It’s International Women’s Day 2011, and the 100 year anniversary of International Women’s Day to boot! I hope you’re all doing something awesome to mark the occasion. For my part, I a) educated a well-meaning but misguided man when he came to my Facebook page to ask “why do we need a day for women anyway?” (he was mainly disgruntled about the fact that there is “no Man Day” — except, er, there is you guys! Yay!), and b) donated £50 to World Pulse. I’ve also been trying to spread the message about What Day This Is to the people around me, and as part of that, I’ve decided to write a wee post here about the women who inspire me. I’ve taken the idea from my super-talented and fabulous sister Helen, who made the short film at the bottom of this page.
I don’t really need to say much here, do I? I’m sure you’re all aware of what a huge literary force of nature Margaret Atwood is, even if you don’t love her writing (not meaning to alarm you, but there’s something wrong with you, by the way). As well as being an incredible novelist and poet, she’s also written extensively on the nature of writing as a craft, on Canadian writing and on women’s writing. She is a tireless campaigner for all manner of green and other political issues, and — I’ve met her! — a lovely person into the bargain.
Again, I’m sure most of you have at least a vague idea of who this lady was, but for those of you who need some clarification: Emmeline Pankhurst is one of the most influential female political figures of all time and has been named one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. As the founder of the WSPU she played a leading and pivotal role in the UK women’s suffrage movement, campaigning tirelessly and, controversially, sometimes violently to gain political agency for British women. Along with her daughter Christabel and her dedicated legion of WSPU followers, she changed the face of British — and by extension, world — politics forever.
Marie, Lady Stubbs DSG
Marie Stubbs is an inspirational Scotswoman and a fantastic teacher and educator (now retired), whose story was recently told via Ahead of the Class, a TV film starring Julie Walters. Stubbs took over the governance of St George’s Roman Catholic Secondary School in Maida Vale following the shocking murder of its former head teacher Philip Lawrence, and after regulatory bodies had rated the school’s education provision and learner engagement and well-being as dangerously poor. Stubbs took a radical new approach, with the motto “every child should be intrinsically valued,” managing to execute a truly inspirational turnaround in the school’s fortunes, engaging learners and staff in innovative new ways. As a teacher, she’s one of my heroines.
I’ll be honest — there aren’t that many Hollywood actresses I’d fancy going out for a pint and a chat with (though there’s another exception below), but Gabourey Sidibe? FOR SURE. Although I’d probably be totally tongue-tied when it came to the ‘chat’ bit, because I think this woman is a frickin’ goddess. She shot to fame a couple of years ago in the movie Precious, but unfortunately it was apparently impossible for critics and audiences to talk solely about her acting abilities. This woman must have faced more scrutiny about her weight and appearance than half of the rest of Hollywood put together, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for her to be nominated for an Oscar but only able to read articles with headlines like “who the hell is going to dress Gabby Sidibe for the red carpet?!” Sidibe is not a trained actor and Precious was her first role, yet she has handled the immense (and often negative) media attention like a pro, managing to maintain the air of a genuinely nice person at the same time. Personally, I think she is super-talented, absolutely gorgeous and seriously inspirational.
I love Kate Winslet as an actress — she plays the female lead in what is possibly my all-time favourite film, and has also portrayed one of my all-time favourite literary characters. However, I also love her for her tireless campaigning for women — Winslet is one of very, very few Hollywood actresses prepared to speak out about the damaging beauty standard perpetuated by her profession. She is a very vocal supporter of eating disorder charities, has spoken out on numerous occasions about the airbrushing and retouching of actresses and models in the media, and speaks regularly in interviews about her disdain for beauty and fashion magazines and their direct negative impact on the self-esteem of women and girls. And even if this stuff isn’t something that bugs you, you have to admit… she’s a great actress.
Melissa McEwan is the founder of my all-time favourite blog Shakesville, founded in 2004 as Shakespeare’s Sister. I won’t say too much about Melissa herself, because she’s only one of a small but hardworking group of contributors and a much wider and even more vocal group of commenters who keep Shakesville going, and who keep it awesome. But I’ve picked her out in particular because it’s usually her posts, thoughts and comments that particularly chime with me. Shakesville has fundamentally changed the way I look at myself, other women, men, the media and politics. Here’s a little more about it, from their “About” page:
Shakesville is a feminist blog, and a feminist’s blog. It is a progressive blog. It is a safe space. It is a community. It is a blog whose contributors are resolved to be willing to self-examine and learn, and whose community members are expected to do the same. Forward movement, progress, on cultural, political, and individual levels is woven into the fabric of Shakesville. Our key objectives are equality, liberty, and justice for all, empathy, self-awareness, growth, momentum, compassion, and laughter. We blog about domestic politics, foreign policy, high culture, pop culture, books, film, telly, food, the patriarchy, oppression, repression, religion, philosophy, parenting, not parenting, marriage, cats, why women’s trousers have so many buttons, and anything else that we feel like discussing. With photos. Many of them doctored for maximum hilarity. All are invited. Whether you are welcome is up to you.
Naturally, this is only a tiny selection of the women who inspire or have inspired me at some point in my life. If I listed them all here, this post would never end, so I’ll sign off at that — though not until I mention a few other supremely inspiring women in my life. My late grandmother, Pauline Annie, whose loud, proud, rude, crude Northern voice is forever in my head; my mother — likewise, only without the ‘rude, crude’ part; my awesome colleague Lorna, one of the coolest teachers and most fabulous ladies I have ever had the pleasure to meet; and finally my baby sister, whose International Women’s Day 2011 film (below) is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg of her talents. NOW GO CELEBRATE THE WOMEN IN YOUR LIFE. They’re amazing.