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Night Witches and Gangs and Rebels, Oh My

By: Jasmine Zepeda

Taking history classes in high school versus college history courses, you begin to learn more about what exactly shaped countries and the long fights it took to get us to where we are today. What students mostly learn are white male heroes in history with dashes of white women in history and even less of women of color in history. Women of color have been written out of history in favor of white women and more specifically white male inventors and entrepreneurs. What this does is create a serious lack of diversity and representation for women. To highlight some of the brave women from history I would like to bring to light the Russian Night Witches, the Sukeban girl gangs of Japan, and Mapuche warrior Janequeo. These women have changed and challenged stereotypes and proven leadership skills that prove that they deserve to be more than a footnote in the history books. 

Women have been fighting and changing history since the beginning. Janequeo was a warrior queen who fought and won many Spanish military invaders in the early to mid 1500’s. A defeat against the Spanish conquistadors was a huge feat to pull off and not an easy task to do. While the Spanish may have had more fire power, it took a skilled military leader to win battles. Janequeo was from the Mapuche tribe in Chile and she was married to the captain of the Mapuche army. When her husband was captured, tortured, and killed by Spanish invaders, she took arms and lead the army in her husband’s place. It was said that the Spanish armies were confused and then outraged when battle after battle their armies fell. She burnt the fort her husband ruled and last defended with the heads of the Spanish laying on the ground. 

The Spanish leader Cristobal Aranda went one on one with Janequeo, probably believing there was no way a Chilean woman could ever beat him. She did. She mounted his head on a spear and continued on with winning more and more battles. Janequeo caught the attention of Alonso de Sotomayor, a powerful conquistador, and he came with full force to take down the rebel. Janequeo won many battles but her numbers were now waning. Sotomayor was burning villages that supported her and cut off more soldiers from her army. With Janequeo’s army dwindling and Sotomayor calling reinforcements, she was forced to call a retreat to her army. Refusing to be taken as a war prisoner, she fled and no one knows what exactly happened to her. Janequeo’s bravery and military tactfulness has made her a symbol for freedom and hope for the Mapuche people who still fight for their rights in Chile. 

Moving forward several hundred years we land in World War II. The soviet Union was desperate for more people in their army, but they weren’t sure if they wanted to involve women at all in their army. On June 28, 1942 the first bombing mission was given to the Night Witches. A ban of over 400 women were chosen carefully by their leader, Marina Raskova. She was known as the “Soviet Amelia Earhart” and was famous for her long distance flight records. These women were bombers and could return fire on incoming German planes, making Russia the first nation to allow women combat during war. As for their names, it was the German’s who termed them, The Night Witches. These women were not allowed updated planes and lacked the advanced equipment needed during this time to help them on their missions. The planes would turn off midair and in order for it to be turned on they would have to get out of the plane midflight and turn them back on again and continue with the mission. Since their planes were so loud they would fly above the clouds to conceal their engines and only dive when it was time to release the bombs and then fly back in the clouds and disappear. 

These women were feared and hated by the German army so much that if a German downed a Night Witch they were given high honors when they returned. Given this incredible fact, it’s a wonder why these women are left out of history books today. They flew nearly 30,000 missions, accumulating to nearly 800 missions per pilot, and out of the 400 women chosen only 30 were lost in battle. These women proved that they were capable of fighting and contributing to the war, in this and any other type of military endeavour. Their final mission was just three days before the end of the war, and became the most highly decorated unit in the Soviet Army. Despite these amazing feats and contributions, the women were not allowed to walk in the victory day parade in Moscow. The amount of disrespect they received is astounding and reprehensible, but still, these women persisted and achieved a great victory for women everywhere.

Flashing forward again twenty years we land in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Japan where the largest school girl gang organized to fight patriarchal rules and laws. These young girls would sneak cigarettes into the schools to smoke and would start violent fights and shoplift. They were known to carry pocket knives and the gangs would range from 80 to 20,000 girls. This made it hard for the news to talk about them. What could you say when young girls ranging from young teens to young adult women. The young women would lengthen their skirts, opposing the sexist school outfits they were made to wear and swore up and down the road to prove that they did not fit into the patriarchal standards that are being pushed on them. These are some of the most strongly organized women and have made an impact on Japan’s culture and even in anime, however not in a good way. 

In order to try and demean their cause the Japanese porn industry began making films of them. Using them as sexual objects and pushing for a certain look on the girls. The girls persisted and continued to fight and “act like boys” where they were being pushed to go back into the box of feminine and submissive girls. While violence isn’t always the solution, they still make a huge impact on what girls can do when they organize. Fighting and standing together is what makes them important to the history of feminism and that fighting for equality is not always a pretty picture or even a peaceful event that caused changed, as little as it may be, to society.

The erasure of these women from history shows a great lack of representation and also a lack of inclusion. These women, and many more than just these three, have shaped and challenged stereotypes and patriarchal societies. These women braved history and stood in places where men tried to keep them from. There needs to be more inclusion of women in history classes, not a women’s studies class, simply history teaching about women and their footprints in history. Remembering them and focusing on them instead of pushing them aside as sub categories or as a different class section. 

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Feminism in Superhero(ine) Movies

By: Jasmine Zepeda

What defines feminism? What might come to mind is strong women in your life; perhaps family members, senators, or world leaders. Can feminism be found in superheroine comics where the majority of the women wear bikinis or skimpy outfits that are only functional for the male gaze? When discussing feminism in today’s world of superheroines, there is still much to be worked on. There have only been two solo heroine movies, the catwoman movie we have collectively decided as a society to forget, though two more are coming out soon. What mostly comes to mind is the most recent solo hero Marvel movie Captain Marvel. She is tough, bad ass, and wears practical outfits for battle. Captain Marvel became a pioneer in what a female superhero could look like and be, not just sexual costumes and sexual poses. However, she isn’t the only one to pioneer the feminist superheroine film industry to recently come out in theaters. Harley Quinn’s new movie has the potential to show that feminism isn’t only about one type of woman or one type of representation in women.

Equating the two as pioneers in feminism in movies can be confusing. Both women show different aspects of feminism but they are also more alike than you may think. The women’s solo movie, is based around the fact that they escape toxic masculinity. Captain Marvel escapes her mentor’s limitations that he puts on her and his constant comments about controlling her emotions. A comment most women get when they become passionate or angry. Harley Quinn is broken up with her long term, verbally and physically abusive boyfriend and struggles to cope with the aftermath of that damage. Both women were under constant restrictions given by their male partners/mentors and have broken free from that cage where they find their true power and strength in themselves and among female companionship. Focusing on Harley Quinn for a second, she is powerful in that she is able to find herself again outside the constraints of an abusive relationship. 1 in 4 women are likely to be in an abusive relationship and about 3 women a day are murdered by their partners according to The National Domestic Abuse Hotline. Harley Quinn’s story of survival and thriving life after an abusive story is one to admire. It is also one many women can look up to and see themselves in. 

Captain Marvel breaks free of societal norms and empowers women to be who they are despite what is being told around you. Many women are able to see themselves in Captain Marvel’s position. Being told how to act and react, that they need to prove themselves to male figures in order to be accepted and valued, and cat calling. This movie marks a new era of superheroine movies to come, showing that a stand alone film with positive female lead and relatable stories that the average woman can relate to. She doesn’t need any man to save her in the film, instead she learns to discover her unlimited powers and not be afraid to show who she is. 

This is an important factor for both women. The most heavily debated and often times conflicting aspect of what feminism is, is how women express themselves. If they choose to cover up or to dress provocatively is something a woman chooses for herself. Harley Quinn’s signature look has always been short shorts and a sports bra or something similar to that type of outfit. She bodes off her child-like behavior and was only brought in for a side kick to the joker. Captain Marvel’s outfit in the movie was more practical and functional instead of revealing and sexualized. While there is nothing wrong with either costume, the Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad was dressed for the male audience it was trying to attract. The new Harley Quinn, directed by a Cathy Yan, still wears revealing and sexy clothing but in a more natural way that fits her character and not just there for the male gaze. 

They both support other women and find companionship in other women. They show different sides of what feminism is and not just one cookie cutter shape. Whether she dresses in short shorts and revealing clothes or chooses to cover up and be modest is the women’s choice in how she expresses herself. There are different forms of feminism not limited to clothing or how they choose to be. What makes these women significant is that they are not afraid to be who they are. Whether is crazy, sexual, and out-going like Harley Quinn. Or stoic, strong, and sarcastic like Captain Marvel. There is no one way to be a feminist. All there is to do is support one another and promote strength in women, together.