Sometimes it can feel like a real bummer to know how far we still have to go with gender equality. The US has never had a female president. Women are underrepresented in the fields of science and technology. Most murderers by far are men. This isn’t fair! But what’s more unfair is that there have been powerful women for thousands of years of human society who have been overshadowed by men. Now is the time to honor the most powerful women in human history. Not the most influential, or coolest, or smartest women in history. No. These are powerful women — the women who held the fates of millions in their hands, who controlled countries and the outcome of history. KNEEL BEFORE THEM.
Merneith was the fifth pharaoh of Egypt, which was the most powerful country of its time. That’s right, the most powerful person in the world 5,000 years ago was a woman. She assumed the title of “king” (calling her “queen” makes her sound like the wife of the ruler instead of the ruler herself, so don’t do that) and helped kick off Ancient Egypt’s reign as the most powerful, successful, long-lasting society of all time. They ran the world for 3,000 years and Merneith was there right at the beginning. (It’s a little hard to find 5,000-year-old pictures by the way, so this is a picture of her name written on her tomb, which you’d know already if you knew how to read hieroglyphics, jeez.)
2) Empress Wu Zetian
Wu Zetian was the Emperor of China from 655-683 AD. She rose from a concubine of the emperor to being emperor herself through genius political machinations. Zetian presided over a time of great expansion of the Chinese empire and even formed her own dang dynasty, the Zhou dynasty. Do you know anyone with their own dynasty? I didn’t think so.
3) Theodora, Empress of the Byzantine Empire
Theodora was co-ruler with her husband, Justinian I from 527-548 AD. She was ruthless and kept her empire together through brute force and merciless executions. She’s also responsible for the building of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), one of the most incredible buildings ever created by man and the coolest building I have ever personally been inside. Theodora even managed to depose the pope and put a new pope in his place that she liked better. She was a woman not to be crossed, and should have gone a long way to destroying the “women are sweet nurturers” bullsh*t stereotype. We’re not all sweet! Some of us are violent power-hungry despots!
4) Catherine the Great
Cathy the Great ruled Russia from 1762-1796, presiding over a golden age of Russian power, wealth, and enlightenment. She became empress in a coup d’état against her husband, because power is much more important than love. Never forget that, ladies. If your husband has a lot of power and you have the opportunity to overthrow him and take that power for yourself, do it.
5) Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and something about her father having her mother executed when she was two and a half seems to have instilled a real sense of grit and determination. She ruled England for 44 years, establishing the Elizabethan era of political stability now known best from the point of view of its most prominent writer, William Shakespeare. Elizabeth defeated the Spanish armada in a battle on the sea, conquered political rivals (including executing her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots), and never married despite incredible pressure to continue the Tudor line. I mean, why marry when you’re already the most powerful woman on earth? You KNOW her husband would have been all weird about it. Wise decision, Betty.
6) Empress Dowager Cixi
Cixi was empress of China from 1861 to 1908. Sure, for a while her 5-year-old son was “emperor”, but come on. 5-year-olds can’t emperor for sh*t. Cixi was a ruthless ruler and kept China together during a tumultuous time. The dynasty collapsed three years after her death because it just couldn’t go on without her. Historians are divided on whether she was a despot who ran her dynasty into the ground or a shrewd ruler who kept her country from chaos, but either way, she was one of the most powerful women to ever live.
7) Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe, and in many ways serves as the de facto leader of the European Union. She’s the most powerful woman on Earth, key to managing the economic crisis in Greece, fighting ISIS, and keeping sh*t peaceful with Vladimir Putin. If there’s a king of the world, it might be Angela Merkel.
Hatshepsut is one of the most successful pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, reigning from 1473-1458 BC during a time of great economic power. She lead trading expeditions, and built archaeological masterpieces that survive to this day. Following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Merneith, Hatshepsut assumed the title of “king” and wore the traditional pharaonic gear — false beard, no shirt, the whole thing. You can still visit her temple in Egypt today to feel the awe of one of the most powerful women of all time.
Oprah is a kingmaker. Her 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama was worth one million votes to the then-candidate in his primary battle with Hillary Clinton, according to one study. Oprah made Obama president. She also convinced everyone to read The Secret! That’s right, we wouldn’t know about The Secret without Oprah. She’s a self-made billionaire who basically tells women what they should think. Fear her. Respect her. Buy her magazine.
The most impressive thing about these powerful women is that they gained power in a world set up against them, where they had to fight for their power, influence, and respect. There are many more I didn’t get to — Eleanor of Aquitane, Queen Victoria, Nefertiti, Empress Suiko, Corazon Aquino — and hopefully many, many more to come. Who runs the world? Girls. Tell me your favorite powerful woman!