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Aging & Society

What One Author Learned About How to Become a 'Fierce Female'

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To stand out across the course of history, you had to be special. To stand out as a woman over the course of history, you had to be extra special.

Hayley Milliman knows just how strong and healthy – both mentally and physically – women had to be. That’s because Milliman is co-author of the book, Museum Hack’s Guide to History’s Fiercest Females, which highlights 25 incredible stories of women – often overlooked – who carried out remarkable feats and showed admirable courage throughout history. (Museum Hack is a company that leads “unconventional” tours of museums in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, uncovering lesser told stories about figures from the past.)

While the women range from pirates to witches to poets and beyond, Milliman says that, while writing the book, she noted a common thread among them, and it’s one that had to do with mental health and emotional strength. “The women we featured in this book were so different, but I think that the vast majority of them demonstrated tenacity, resourcefulness, and the ability to dream. They faced so many different kinds of challenges, but none of them ever gave up,” she notes.

Milliman says that she was reminded, while writing the book, of how important it is to our overall health to be able to dream. “So many of [these women] seized opportunities, even if those opportunities seemed scary,” says Milliman. “The stories really demonstrated how taking risks can be a good thing.”

In honor of Women’s History Month, GetOld asked Milliman to share a few of her key discoveries.

GetOld: What lessons did you learn while researching and writing this book that influenced your own outlook? 

Milliman: One of my biggest takeaways from writing the stories in this book is that women can (and should) control their own destinies. As someone who has struggled with feeling like “things are happening to me" as opposed to “I have control over my circumstances,” it was really powerful to reflect on the fact that, so many women, from all backgrounds, were able to make the most of their situations and really achieve greatness in the face of adversity. On the other hand, it was also empowering to write about women doing whatever the heck they wanted to: from ruling countries to opening gambling dens to becoming the leaders of underground smuggling rings.

GetOld: What should women, today, do more to become a “fierce female”?

Milliman: I think that, to become a "fierce female," women need to ask themselves, "What's best for me?" It's okay to put yourself and your needs first! It's okay to buck tradition if that means doing something that feels true to you.

GetOld: Many of the women in the book went on to suffer not-so-wonderful fates. What can we learn from the past about how to be better people? 

Milliman: There are so many lessons in these pages. The first, and most pressing, one is that we should believe women. Believe them, and support them. There are smaller lessons, like showing compassion, as well as lessons we can and should learn about the dangers of a single story and the erasure of people's cultures. We need to celebrate and lift each other. If we don't prioritize diversity, it's in danger of being eliminated.

GetOld: What else did you learn from writing this book?

Milliman: So many things! More than anything, I realized how important stories are. We need to keep seeking them out and keep sharing them. There are so many beautiful stories out there that people haven't heard. I can't think of many things more important than finding and sharing them.

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