Pantene Explains Why Most Influential Women In History Are Forgotten



It is said that this is a man’s world and sometimes it is. As a matter of fact if we look at history, historiography to be precise, this seems to be only a man’s world. What with prominent females like Nur Jahan, Jahanaara, Roxelanna and Cleopatra either consigned to oblivion or vilified to the extent that their contribution goes unrecognized. Had it only been an Indian phenomenon I may have attributed it to our generally misogynistic society that has traditionally not been able to tolerate women in powerful positions but even in countries like Egypt, Turkey, Greece and the UK, we see very similar situations presenting themselves. The reason for the same has been explored by a regular shampoo brand, Pantene. But I will come to it later; let’s first understand the cases of these ladies better.


Let’s look at the case of Nur Jahan. Nur Jahan was the youngest and the favorite wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. She wielded significant influence over her husband and used the same to gain wealth and have a say in the court. She is said to have been the mistress of various trading ships and had coins issued in her name. But in those times when women were expected to be pretty things behind veils, most of the noblemen and courts people found such influence of a woman very hard to digest and she was therefore regarded as an unscrupulous, ambitious woman who deserved naught. Thus, comes the statement in CBSE NCERT Class Xth History book (the one used in 2008), ‘Nur Jahan was a crafty woman who exploited her influence on Jahangir to gain power’. The disturbing part here is that most men around the emperor were doing the same thing, his own children no less and they are not tagged as ‘crafty’ in the history books while Nur Jahan is – the only difference between her and the others being her gender.


Something very similar happened with the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. Jahanaara was the first unmarried woman and the first daughter of the Mughal household ever to become in charge of the royal harem. This happened after Mumtaz Mahal passed away and Shah Jahan plunged to the depths of sorrow. As her father became more deeply arrested in his grief, historical records say that she also started playing a role in imperial decision making. But just because she was a female, not just history books but even popular discussions on historically important women completely leave her out. She has been practically wiped off popular history discussions. Her younger sister Roshanara who was the mastermind behind the accession of Aurangzeb and succeeded her, was poisoned by the very same Aurangzeb for having a lover; if being carnal is a sin then the entire mankind must be punished but the standards or rather the double standards in her case were so pervasive that she too, has been wiped off history pages.

And these are not the only examples that I can quote. Right from Roxelanna to Cleopatra, from Marie Antoinette to Fernande Grudet-all these women desirous of power and influence. They employed their own means and did their best to achieve that but were tagged either as overly ambitious or as adulteresses with no morals or were demonized in popular culture. And yet in all these cultures their male contemporaries, who strove for the very same things that these women wanted, were not labeled similarly.

Now how did this thought pop up in my head? It actually has a lot to do with labels, as a matter of fact with an advertisement of Pantene very aptly titled ‘Labels against Women’. The advertisement, neither very long nor very overt, comes like a blow to the face as it exposes the shallowness of our own thought system pretty clearly; how the same actions by a man and a woman are seen so differently by the society. It is this same difference in point of view that has historically been reflected in the aforementioned examples. As a B-school student, the idea that my drive to achieve a better position at work will be seen as being selfish or my interaction with my juniors will be seen only as bossy is really disturbing. It gives me a feeling that I have gone back to live in the medieval ages where nothing that a woman could do was ever right and everything that a man did was nothing but right.

I have tried hard to understand the deeper psychological facts hidden in this skewed way of thinking and how it maybe changes but I have come up empty. But I do see a ray of hope in Gloria Steinem’s words: ‘We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters’; probably raising our sons like daughters will change our perceptions of gender roles and stereotypes. All that I can say is Amen!

Akriti Gupta

I am a student of Business Management program, class of 2013-15 in XLRI, Jamshedpur. A writer by hobby, a speaker by vocation, a painter on whim and a student by compulsion. I hail from Delhi-NCR and have been to Delhi Public School, R K Puram and Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University to study about..well..things that I don't remember any longer :p Hope you have as much of fun reading my articles as much I have writing.


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