Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

Pénélope Bagieu’s potted biographies of women who’ve done extraordinary things and lived extraordinary lives is a rich tapestry of female humanity

Leymah Gbowee in Pénélope Bagieu's Brazen: The Women Who Rocked the WorldIt’s easy for men to fall into the trap of assuming that we live in an enlightened, democratic world. It’s hard to imagine that here in the UK, women have only had the right to vote for a hundred years. Post-war Britain expected women to raise families to the detriment of any other life. Even now, we’re still surprised by the recent stories of ludicrous pay gaps between women and men who do the same jobs, and industries where male power is so rife that depraved sexual predators can get away unchallenged with horrific acts of criminal behaviour. Some things simply aren’t changing fast enough.

So it’s great to see a book like this, that explores a small slice of history’s most interesting women. It features an international cast of women from different periods of history. All of them have done extraordinary things, often fighting against the traditions and customs of their era, location, race and religion, and who have brought about revolutions that echo and reverberate through time and space. All these women have decided to do something amazing and have stopped at nothing to achieve it.

Wu Zetian in Brazen: Rebel Women Who Rocked the World by Pénélope BagieuStarting with a portrait, each life is recounted by a narrator and simple spot illustrations, often annotated by the voices of the women themselves. This keeps the points and the stories short and succinct, varying in length from just a few pages to no more than seven.

With a limited palette, but using different colours on each strip to bind them together, the comics have a retro, simple feel, but Pénélope Bagieu imbues them with character – they’re dripping with life. Each piece is followed by a beautiful illustrated image, summing up the woman’s life, work or accomplishments in a wonderful piece of art.

The list of women in the book is a phenomenal, diverse range. Some are obvious choices, others you may not have heard of, but all are worthy people who’ve done fascinating things. At the end of the book she lists 30 more, should you fancy further investigation, but we suspect this is partly because Bagieu’s editorial decisions over who to include and who to leave out must have been painful. We can only hope for another volume.

It’s a beautiful project and a fascinating read. The women are portrayed with the utmost respect and civility; their stories told with wit, charm and honesty. It’s an empowering and enlightening read, a celebration of humanity and of women’s achievements, whether they’re small and personal, or Earth-shatteringly world-changing.

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