Editorial: The First Fifty

Last week, we celebrated our 50th post on the Dangerous Women Project.

In the first month and a half of this digital initiative, we are immensely proud of what we – and you, our readers and contributors – have achieved. We’ve assembled 50 responses of immense variety and quality.

For those who have come to the project later, here’s a short catch up on the nature of the project and a brief survey of the variety we’ve seen in the posts so far. We’ll also hint at some of the things that we’ve learned from the many answers to the question: what does it mean to be a dangerous woman?

It’s been exciting and rewarding to combine creative responses with reflections driven by personal experience and research-led contributions from our academic colleagues. But perhaps the most important thing about the posts to date has been that they have opened up rather than closed off debate.

We’ve had activists and trauma survivors who have embraced being a ‘dangerous woman’ as a central aspect of their identity, alongside inspiring creative responses glorying in the danger in all of us, as well as contributors who continue to reject the ‘dangerous’ label entirely. In other words, the first 50 posts have raised as many questions as they have answered. This was always our intention, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

And that’s why there’s a perfect fit between the Dangerous Women Project and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh where it’s housed. We are a place where people can come together – as visiting researchers in the University, as academics in our Colleges and Schools, and as ordinary people interested in the things that make us ‘tick’ as humans and as social beings – to make ‘ideas grow’.

At IASH, we work hard to look outward, to go beyond the campus. The Dangerous Women Project builds on our regular engagement with partners such as the Scottish chapter of International PEN, with whom we celebrate the role of women writers in the world. In fact, this year we held an amazing symposium with Scottish PEN on the topic of dangerous women at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. And this month we’re organising, with our colleagues in the Law School and the Global Justice Academy, a public lecture from Shami Chakrabarti, formerly of Liberty, who for so long was called ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’.

We’re delighted that the Dangerous Women Project has helped us to widen this engagement and make new connections throughout the world. We’ve now featured (or will soon feature in the case of South America) contributors from every continent except Antarctica—but that could change, we live in hope!

Among the first 50 posts we’ve heard about human rights struggles in Mexico and Palestine, relationships in India and Australia, pioneering women writers in Nigeria and Egypt, and partisan fighters in former Yugoslavia. What’s more, we’re delighted the Dangerous Women Project has built a global audience, reaching readers in 130 countries to date.

In addition to crossing geographic borders, we’ve also taken leaps through time, from the dangerous women of classical Greek tragedy, through early modern witch trials and Victorian-era scandals, to the future-focused 21st century think tank New America. Some posts aimed to recover or highlight women who have been, or risk being, largely lost from sight, such as Caroline Norton or Alice Sheldon. Other contributions explored the controversial legacy of women ranging from Byzantine princess Anna Komnene to South African pop princess Brenda Fassie. We’ve heard of women who transgressed conventions and boundaries—cross-dressing suffragettes, women demanding rights to divorce from unhappy marriages, and a poet defying the cultural expectations of her homeland.

But our posts haven’t been solely about women as individuals or groups. They’ve also considered actions and movements, especially where women have challenged the structures of power in order to change their own and others’ lives. ‘When we are dangerous, we can change the world,’ said Nicola Sturgeon when she responded to the project question. More recently, Anna Blus highlighted the importance of solidarity across borders on campaigns for women’s rights, including reproductive freedoms and women’s autonomy to control their own bodies.

With all that behind us, what do we have planned for the future? That’s, to a large extent, up to you!

Still, there are some areas and topics we’re especially keen to hear more about. We’d love to hear from more scientists or those who work with science, engineering, technology and medical themes. We want to feature athletes and stories from sport at all levels. And we think there’s definitely scope for further exploration by visual artists of the dangerous women theme (though if you haven’t already checked out the two comics we’ve posted to date you can do so here and here—believe us, they’re powerful).

Regardless, we’re looking forward to the possibilities as the year unfolds. We hope that the project will continue to provoke new ways of thinking about the dangerous women question as we bring together the next 50 posts of creative responses, reportage, biography and critical analysis.

But to do that, we need you to add your voice.

What do you think it means to be a dangerous woman?

We’re looking forward to your answers.


The Dangerous Women Project Team


Find out how you can submit your contribution here.

Suggestions on other ways to help support the project can be found here.