Powerful women are an aberration of nature…they tilt the natural balance of things. When you see a woman who has even a little power, she becomes unbearable and insufferable; her family suffers and all those around her pay the price. She becomes so full of herself and her power that she thinks she can step on everyone who comes her way and get away with it. That is the unfortunate rhetoric that has always been propagated whenever reference is made to a woman in power. When a woman dares to take power for herself or seizes a kingdom to rule, all sorts of negative things are said (and written) about her and she suddenly becomes the Monstress of her time, which is exactly what has happened to Empress Wu Zetian.
Let’s go back in history, just a little bit, all the way to Imperial China in the seventh century A.D. to a beautiful woman known as Wu Zetian. Wu Zetian was a concubine of the Chinese Imperial emperor and she rose to the rank of Empress. She ruled as an equal with her husband and remains the only woman in more than 3,000 years of Chinese history who ruled as an Empress in her own right.
Reading the accounts of Empress Wu Zetian by most scholars, one gets the impression that she was a wicked and evil woman; one without morals or scruples. Several words are often used to describe her including words like usurper, schemer, murderess. She’s been accused of so many vile acts including infanticide, murder, betrayal, and wanton eroticism. The ancient scholars wrote about her with disapproval which was understandable; a powerful woman was a novelty to them. What is more disturbing however, is the way some modern scholars still refer to this woman, as though she were an aberration. And yet, as pointed out in an article by the Smithsonian, Empress Wu Zetian’s reign was probably one of the most prosperous of Chinese history. According to the article:
Her reign was peaceful and prosperous; she introduced the meritocratic system of entrance examinations for the imperial bureaucracy that survived into the 20th century, avoided wars and welcomed ambassadors from as far away as the Byzantine Empire. Moreover, Wu exhibited one important characteristic that suggests that, whatever her faults, she was no despot: She acknowledged and often acted on the criticisms of loyal ministers, one of whom dared to suggest, in 701, that it was time for her to abdicate. The empress even promoted what might loosely be termed women’s rights, publishing (albeit as part of her own legitimation campaign) Biographies of Famous Women and requiring children to mourn both parents, rather than merely their father, as had been the practice hitherto. The critical Anderson concedes that, under Wu, “military expenses were reduced, taxes cut, salaries of deserving officials raised, retirees given a viable pension, and vast royal lands near the capital turned over to husbandry.
So why was she so reviled by early historians and some by modern scholars? Some writers have agreed that it probably has a lot to do with the double standards that exist when it comes to women in power. Empress Wu Zetian was no different from the male Emperors that ruled before and after her. She dealt ruthlessly with opposition and surrounded herself with those she could trust. The records show that there were more ruthless and wicked emperors than she. She has been described as a product of her time and yet the critics have had a field day. She did not view her gender as a handicap and that did not sit well in what was most definitely a patriarchal society.
Over the centuries, there has been a slight shift from the patriarchal environment to a more gender inclusive one, still whenever a woman becomes powerful, the critics come out and try to make it seem like a woman has no place in power. This was true in the ancient world and it’s also true today. The world does not need powerful women, or so they would have us believe.
And yet when women are in positions of power, the positive impact is felt in the society just like it was in the imperial Chinese empire during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian. Women tend to think about what matters to people; they are better listeners and so are better able to tackle vital issues like education, elderly care and industries. Women often seek the path of peace and diplomacy usually comes naturally to them. As a matter of fact there have been several studies which have found that companies with women in leadership roles enjoy lots of benefits including greater return on investment. But that’s not what this write-up is about. This is about you, the woman reading at this moment.
There are several voices that will try to kill your ambition; voices that have told you (most likely since birth), that a woman is naturally limited in the scale of what she can be expected to achieve. This is a big and cruel lie. There are women in the world today, and Nigerian women, who have proved the fallacy of that belief. If you have some time, go read the entire Smithsonian article about Empress Wu Zetian and if you get nothing else from her story, get this much:
A woman can be anything she sets her mind to be, regardless of the prevailing circumstances.
It begins with your mind. Determine who you want to be and deploy all your resources towards becoming that person.