It's something that bears thinking about when writing a historical fiction, I think. I also think that she's quite wrong about women in historical periods. But I still think it's important that even in fiction, writers are aware of the limitations within which women had to work. That doesn't mean that they must write women as weak, or unempowered, utterly incapable of leaving their mark on the social or political realms of their time. Doing so would be, in actuality, absolutely false.
Women Shaped History
It is probably important to understand that much of the academic discourse around human history has largely been dominated by men. This is and of itself not a terrible thing, but when reviewing historical academia, it would behove us all to remember that history was largely written and interpreted by men; and therefore skewed by all the gendered baggage that comes with being a man in the social climate in which they were/are working.
After all, it was not too long ago that anyone buried with weapons was immediately considered male by academics, largely because the social morays at the time of their interpretation dictated that war and fighting are the domain of the gender "man." Reexaminations, however, are putting this assumption under the microscope, and finding it entirely lacking. Most notable of these reexaminations is the recent discovery that almost exactly half of the Viking settlers in Britain were women, and of those, a notable number were buried with their weapons, and, as such, were automatically and erroneously considered male when they were discovered.
Sure, most historical fiction isn't written about women in the age of Vikings, but it is not a stretch to consider that the women of later histories, if not utterly ignored by historians until quite recently, have been dismissed as similarly unimportant. Like the Viking raiders before them, it is largely thought that women could not, would not, or did not shape the world around them as did men.
I call bullshit on that idea.
Certainly, women of later times had to overcome, or slyly work around, some fairly severe restrictions; much of which would probably horrify the women that existed in the eras before them (let me tell you the ways Iron Age law in Ireland was better for women than laws today). That doesn't mean that women didn't act at all. Some acted within their restrictions, using the system against itself to achieve their aims. Some eschewed the restrictions altogether, and broke for freedom wearing trousers and brandishing swords.
History is choc-full of women who were powerful, who broke the mould, or who reshaped it to suit themselves and their aims. Why many people don't realise or don't understand this fact lies with the gendered assumptions underpinning much of the academia on the subject. Women in history have largely been ignored, their contributions to the world either overlooked entirely or ascribed to men, instead (bloody typical).
If you're interested on just how women from all cultures changed their world and contributed to history in fantastic, bold, and often exceptionally bloody ways, I highly recommend following Rejected Princesses. They've also published a book on the subject, highlighting women and their contributions to history. I cannot recommend it enough.
So yes, on paper, there was quite the discrepancy between roles ascribed to each gender historically. But I will fight anyone who believes that means that women did not contribute or act at all. That is a patently false assumption.
I am quite lucky, I suppose, to have written about women in a time when the Celts were still an extant culture, and to be writing about the daughters of one of the most famous Celtic woman history remembers. For the Celts, it seems, there is at least a grudging acceptance that their women did remarkable things worthy of historical remembrance. Boudicca, for example, has an entire layer in the archaeology named after her - the Boudiccan Destruction Horizon. It's by far my favourite thing to say.
Of course, there is the temptation to assume that Boudicca was every Celtic woman. This would be as inaccurate as saying no Celtic woman was like her. Warrior queens like Boudicca were rare, even for the Celts, but that doesn't mean that women of that time did not contribute to history, or fight against oppression. Of course they did. Examination of Iron Age laws, such that we can find (Ireland is the big one), reveals that women were far more equal than women who came after. I suppose that means that no one can accuse me of "falsely" empowering the women in my historical novel.
I would, however, contend that historical fiction rarely falsely empowers its women. What I've read does a good job of making the women believable in their time; often frustrated by their inabilities to do what they'd really like to, and finding other ways to work within the social morays of their times. Certainly not all women succeeded at this. But in all fairness, not all men succeeded in their actions, either.
Women in historical periods were not that different from women of today. Some were strong-willed. Some possessed brilliant minds for strategy or politicking, science or poetry. Some were content to sit and embroider. Some wanted nothing more than the security of marriage, the adoration of a brood of children. Some wanted nothing more than to flee to the sea, and sail endlessly. Some wanted men. Some wanted women. Some wanted neither, and nothing but the peace of an empty house in the country.
Certainly, things have not been great for women, historically. In fact, they were, and even remain, wildly unfair. Saying, however, that women were merely victims of history is disingenuous. It robs women of history their incredible strength. That women have achieved all that they did in spite of everything working to keep them down is nothing to be snuffed at. If that doesn't speak to the indelible, fierce spirit of womanhood, I don't know what does.
Pretending that women were docile or trapped things, unwilling or unable to manoeuvre around or manipulate their surrounds in order to achieve their ends is, to my mind, a ridiculous assumption. It's insulting to women, and to history.