5 Most misrepresented women in history

From Mary Magdalene to Cleopatra, these are some of history's most interesting, misrepresented female figures. 

Mary Magdalene is indisputably one of the most enigmatic and often misunderstood female figures in history. Her story has been repeatedly conscripted, contorted and contradicted and she remains an endless source of inspiration for literature, film, theatre and television.

Universal Studios’ upcoming feature Mary Magdalene—in cinemas now—starring Academy Award nominees Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a moving and authentic portrait of this fascinating spiritual figure.

The biblical biopic tells the story of Mary (Mara), a young woman in search of a new way of living. Constricted by the hierarchies of the day, Mary defies her traditional family to join a new social movement led by the charismatic Jesus of Nazareth (Phoenix). She soon finds a place for herself within the movement and at the heart of a journey that will lead to Jerusalem.

Alongside Mary, there is an endless chronicle of misunderstood and misrepresented women throughout history. Read about some of the most interesting women below…

 

Sappho

Born into a wealthy family on the island of Lesbos, from which the word “lesbian” is derived, Sappho is the earliest female poet from the ancient world whose reputation has carried on to the modern world. She was greatly admired during her day, writing around 10,000 lines of poetry, but today only fragments survive. Though her poems speak of infatuation and love for people of both sexes, there are no descriptions of physical acts between women, and it's unknown whether her works are autobiographical in nature.

There are also indications that she was married and had a daughter, Cleis, however, many scholars believe that this was not her daughter but her lover. In the 19th century, Sappho began to be associated with female homosexuality and the word “Sapphic” came to describe sexual relations between women. It was from the 19th century onwards that due to her poetic work, Sappho became known as a role model for campaigners for women’s rights, one of the most notable being the "New Women" campaign—an independent and educated woman who desired social and sexual freedom.

 

Joan of Arc

Saint Joan of Arc is a national heroine of France, known for leading the French Army to victory against England in The Battle of Orleans, with no military training, during the Hundred Years’ War. She never actually fought, but acted as a mascot of sorts, devising strategies to lead her troops. It's thought by doctors that Joan suffered from epilepsy and schizophrenia, as at the age of 13 she started to hear voices which she believed were messages from God.

Joan was captured and imprisoned in 1430 for committing 70 crimes but believed she was "morally free" to attempt to escape which led to her being chained and put in locks with guards permanently in her cell. On May 30, 1431 Joan was burnt on the stake in Rouen by the English three times, as her organs survived the first two burnings and eventually died as a result of smoke inhalation at the age of 19.

By the time she was officially canonized in 1920 (!) she had long been considered one of history’s greatest saints, and an enduring symbol of French unity, being seen as a national symbol for French soldiers during the Second World War.

 

Marie Antoinette

The famous expression "Let them eat cake!" was not uttered by Marie Antoinette but rather by her predecessor, Marie Thérèse, wife of the Sun King Louis XIV. It's since been attributed to Marie Antoinette to show how callous and out of touch with reality she was in regard to the plight of the starving peasants. Of course, she never said this in response to being told the peasants had no bread, but it fit the revolutionaries’ agenda to paint her as an uncaring, unsympathetic queen who lived a life of extravagance and decadence while her subjects hungered.

The French Revolution saw the abolishment of the monarchy in 1792, with Louis XIV being executed in January 1793. Antoinette was accused of high treason and incestuous relations with her son, Louis-Charles. It was after a two-day trial that an all-male jury found her guilty and she was executed in October 1793.

 

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII  and Queen of England from 1533 to 1536. The pair had a secret ceremony when Anne became pregnant with their only child, a girl—Queen Elizabeth I. When she was unable to give birth to a boy—a heir—she was accused of infidelity and beheaded.

She's now often remembered as the woman who bewitched the King and seduced him to marry her. Any love or affection between the pair appears to be forgotten!

 

Cleopatra

There are many misconceptions about Cleopatra. First and foremost, She wasn’t Egyptian. She was a Macedonian.

She's also known to be a great beauty, personified by actresses such as Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor. The only proof we have of her appearance are ancient coins which indicate a fairly large, hooked or beaky nose. However, what's unequivocally agreed is that she was captivating. Many scholars believe that her beauty stemmed from her charming personality rather than her looks, and it’s not widely known that she spoke up to a dozen languages and was highly educated in maths, philosophy astronomy and Egyptian sources.  

She had great love affairs with Julius Caesar (who made her Queen of Egypt) and Mark Anthony who famously abandoned his duties to be with her.

 

Mary Magdalene is in cinemas nationwide now