5 Women Who Did More Than You Learned About In School

The more I learn about history, the more I learn how much I thought I knew was wrong. I’m lucky in that I’ve had a number of history teachers throughout my education who taught us about more than the America-rah-rah, white-upper-class-Christian-European-male-centric stories, but even so I’ve come to learn that there are so many stories I was never told, and so many stories that were so much more interesting and in-depth than I ever knew. So many of these stories are about women, either women whose accomplishments have been undeservedly forgotten in history, or women who are remembered in a too-superficial way, not celebrating the complexity of their lives and achievements. Here, for International Women’s Day, are five women you probably learned about in history class, but not the way you should have.

Helen Keller

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I remember reading The Miracle Worker in middle school. The story of how Anne Sullivan helped Helen Keller learn to communicate is one of the most inspiring tales of perseverance and triumph I can think of. But that’s pretty much where things ended; we got a brief summary of Keller’s work as an adult, but as far as our education was concerned, she was forever a little girl learning to spell out words on her teacher’s palm .

But if Helen Keller’s childhood is an incredible story of determination, her adulthood is even moreso. Of course, she was a staunch advocate for people with disabilities (a cause that still often goes unrecognized in feminism today), but she was also a feminist, a pacifist, an anti-racist activist, and a socialist. Her writings on workers’ rights and equality are as powerful as her ability to overcome her physical obstacles, and tend to be overlooked in favour of telling her “miracle” story.

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Anywhere that you tell me to, Gilmore Girls

When filmmakers want to retell a familiar story, it seems that they tend to turn to remakes or reboots, recreating a version of the original work with a new cast and crew, perhaps throwing in a cameo from the original star as a plot point or just a wink and nod to long-time fans. While there are occasional instances of many-years-later sequels, it seems that usually after a certain period of time filmmakers feel that audiences prefer to start fresh.

On the other hand, television seems to lend itself better to continuations of old stories, perhaps due to the ease of a next-generation series a la Girl Meets World or the upcoming Fuller House, or the procedural nature of a show like The X-Files (of which I have not yet watched any of the latest episodes because I’m saving them to binge watch all at once). Given that this tendency toward long-awaited continuations has led to Netflix confirming a four-part Gilmore Girls revival, I definitely can’t complain.

Like most book-obsessed, somewhat nerdy girls my age, my two fictional role models growing up were Hermione Granger and Rory Gilmore. We had so much in common: both of us always with a book in our hand, focused (sometimes overly so) on school—we even both studied journalism! Rory was smart, driven, and even if she wasn’t real, I looked up to her. I was devastated when her college years arrived and she turned off track (why did you steal that boat, Rory, why?!?!), and elated when she returned to college, with the finale sending her off on the campaign trail to report on Barack Obama.

Then there’s Lorelai. If Rory is who I was, then Lorelai is who I wanted (and still want) to be. Not the teen-pregnancy-with-awful-Christopher part or the terribly-strained-relationship-with-her-parents part, but pretty much everything else. She, too, was smart and driven, owning her own business and finding a perfect niche. She was witty as hell and enviably funny. She had great friendships in her town and an even greater relationship with her daughter. And our all-consuming coffee drinking habits are remarkably similar.

The minor characters are just as wonderful, with so many memorable supporting roles like Paris Gellar, Lane Kim, Luke Danes, and the only one of Rory’s boyfriends who really matters, Jess Mariano, but the titular Gilmore girls are by far the most important to me. When I was a kid I wasn’t much of a television watcher so most of my fictional heroes came from books—the aforementioned Hermione Grander, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles‘ Cimorene, and others, but Lorelai and Rory were the exception. To this day, I think that the more I am like them, the better.

In a way, this makes me nervous for the Netflix revival of the show. I remember my heartbreak when Rory “let me down” by stealing a boat and quitting my college, my devastation when Lorelai and Luke broke up. My diction may be slightly exaggerated here, but only slightly. What if Lorelai and Luke don’t get back together? What if Rory goes back to (ugh) Logan? More importantly, what if she’s not still writing? What if she’s changed? I mean, sure, I’ve changed too since 2007, but I’m a real person; I’m allowed. All revivals contain a certain amount of fan service; most creators aren’t as diabolical as to completely destroy everything their audience loved about the original, even in the name of progressing the story, and I’m totally okay with that when it means things turn out the way I want them to.

On the other hand, I do care about the story. Gilmore Girls wasn’t a generic show I watched for the eye candy. I cared  (still do) about the characters and their lives like they were people I knew in my own life. And so I’m willing to be disappointed in the name of good storytelling, if it comes to that. But, you know, ideally the storytelling is great and leads to Rory and Jess getting back together to write novels in Brooklyn. Regardless, as the theme song says, “Where you lead, [Gilmore Girls,] I will follow.”