• 'The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc' (Gaumont)Source: Gaumont
To see heroines like these in action, watch Resistance on SBS On Demand.
Jenna Martin

30 Aug 2016 - 1:01 PM  UPDATED 5 Sep 2016 - 11:17 AM

French period drama Resistance - currently available on SBS On Demand - follows a group of young people, mostly women, quietly and heroically working behind the scenes for the French resistance movement during World War II.

While many women throughout history have been banned from the front lines and forced to fight or serve in an unofficial capacity, it’s not hard to find countless examples of women breaking the rules and taking up arms out of duty or by necessity.

So whether your crusade is on the battlefield, in the bedroom or in the boardroom, let these 10 fearless women be your inspiration to get it done!


Fu Hao

The Shang Dynasty ruled China in about 1600-1100 BC, and Fu Hao was one of its fiercest warriors. One of 60 wives of the king (and by many accounts, his favourite) Fu spent little time at the palace, finding it much more fun to wage war against regional tribes threatening her husband's reign.

At the height of her influence she had 13,000 soldiers and several generals under her command. Fu Hao was long considered more myth than history until her tomb - the largest undisturbed Shang tomb ever found - was discovered in 1976. Inside were 468 bronzes, 750 figures of jade and a host of ancient weapons.

Also inside? Sixteen human corpses, most likely her slaves, some showing signs of having been killed in the tomb... probably better than being buried alive. Poor bastards.


Queen Boudica

Boudica was a total bad-ass Celtish Iceni warrior queen, who in 60 AD took on Emperor Nero and the whole damn Roman Empire when they refused to accept her authority upon the death of her husband.

Leading a 100,000-strong army she toppled entire cities and slaughtered upwards of 80,000 Roman and British citizens before being defeated. A statue of this iconic Briton riding high on her chariot stands beside the River Thames in London.


Joan of Arc

You know the story: Peasant girl talks to God, God answers, tells her to lead the French Army, she does - and is victorious - and then gets charged with heresy (and cross-dressing) and is burned alive for her efforts.

Whether the actions of Jeanne D’Arc were being driven by madness or indeed, divine intervention, her legend - and many of the strategies she brought to life in battle - has been a massive influence on the French Army over the centuries.


Laskarina Bouboulina

Laskarina was left twice widowed in 1811, age 40, with both her husbands - both ship's captains - killed fighting pirates. This left her with seven children to raise, but vast wealth in gold coins, land and ships, which she was able to increase, going into the family business and even building ships of her own.

Turkey, the seat of the Ottoman Empire, tried to confiscate her fleet in 1816, alleging husband number two had fought with the Russians against them, but Laskarina was having none of it, playing a long game of politics until she was able to return home. Just in time to join the anti-Ottoman resistance movement which would lead to Greece's successful war of independence in 1821.

She spunked her entire fortune in the first two years of the war, with her supplies and ships considered instrumental in the successful revolution against Ottoman rule. A heroine of Greek independence, Bouboulina even has her face on a coin. Life goal: unlocked.


Harriet Tubman

An icon for both women and African Americans, Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in about 1820. She escaped in 1849 and would facilitate the subsequent escape of hundreds of slaves via the Underground Railroad, a network of antislavery activists and safe houses across the northern US. Some estimates suggest she freed upwards of 200 during 15 trips in the 1850s, never losing one - or allowing them to turn back.

When the American Civil War began she enlisted as a cook and a nurse for the Union but quickly became a scout and spy and organised an armed expedition which liberated 500 freed slaves in the raid at Coombahee River.

After the war she didn’t rest on her laurels, becoming a staunch activist for women’s suffrage and opening a home for Aged African Americans, where she herself eventually retired.


Nakano Takeko

One of the best known female samurai in Japanese history, Takeko studied martial arts before putting her skills to use in the Japanese civil war of 1868. Never an official part of the army (Japanese women were forbidden from fighting), she nonetheless created her own group, later known as the “Womens’ Army”, and led a small group of other female fighters rebelling against the imperial forces.

Shot in the chest and dying, she asked her own sister to chop off her head and bury it so that it couldn't be used as a trophy by her captors - which is pretty hardcore. A monument to her stands near her burial site in Fukushima and each year girls march to honour her and her army during the Aizubange autumn festival.



Known as the "Apache Joan of Arc”, this Native American warrior was a medicine woman, a skilled fighter and strategist on the battlefield, eventually fighting alongside Geronimo, battling to keep the Apache people safe from US Government forces attempting to settle on their native land.

Often praying to the Apache deity Ussen for guidance, she seemed to have a supernatural talent for predicting where the US enemy would be from one day to the next allowing for strategic- and successful- attacks against the white invaders.

Eventually captured and imprisoned, she died of tuburculosis in 1887 but not before adding her name - and her legend - to the history books.


Lyudmila Pavlichenko

This is a lady who makes the Inglourious Basterds look like pussycats. Soviet sniper Pavlichenko notched up 309 official kills of Nazi soldiers - the most of any female sniper in history.

As a young girl in the Ukraine, she apparently heard a male neighbour boasting about how good he was with his rifle and joined a shooting club aged 14. At first denied entry in the Soviet Army, which encouraged the 24-year-old to be a nurse, she reportedly earned her place by shooting dead two Germans as a “test” and followed that up by knocking off 187 Nazis in her first 75 days.

After the war, she became a sniper trainer and motivational speaker.


Susan Travers

An English socialite living in the south of France when WWII broke out, Susan Travers joined the French Red Cross, and then became the only woman officially accepted by the French Foreign Legion where she was a driver, sent to West Africa.

In Libya, her unit was besieged but Travers refused to flee with the other ladies, preferring instead to hide - English Patient-style - in a sand pit. Eventually she was told by her officer, Colonel Marie-Pierre Koenig, to escape, driving his car across the sand dunes under constant gunfire and in doing so, leading almost 2500 troops to safety. She then served in Italy, Germany and France, including a spell driving an anti-tank gun.


Nancy Wake

Known as "The White Mouse" by the Nazis who at one point put her at the top of the Gestapo's “most wanted” list, NZ born, Aussie-raised Nancy Wake is one of the most decorated woman of WWII.

A journalist by trade (she once interviewed Adolf Hitler), she became a resistance fighter and secret operative, parachuting into France and running a resistance network to help smuggle Jews and Allied soldiers out of occupied territory.

On top of that she led 7000 guerrilla fighters in battles against the Nazis - including a daring attack on Gestapo HQ - and even killed an SS sentry with her bare hands, by judo-chopping him in the throat. Bad ass.


The entire first series of Resistance is available on SBS On Demand

Watch the first episode right here:

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