Jason Porath compiled 200 of “history’s boldest heroines, hellions and heretics” for his new book, Rejected Princesses. And when you start reading, you're reminded that villainous shit against women has really, truly been going on forever. Though back in the day, you’d set your attacker's town on fire as revenge, instead of letting some judge bring down a sentence.
Today, we are rising up to protest millennia of sexual aggression and repression; yet in the same breath, the U.N. has kicked us in the collective teeth by appointing the fictional Wonder Woman as ambassador for women, as well as passing over a woman (again!) for secretary general. How can we finally vindicate the pains of our ancestral mothers? And how can anyone question the karma of rage and anguish that lives within us today after reading through what propelled these women to commit these acts of valor and horror?
Porath, a former DreamWorks animator who's also well-schooled in fairy tale tropes, wanted to pay homage to his mother’s artistic and intellectual dreams that were cut short when she shelved them to raise seven boys. His inspiration was all that she did, and all that remains undone for her and other women who had to curtail their dream-catching.
Porath says most of the stories in his book have gone untold on the large screen because societies worldwide have different ideas about how a woman is modeled vs. a man. In history books, you see Abe Lincoln, Genghis Khan, and Winston Churchill, “so good, bad, kind of between.” Girls get a much more sanitized version of women. “They'll get Helen Keller but not later-day firebrand Socialist Helen Keller. You'll get Harriet Tubman, but not arsonist spymaster for the Union Harriet Tubman. You get Amelia Earhart, but not polyamorous libertine Amelia Earhart,” Porath said. In Rejected Princesses, you’ll hear extra dirt on people you probably already knew about, such as Ida Wells, Mata Hari, Florence Nightingale, and Josephine Baker — and plenty about a diverse, global cast of women who have, until now, disappeared into the dark corners of mainstream history and literature.
Here are 20 of the fiercest princesses and heroines you probably never heard about.