So, we’ve all heard of Queen Esther from the Purim story. She was awesome; she stood up to Haman and saved the Jewish people. She was notoriously beautiful and courageous, marrying the king and overturning the plot to kill all the Jews. But there’s another woman in the Purim story that we only get to read about for a short period of time; Vashti. Known only as the woman who disobeyed Achashverosh, most people seem to forget how (excuse my language) bad-ass she was.
For any of you guys that need a very quick recap on Vashti; she was asked by Achashverosh to “show her beauty” in front of all of the king’s half drunken friends (bit of a weird request, if you ask me) and refused, knowing it would mean her demise. She was banished from the kingdom, and Achashverosh was forced to find another queen, which is where Esther comes in, and where our discussion of Vashti ends… until now!
2,000 years later, we can look back on these women as the forerunners of modern feminism. From Hannah Senesh, to Malala Yousafzai, to the woman currently making a stand with the Time’s Up campaign, our history is punctuated with strong, powerful women. These women are the role models of the youth of their time, paving the way for positive change. As Oprah Winfrey said in her speech at the Golden Globes, in the same way she watched as her heroes were honoured, “there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this [Cecil B DeMille] award”.
On February 6, we celebrated 100 years of women being given the right to vote. It is astounding to think that without the sacrifice of women like Emily Pankhurst and other suffragettes who gave literally everything they had in order to force change, our lives could be unimaginably different. How can it be that your worth, your intelligence, your understanding and integrity can be determined by your sex, any more so than it should be determined by the colour of your skin?
The examples of women above, from Vashti to Oprah, prove time and time again that the substance of a person comes from their actions, rather than what gender they are assigned at birth. So when you’re eating your hamentashen or booing Haman whilst listening to the Megilah, spare a thought for all the women who stood up and fought for what they believed in when all the odds were against them, to allow us to be where we are today.
Orli West is in her second year at Birmingham University where she is studying Education.