Apparently at the RWA Nationals there was a buzz/discussion about how there are so many kick ass heroines in historical romance these days. By kick ass -- these are the women who are unafriad to go toe to toe with men on the battlefield etc. But is this mecessary? There are other ways to be strong.
There is some evidence -- the tradition of the Valkeries and shield maidens plus a few sagas which mention women warriors. However, no graves have been found where there is clearly women's items such as spindles as well as swords.
Appearing unfeminine was also frowned upon in other periods. However this does not mean that women were weak or pliant or indeed could not influence events.
In England, women lost the right to vote with the advent of universal male sufferage. Prior to that if you were a large enough landowner, you could vote. And some widows did.
Women tended use their power when husbands were absent or dead. Unmarried women also could have power.
From reading Philippa Gregory's Cousin War books as well as watching the White Queen, I was reminded of exactly how much power a woman could exercise and how she was often pilloried for seeming to do it in an overt manner. Another case in point was the excellent Catharine Edwards series on Roman Mistresses, Murderers and Mothers: the Empresses of Rome. You could argue that Livia, Augustus's wife who basically ruled as co-emperor with Augustus and then with her son Tiberius was not a one-off but part of the women who had such influence at the end of the Republic. there are reasons why their names have come down to us.
As Livia shows the pursuit of feminie virtue can be used as a positive. The person who controls the behind the scenes and grants access to the nominal head may actually have more power than the warrior.
Anyway it bugs me when people equate strength with physical combat. There is more than one way to exercise power and brute force doesn't always cut it.