movies!” That mentality is just sad. But this movie goes above and beyond being awesome allowing women to be awesome too.

So of course, it passes the Bechdel Test hands down with several female characters acting in valiant and plot-driving ways. Who’da thought women could be entertaining heroes to a diverse set of Americans? Turns out, a lot of people. $109 million dollars opening weekend says a lot of people will pay to see an action movie with not just men being incredible, but women too.

P.S. For those of you ladies who like to dress up as kick-ass women for Halloween, but have trouble finding decent ones in the media, Furiosa is definitely at the top of the list.

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The Rum-running Queen

1921 photo of confiscated barrels and bottles.                                       (Photo source: Library of Congress)

I was just nerding-out to a show about American history on Netflix when something captivated all my attention: The mention of a woman by the name of Willie Carter Sharpe who was an outlaw in 1928 during prohibition. At 26 years old, she ran bootleg-liquor across the border of Virginia, to other states, often with police chasing her, shooting at her tires. They called her the Rum-running Queen.

“It was the excitement that got me… Cars skattering, dashing along the streets.” -Willie Carter Sharpe.

Wouldn’t that be an awesome premise for a movie? “The Rum-Running Queen”

When you look her up on Google, there is very little information about her: Just a few blurbs here and there including this brief mention from the Franklin News Post.

“Some of those witnesses [from a trial], called rumrunners, said they had moved more than a million gallons of whiskey out of the county during the period covered in the indictment, traveling in caravans at high speed with ‘pilot’ cars running interference to ‘ward off any officers that tried to stop them.’ (One of those rumrunners was a woman, Mrs. Willie Carter Sharpe, who said she moved more than 220,000 gallons between 1926 and 1931.” 

I would love to know more about this interesting historical figure.

Here is the brief clip about her from the history show. For whatever reason, I could only find it in French. But it gives you the idea. (Fast forward to :39 to see Ms. Willie Carter Sharpe)


Franklin News Post. “Moonshining built on long history” 2015. Web. 2015. 

“America: The Story of Us” Season 1 Episode 8. Directors, Marion Milne, Jenny Ash, Clare Beavan, Andrew Chater, Nick Green, and Renny Bartlett. Netflix. April 2010. Web. April 2015.

I Finally Saw Frozen

Photo credit: Disney

Kids and adults are still going crazy over Frozen, the Disney film. Frozen Fever is alive and well. And for good reason. This movie is insanely refreshing.

The girl-kids at the elementary school where I work finally have female characters in movies to see. This is a simple, but big thing: Seeing girls/women doing their own thing in movies. Sure, there’s always been the token girl character in kids shows and movies, but there’s been few and far between.

But now, they actually have not one, but two female characters they can point to and say, “that’s me!” And they have the example to look to that says they are more than just pretty faces; they are also smart, adventurous, independent, funny and full-of-depth. This is profoundly revolutionary to see this available in children’s movies. And I’m glad to say there seems to be more on the horizon. Growing up in a world where you are rarely, if ever, represented in your own movies, even though you make up half the planet, is astounding. The value of seeing your own gender/sex participating fully in society, even just in movies, makes an incredible difference.

This female-written and female-directed, block buster, with two fascinating girl-characters, is still getting the attention it deserves. After all, it is ranked as the highest grossing animated film of all timeNot just in 2013, not just recently, but the highest grossing animated film of all time. The movie sends the message:

Check it out; movies with female leads make the big bucks.

So, Frozen Fever is clearly a thing, and the movie goes above and beyond the Bechdel Test and there’s a great plot, and it is the highest grossing animated film ever. Yep, the list goes on. Also, there’s a great twist in that there is no inherent evil character to conquer, but instead, a less tangible, yet still very real, theme of evil: Fear. The movie exemplifies the problems fear and anxiety can create and how to “Let it go”. This is a ground-breaking development for children’s movies too.

I for one, am pretty stoked to see Frozen Fever thriving, because boys and girls have characters to look up to who are strong, fun and full-of-depth.