The Women's History Narrative We NEVER Talk About

Emmy-nominated director Tiffany Shlain's new film 50/50 celebrates the stories of female trailblazers across centuries and cultures, examining their struggles, ingenuity, and tenacity. 50/50 gives us a vision of a more equal world, where potential is unhooked from the barriers of gender — and where power is measured, not just by force or influence, but also by love.

Shlain begins her study in the Middle East, focusing on the Neolithic Age (10,200 B.C.). This was around when the first written laws proclaimed women were free to leave their mates, own property, shape laws, fight wars, and even act as shamans. But as early societies became increasingly agrarian, favoring physical strength above other traits, patriarchy emerged as the dominant way of life.

The women of 50/50 overcame all odds and rose to political power or artistic prominence, from ancient Egypt's pharaoh, Hatshepsut, to India's 16th-century poet, Mira Bai. One of the most impressive women to be featured, Elizabeth I, who was England's second-longest reigning monarch, stabilized the Protestant Reformation and warded off the Spanish Armada by intercepting a fleet of 100 ships sailing towards England. Bilingual Shoshone native Sacagawea led explorers to the Rocky Mountains along North America's western ridge, mapping the paths toward the Pacific Ocean. But Shlain's female leaders still inhabited societies deeply hostile to their progress. Outspoken women were routinely condemned as witches and burned, starting with the Reformation in the 1500s. It swept across Europe and eventually to the other side of the Atlantic, culminating in the famous Salem witch trials of 1692.

First-wave feminism was officially launched at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, where American women had gathered to call for suffrage in the U.S. After being kicked out of men's trade unions, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott encouraged women in textile trades to form their own associations. Women such as Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone filed lawsuits when they were turned away to vote. Anthony ended up voting in 1872 and was immediately arrested for it. By 1920, the 19th Amendment extended the ballot to all citizens, male or female, though only one member of the Seneca Falls congregation lived to witness the Suffragettes' hard-fought victory. Charlotte Woodward was 92 when the amendment was finally ratified, but she fell ill on Election Day, tragically missing her only opportunity to cast a vote.

Soon, women started to engage with emerging technologies: With La Fée aux Choux in 1896, Alice Guy Blanche, a pioneer of early French cinema, became the first female film director in the world. And nearly 200 years before Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone, Ada Lovelace (daughter of Romantic poet Lord Byron) helped develop 19th-century mathematical theories that would pave the way for computer coding.

In the 1960s, second-wave feminism gave leaders unprecedented ways in which to organize and mentor one another. In 1975, the United Nations established international conferences for female elected officials. The World Conferences on Women took place in Mexico City in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985, and Beijing in 1995. The Beijing 1995 meeting culminated with Hillary Clinton's historic speech on women's rights as human rights. The '70s also witnessed the expansion of reproductive rights and the call for equal pay.

Unfortunately, women are still a long way from a 50/50 world, but we are making progress. Nations, such as Denmark and Canada, that offer paid family leave to both new moms and dads, fund early child care, and promote state-sponsored educational opportunities rank at the top of the global happiness index. Yet for a world in which women comprise 51% of the population, we clearly have more work to do: For every dollar a man earns in the United States, women are still paid only 78 cents, and women of color receive even less (Black women at 64 cents and Hispanic women at 54 cents). Of the 870 Nobel Prize winners, just 48 have been women, and only 18% of elected heads of state, globally, are female (though we may be adding one more very soon!).

For Shlain, 50/50 equality will be achieved when women feel they have the freedom to push their own creative and professional boundaries, and are supported by fellow female trailblazers. For the first time in nearly 240 years as a nation, we are heading into Election Day with a woman on the ballot as a major party's candidate — we're clearly moving in the right direction. Watch the film above to learn more about the long history of feminism, and to celebrate women past and present.

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