All Heroes Have Historically – or at Least Etymologically – Been Women

[For Women’s History Month, an archived post on heroics.]

When I think of heroic women I think of them as heroes, not heroines.

For one thing, the name Hero has been a woman’s name far longer than the English language has been around. And for another, any time a word that means a single thing is divided up in spellings to denote sex or gender there is a danger of making the word mean less when applied to women. Or even worse, it might tell women they can’t be heroes at all and better look to men for the heroism.

Both are reason enough to use the word “hero” for women and men both. That way you can recognize a hero when you see one no matter what she or he might look like.

To illustrate:


So if you’re wondering what a hero might look like, there she is.

Happy Women’s History Month. I plan to celebrate by reading a bunch of articles about heroic women over the next 31 days. Here are a couple to start you off:

Harriet Tubman

Molly Pitcher (Mary Ludwig Hays)



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8 Responses to All Heroes Have Historically – or at Least Etymologically – Been Women

  1. From 1949-1953 there was the Lewis Revival in the Hebrides, with two catalyst women, aged 82 and 85. Peggy was blind and her sister Christine arthritic; too infirmed to attend church, they prayed and God transformed their community.

    Gladys Aylward, rejected as “unqualified” by China Inland Mission, went to China on her own (using her servant wages in England), and saved many lives and souls during WW2 and thereafter.

    Finally, there are the Titus 2 older women who serve and teach the younger women in the church, with neither accolades nor collecting tithes for their work. God gave me seven to see me through my husband’s fatal illness: Miriam, Nadine, Ethyl, Barbara, Nancy, Ruthie, and Barb.

    • Tim says:

      It sounds like God surrounded you with heroes in those women.

      And I remember reading Aylward’s autobiography and thinking that here was a woman who did things I’d have never been able to handle in a million years.

  2. I agree 100% that the word “hero” does not need a feminine version! It’s one thing to distinguish “policeman” and “policewoman” since a woman cannot be a “policeMAN” — although “police officer” is better in either case. But I just hate seeing feminized names given to words that don’t need them. A female waiter is still a waiter and a female actor is still an actor. She doesn’t have to be a waitRESS or an actRESS.

    • Tim says:

      And in law, we have dropped the -ix endings. No more prosecutrix or executrix, just prosecutors and executors whether men or women.

      • This is a little off the topic, I realize, but thinking about actor/actress also made me think of awards like the Oscars. We have a category for women actors and a category for men actors — why not just one Best Actor category, regardless of the nominees’ sex? And there are starting to be problems at the Olympics with transgender athletes: women competing who are frowned upon as “not real women.” Which leads me to ask the next question: why do we even need to HAVE competitions between people to see who runs fastest or jumps highest etc?. I wonder if competition has always been part of human life? Races and prizes are mentioned in Scripture, but I can’t imagine they are seen as high priorities by God. I’m just thinking aloud here……

        • Mark Baker-Wright says:

          An interesting suggestion re: the Oscars. Recognizing, however, that this means giving away half as many awards, I suspect that long-standing biases would mean that women would be the ones to lose out in that particular equation.

  3. Muff Potter says:

    While we’re at it let’s add Deborah, Jael, Haddasah (Esther), Huldah, Hypatia of Alexandria (Muff swoons), Marie Curie, … and the list is long, you get the picture.

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