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03/13/2018 12:20 EDT | Updated 03/14/2018 13:54 EDT

'Bad' Women Of History: 5 Trailblazers Who Prove We Could Use More Badness In Our Lives

Their actions, though often seen as troublesome at the time, have changed things for the better.

If the financial success of the "Bad Moms" movie franchise is any indication, there are a lot of women out there who can have a bit of a laugh at the Madonna-whore dichotomy that gets foisted upon them.

But the truly "bad" women of history — some who remain infamous after centuries, others who are largely forgotten by the wider public — faced greater risks than hangovers and shunning in the after-school pickup line.

History is filled with stories of women who broke societal rules, for very good reasons, and often paid dearly for it — sometimes with their lives. We have one recent example in Viola Desmond, whose face is on a redesigned $10 Canadian bill that was unveiled on March 8, Women's Day.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
A sample of the new $10 Canadian bill, featuring civil rights icon Viola Desmond.

Of course, today most people would not consider Desmond to be a bad woman, or perhaps not even rebellious. But at the time, her simple act of insisting on sitting in the theatre seat she paid for was enough to get her forcibly dragged from a New Glasgow, N.S. theatre and convicted of a minor tax violation.

Desmond had been resisting the structures of racial discrimination for some time before the day in New Glasgow that made her famous. She travelled to Montreal to train as a beautician because she was banned from schools in her native Halifax, because she was black.

When she returned home, she opened a beauty school that gave other black women the opportunity she'd been denied. And she was on a business trip to sell her eponymous line of beauty products when she was arrested in New Glasgow.

Defining a woman as "good" or "bad" often comes down to how well she sticks to the codes that society has laid out for her, often without her input or approval. Actions like Desmond's, though often seen as troublesome or even bad at the time, have changed things for the better. The same is true for some of these other trailblazers and rebels.

If these are history's "bad" women, we could use more of badness in our lives.

Noor Inayat Khan

Olivia Harris / Reuters
A statue of Noor Inayat Khan.

The daughter of an Indian father and an American mother, Khan was born in St. Petersburg and raised near Paris. Well educated, she put her brain and her pacifist ideals to use helping the Allies despite the colonial history of England in her father's home country.

She started as a wireless operator but soon found her way into Britain's Special Operations Executive, and ran British spy communications essentially on her own after her entire unit was captured by the Germans.

Sadly, Khan was betrayed and captured, and she died in a Nazi concentration camp. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross for courage in 1949.

Qiu Jin

Born in China during the Qing dynasty, Jin's traditional early life led to an adulthood of resistance against the strict limitations on the roles women could hold in Chinese society at the time.

After awakening to feminist literature, Jin left a marriage she had been forced into and moved alone to Japan, where she worked underground to overthrow her home country's government.

She launched a feminist magazine upon her return to China, and in 1907 she was arrested, charged with writing two revolutionary poems, and executed. She has since been referred to as China's "Joan of Arc."

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Getty Images
Buffy Sainte-Marie performs onstage during Hardly Strictly Bluegrass at Golden Gate Park on Oct. 2, 2016 in San Francisco.

Born on the Piapot Reserve, Sask., Sainte-Marie was a gifted musician from an early age.

Her music, which came out of the same era and folk traditions as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, was overtly political, often in ways that made powerful people uncomfortable. American president Lyndon B. Johnson even put her on a list of artists to be censored, and she was blacklisted from mainstream radio play in the U.S.

But Sainte-Marie has continued her music and her activist work, appearing on "Sesame Street" for five seasons and winning the Polaris Prize in 2015.

Marsha P. Johnson

Ho New / Reuters
Marsha P. Johnson handing out flyers in support of gay students at New York University in 1970.

If there was an LGBTQ cause that needed action and attention, Johnson was there. A veteran activist, she was a prominent figure in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, a co-founder of the advocacy group S.T.A.R., co-establisher of the first shelter for gay and trans street kids, and an AIDS activist with ACT UP — as well as a model and performer.

Johnson did all this work, and lived openly as a queer person, at a time when it was dangerous to do so — and when black people were also denied many civil rights.

Johnson's death in 1992 was originally ruled a suicide, but the case was reopened "to look more closely at what really happened" in 2012, Queerty.com reported at the time.

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