There have been countless figures who haven’t batted an eye at resisting conformity and pushing for ideas they believe in. Sure, sometimes their ideologies haven’t always been great (*cough* Freud *cough*) but they definitely contributed to making the world a better, safer and more interesting place.
Also, a disclaimer: By “controversial”, we mean for the time these people had been alive in. We condone racism and inequality in every form.
Emily Dickinson and Bold Poetry
Emily Dickinson is heralded as one of the greatest poets of all time. She wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable with her words and that really shows in her relentlessly honest poetry. Dickinson craved an escape from her parents’ expectations and what society dictated for young women. At a time where women were expected to be good housewives and adhere to gender norms, Dickinson refused to marry and have children. She attended church but called herself a “pagan“. She poured her soul out in her poetry. At first glance, Dickinson’s poems may seem simplistic but their strength lies in how accurately and vividly she describes the seemingly mundane.
Some of her poems to check out:
- I never hear the word “Escape” (144)
- “Hope” is the thing with feathers (314)
- It was not Death, for I stood up (355)
There’s also a show called Dickinson that makes many bold claims about her life. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re looking for a biographical show with a splash of modernism.
Susan B. Anthony and Feminism
From an early age, Susan B. Anthony was taught to believe that all humans were equal. She fought for abolition, giving speeches when it was frowned upon for women to be activists. When Anthony was denied a chance to speak due to her gender, she became an active voice for women’s rights. She went onto pioneer the suffragette’s movement, co-founding the National American Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and serving as its president during 1892-1900.
“There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”
In 1872, Anthony was arrested and tried when she attempted to vote in a presidential election. Faced by an all-male courtroom, Anthony was found guilty and fined $100 which she refused to pay. It wasn’t until 1920 that women were finally granted the right to vote in federal elections, fourteen years after Anthony’s death.
There is still a discrepancy between men and women’s rights. It was thanks to people like Susan B. Anthony that we have made some progress but the road isn’t over yet. This is your friendly reminder that regardless of your biological sex or the gender you identify as, you are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. Don’t let them stop you.
Sigmund Freud and the Oedipus Complex
Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and pioneered the field of psychoanalysis. Even his name is enough to conjure convoluted psychological ideas! One of his most infamous theories was the Oedipus complex which claims that children feel overly attached to the parent of the opposite sex and develop aggressive feelings towards the parent of the same sex. Freud had originally used this theory to describe young boys but devised “the Electra Complex” for girls too. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Greek myth of Oedipus, well, in a nutshell, he accidentally killed his father with a chariot and slept with his mother. Yeah. Quite messed up. (We love Greek mythology!)
“The sexual wishes in regard to the mother become more intense and the father is perceived as an obstacle to the; this gives rise to the Oedipus complex.”
Let’s flesh this theory out a bit more using a boy aged 3 and 6. This boy will feel very attached to his mother and threatened by his father. He will fantasise about replacing his father which will lead to “castration anxiety” — the fear that the father will remove the boy’s genitalia. The boy starts identifying with the father as a coping mechanism and internalises the father’s mindset and behaviour. If that doesn’t leave a bitter feeling in your mouth, I don’t know what will.
Rosa Parks and Equality
Rosa Parks is perhaps most iconically remembered for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Alabama. At the time, the United States of America had nefarious laws called “Jim Crow Laws”. The Jim Crow Laws legalised segregation between Black and white people. African Americans weren’t allowed to vote, hold jobs, receive the same education and were denied other opportunities. It was a pretty grim time.
E. D. Nixon convinced Rosa Parks to become a plaintiff for a legal case against segregation. The two also helped organise the Montgomery Bus Boycott where African Americans refused to ride in the buses. Despite 75% of the bus ridership being Black Americans, the city of Montgomery refused to make any changes. Upon receiving death threats, Parks and her family moved to Michigan. Parks remained an active member of the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
There is still much work that needs to be done to “solve” racism. So here’s another friendly reminder to stand up for what you believe in.
Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren and H. pylori
If you’ve ever had ulcers in your digestive tract, you know it’s NOT a fun illness to have a constant burning/aching in your stomach, indigestion, heartburn, the point being, not at all ideal. Prior to Marshall and Warren’s research, peptic ulcer disease was considered to be a culmination of stress and terrible lifestyle choices. Little did anyone suspect a finicky bacterial organism called Helicobacter pylori.
H. pylori has the ability to colonise your digestive tract and cause ulcers to form (which we’ve already established is a nasty disease). Only eliminating the bacteria from your gut alleviates symptoms. For their research, Marshall and Warren were jointly awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Are there any controversial figures from society that you’ve found particularly inspiring? Let us know in the comments below!
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