"Name a badder bitch than Taylor Swift." That was the tweet that started a flurry of feminist-celebrating posts about awesome women who often go unrecognised.

The tweet by user @xnul, dated 10 November, used a photo of Swift in her recent video for chart-topper Look What You Made Me Do, which riffs on the fall of her reputation with a series of self-referential motifs. But the tweet suddenly became a viral trend at the beginning of December as people shared inspirational stories of 'badder bitches' - women from history or even from their own personal lives who have worked through hard times to come out stronger on the other side.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani human rights activist who was shot in the head by militants for going to school, was one of the most popular examples. A Twitter user called Shana said: "At 15, @Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban for insisting that girls had the right to an education. At 17, she became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in history. At 18, she opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon."

Historian Greg Jenner, who may have inadvertently started the meme on 1 December, shared a story about Jeanne de Clisson, who lived from 1300 to 1359. He described her as a "murderous French aristocrat-turned-pirate who named her ship My Revenge after the French king executed her husband". He added: "She spent the next decade killing all the French crews she encountered, sparing only one sailor to relay her message of vengeance." Jenner later said he was bemused by the tweet going viral.

Other notable women named in the meme include Julie d'Aubigny, a French opera singer/swordswoman in the 1600s who killed more than 10 men in duels with other women, and Countess Markievicz, who was a founding member of Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army. Se was the first woman elected to British Parliament, although she did not take her seat.

Some told more personal stories, including someone's great aunt who escaped from a concentration camp and then survived the rest of World War Two by hiding in a basement. Other Holocaust survivors and female astronauts were both common themes, while one person nominated: "Every single single mom ever."

Not everyone was comfortable with the meme however, saying it pitted women against each other. Author Meg Caddy said: "I don't think we should have to set women up against one another to show how badass they are." And writer Chelsea Fagan said: "i'm glad that everyone is sharing stories of these powerful awesome women on the "name a badder bitch" tweets, but the degree to which we've decided it's okay to use taylor swift as some kind of "safe" cultural punching bag is honestly gross."

This was the tweet that triggered it all:

And these are some of the epic responses naming inspirational women: