Are you stuck in a romantic rut? Fighting? Breaking up? Fed up with the concept of human love altogether?
It may be comforting to realize that women have been living with whatever love woes are ailing you for thousands and thousands of years. OK, maybe that’s not so comforting after all. On the plus side, though, women have also been floating the dating rules for just as long.
In my new book, “She Caused a Riot: 100 Unknown Women Who Built Cities, Sparked Revolutions, and Massively Crushed It,” I chronicle the lives of 100 unknown women from around the world who broke society’s expectations about how women should behave – in their careers, their politics and in their love lives. Whatever your relationship status may be, look to these historical women for some radical dating inspiration.
1. Wallada bint al-Mustakfi, 10th-century Spain
Wallada bint al-Mustakfi was born in 994, the daughter of Caliph Muhammad III of Cordoba. When she inherited a fortune from her father, she set about living the dreamiest life, full of romantic intrigue. She opened a literary salon and stocked it with poets, artists, and, of course, lovers, and passed her days writing poems full of sensual wordplay.
For years she enjoyed an illicit romance with fellow poet Ibn Zaydun. As you can imagine might happen when two poets get together, it was a tortuous affair. Eventually, he betrayed her, so she left him to be with his worst enemy and lived to be nearly 100 years old. What better way to take revenge on someone who has wronged you, then and now?
Wallada faced plenty of critics for the way she lived but didn’t pay them much mind. Instead, she wore a robe with a line of poetry on each sleeve. On one sleeve, it read: “I am, by God’s will, fit for high positions! And I walk with pride along my own road.”
On the other sleeve, it read: “I let my lover touch my cheek and gladly bestow my kiss on him who craves it.”
May you gladly bestow your kisses on whoever craves it – until they don’t deserve them anymore.
2. Tomoe Gozen, 12th-century Japan
Not much is known about Tomoe Gozen, a 12th-century Japanese warrior, but one contemporary chronicler said she was “prepared to confront both demons and gods,” which is a great motto for anyone’s dating life. You’re going to confront a lot of demons before you find a god.
Tomoe was an exceptionally gifted rider and archer; she led 100,000 cavalries into a battle in 1183, no biggie. At another battle, in 1184, she took down a fearsome opponent by pulling him from his horse, pinning him against her saddle, and twisting his head off his body.
Of course, this isn’t an appropriate course of action in any modern relationship. But sometimes it’s nice to know what’s even a possibility.
3. Khutulun, 13th-century Mongolia
If you’re getting grief from parents, aunties or other interested parties about getting married, tell them you’re merely following the example of Khutulun, the Mongol princess born in 1260 who would only marry a man if he could defeat her at wrestling. Not only would each failed suitor have to skulk away without a wife – he would also have to fork over his horses to her. Khutulun ended up with thousands of horses, and plenty of broken egos in her wake. After a while, Khutulun decided her herd was strong enough – and her wrestling reputation totally undeniable – that she settled down after all.
So tell your questioning aunties: You’re just waiting to have enough horses in your herd. Come up with a challenge of your own: You won’t marry until you can find a person who can defeat you in Harry Potter trivia, which will probably be never. You deserve only the best.
4. Alexandra Kollontai, 20th-century Russia
Maybe the Bolsheviks aren’t your first thought when you’re looking for dating advice, but if you’ve been badly burned in matters of the heart, you may be interested in a woman who thought we should ban love altogether.
Alexandra Kollontai was the most important Bolshevik feminist of the Russian Revolution. She was from a wealthy background, but along with other Russian feminists she sought to organize poor women to gain equality in work and education, to overhaul repressive divorce laws and to advocate for birth control. To Alexandra’s mind, however, women would not achieve equality without destroying the family unit itself. Women should be freed from all domestic labour, she argued, replacing the unpaid labour of women in the home with social childcare and communal kitchens.
Alexandra didn’t just want to ban families, however. She wanted to ban monogamy. She advocated for a sexual revolution and said that having sex should be no more controversial than “drinking a glass of water.” The monogamous romance was a bourgeois trap; promiscuity was a revolutionary act. “If love begins to enslave” a woman, Alexandra said, “she must make herself free; she must step all over all the love tragedies and go on her own way.”
The next time you’re caught up in too much romantic drama, or someone judges you for having too many sexual partners, just drink a cool glass of water, remember Alexandra Kollontai, and go on your own way.
5. Josephine Baker, 20th-century France
Josephine Baker was an African-American showgirl who took Paris by storm in the 1920s and ’30s. She danced topless and slept with men and women as she pleased. She married four times but would say that every man she had ever loved was her husband. She wore fur coats with nothing underneath and walked a cheetah on a leash through the streets of Paris. She was brilliant, carefree, ambitious, witty and also brave, risking her life in World War II as a spy for the French Resistance, and working for civil rights in her later years.
She enjoyed nakedness, singing, dancing, keeping rare animals, and loving intensely and freely in a time when women were expected to be chaste, monogamous and heterosexual. Should you ever feel yourself to be anything less than exceptional, channel the total confidence of Josephine Baker, even if you don’t have a fur coat or a cheetah on hand.