Women’s history month: 13 Women who inspire me
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
As most of you will know March 8th is International Women’s Day. It’s a day that I‘ve really been looking forward to this year. Throughout the academic year I’ve been preparing my classes at school, tailored towards women empowerment and gender equality and I’ve covertly been trying to make them a little bit more ‘woke’. We’ve covered topics from women’s efforts in the Second World War, the visibility of women in the scientific field, the Suffrage movement in the U.K, the Me Too movement and sexual harassment.
I assumed that my students wouldn’t be interested in this acclaimed celebration. Nonetheless, to my surprise when I turned up to school yesterday, 95 % of students were wearing purple scarves. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. A sea of mauve neckerchiefs, wristband, headscarves, jumpers, lipstick and nail polish weaved past me through the saturated corridors. One of my colleagues then gave me a piece of purple fabric; she explained to me that the children were wearing these purple scarves in solidarity with international women’s day. They were acknowledging International Women’s day a day early because most of them would be striking the next day.
It was amazing to see students from all creeds and backgrounds come together- unified in this one occasion. Students were handing out pamphlets, which encouraged attendance to the annual Women’s March, which is taking place today in the town centre. A large mural had been erected overnight, paintings and fact files; each providing insight about different women who inspired them. I was beginning to get inspired- I felt encouraged by the efforts my students had made. The small yet significant action of tying a piece of purple fabric is so symbolic. They want to be part of the solution and not the problem. The number of boys who were also participating particularly impressed me. In my opinion, feminism and International Women’s day isn’t just about women empowering women- that too is at the forefront of this celebration. However we do need to encourage our boys and men to engage with the cause and not alienate them from this conversation.
With all this in mind I’ve decided to write a post all about the women who inspire me. It is a mixture of all races, backgrounds and ages. People that I am familiar with and others I have and will never meet in my lifetime. Nonetheless they each have made a profound impact on me- they encourage me to continue to be a free thinking, hard working young woman, who has her own opinions and ideas and uses her voice.
Now for anyone who knows me well this will come as no surprise. I could write a whole blog post- no a whole dissertation on why I believe that Beyoncé is such an inspiring individual. However I’ve promised myself that I’ll try to keep this post as concise as possible (hahaha). Beyoncé is a multi-faceted and talented human being. She has worked extremely hard in the music business and now she uses her platform to uplift others- for example when she had the 2018 cover of American Vogue she had 100% creative control. She hired the first EVER black photographer to shoot a cover for the magazine- bearing in mod that vogue has been in publication since 1892! Her widely viewed Coachella performance was used to promote HBCU’s (Historically Black College’s and Universities) and she even funds scholarships in the arts sector for lower income students. Personally, what made me look at her not only as an artist but an activist was her 2016 Superbowl Halftime performance. She performed formation- a bop as well as a song with a sobering message the music video- celebrating black culture (which has often been appropriated for so long)and our identity which has historically been used to demean black people. The song also calls out police brutality towards African American communities. Her costume choice for this performance was a deliberate choice- a nod to the Black Panther movement. This was a bold and controversial move especially on stage at the most watched television event of the year(favoured by predominately white male Americans). Beyoncé’s IDGAF attitude is what encourages and inspired me- her songs are so uplifting- many rally or female empowerment, independence and self-love. In my opinion she is a true feminist icon, artist and activist.
2. Frida Kahlo
My exposure to Frida Kahlo’s body of work was actually very recent. About three years ago, when my journey with Spanish began, I began to cultivate an interest in Latin American culture. I have to thank, in part, my first year Spanish teacher Maria Victoria’s whose emphasis on women’s rights and female empowerment encouraged me to delved further. I watched the film Frida and was instantly captured by the beguiling yet tragic story of her life. I researched her work, explored further into her biography and was captivated by her self- portraits. Frida Kahlo was a woman who faced so much adversity in her life- she contracted polio when she was six years old- rendering one of her legs shorter than the other. She was also involved in a bus accident in her teen years which subsequently meant that she had to undergo numerous operations through her life and was left in constant pain in her spine and back. Her work confronts her pain- they're melancholic yet also show resistance in the face of adversity. She was politically active- a communist- and engaged in a stormy relationship with her husband Diego Riviera as well as her subsequent love affairs with people of all genders. Kahlo didn’t play by the rules. Kahlo’s work shows me that pain in life is inevitable- it’s ever-present yet in different forms- physically, emotionally and psychologically but its how you deal with it that is important. You cannot give up, you have to depend on yourself and it is possible to turn traumatic experiences into beautiful art.
3. Mary Seacole
I remember studying about Mary Seacole in primary school. I was inspired to hear about how a Jamaican nurse was able to set up her own nursing home during the Crimean war. Yet I was saddened to hear her treatment post-war. Despite her contributions to nursing, she faced many obstacles in receiving the recognition that she deserved. For a long time I wanted to be a nurse, and then a doctor- this is before I realised that I was hopeless at science and was much better suited to the artistic and humanities sector. Seacole was a huge inspiration for me and I still have a painting of her framed in my bedroom to this day. As a Black woman in the mid 19th century opportunities were not landing at her feet. I loved how she made her own opportunities- she was selfless and caring yet it pains me to think that her skills and experience were denied due to strong racial prejudice. She even applied to work alongside Florence Nightingale in her team of nurses however, surprise surprise, she was rejected despite being more qualified by most (I wonder why). Nonetheless she still went to Crimea and set up her own boarding-house “The British Hotel” helping soldiers on the front line- returning to England years after the war penniless and her contributions unrecognised. Her efforts have been echoed by Black British nurses from the Windrush generation and even to this day who are still stigmatised and suffer racial discrimination despite offering a level of professional care. Nursing to me is one of the hardest professions in the world- it requires a level of medical skills as well as compassion- a rare combination. Seacole is still an inspiration to me because she decided that regardless of all the obstacles placed before her she was still going to do what she believed was right- helping those who need it. She has instilled in me selflessness- something that I strive to foster and grow each day.
4. My female teachers
Throughout my scholastic career I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by so many encouraging female (and male) teachers. From primary school up until my university days I have always found a large support network amongst my teachers. Yet there are three who have truly made an impact on me. Firstly, my year six teacher Miss Mason. She was one of my favourite teachers at school; she could be strict but also she knew how to encourage me- especially whilst I was going through the transition between primary and secondary school. My second shout out is to one of my English teachers Miss Lawson. She was only at our school for two years but she made a bigger impact on me more than she probably knows. She made English literature really interesting for me- it was in those years that I developed in interest in public speaking and poetry. She made me fall in love with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream however, I am eternally grateful for seeing something in my acting skills and casting me as Alice in our school production of Alice in Wonderland. She always reassured me that I was cast that role for a reason- despite an unfortunate incident surrounding my casting, which culminated in my first experience with racism. She made me feel valued and deserving of the role and for that I am truly grateful. My third and final teacher on the list is probably my favourite- Mrs Ripolles. She was my drama teacher from year nine until A level. our drama group had such a tumultuous time during year 12 and 13 yet she was always there to encourage and support us. She helped me become more confident in my acting ability and supporting me in my acting endeavours outside of school. She was also someone I could confide in and talk to and her ability to help avert a meltdown during our drama rehearsals! Mrs Ripolles still continues to inspire me to this day; she didn’t take any rubbish from anyone- she reminds me of my mum and during those years she was like a second mum to me too and I'm truly grateful for all the support that she gave me.
5. Christine and the Queens
Christine and the Queens- now known as Chris- is an artist that I actually didn’t like initially. The first time I saw her performing on The Graham Norton show I thought was a little pretentious. However, now, I’m one of her biggest cheerleaders. Her second album Chris has really inspired me- I loved Chaleur Humaine as it deals with ideas of acceptance and identity however Chris takes that one step further in her most recent album. It is a collection of songs that deconstruct gender and female sexuality. It is powerful, the lyrics are controversial and I love it. Chris, to me, is someone who is unapologetically herself. She’s like an artistic chameleon- she changes her style and look, playing around with different genres of music. Yet she is still Chris. She questions societal norms; gender stereotypes questioning female desire and sapphism and asks, “Why can’t I be that and more?” I love her boldness and defiance in the face of patriarchy- how she melanges masculinity and femininity- rather than compromising. Over the past few years she has been someone who I have personally looked at when dealing with personal identity crises. I now look at gender, sexuality and labels in a different light- she reminds me to be my authentic self, and that its okay to go through waves of confusion and discovery because they go hand in hand and are part of our journey.
6. Maya Angelou
A recurrent theme in this list is women who have tacked adversity and struggles. Maya Angelou is no exception. I read her novel I know why the caged bird sings last year and it truly opened my eyes. Angelou understand the meaning of trauma and struggle- she was a sexual assault survivor and also former sex worker. She however, didn’t let her past define her. She utilised all of her experiences and metamorphosed them into her literature. Female African- American writers are some of my favourites and Angelou ranks highly in my list- she, as well as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, depict a narrative that is both familiar yet foreign to me. Framing the black female narrative is something that resonates with me- in certain aspects I can relate with her yet each time I read her work I come to different conclusions. Angelou’s work is symbolic and harks to a time of injustice- something that unfortunately is still prevalent in today’s society. Angelou highlights that we, as black women, are faced with more hostility and challenges than most not only as black people but as women too- yet we strive to overcome this and showcase our best selves, overstepping the obstacles thrown in our way.
7. The matriarchs in my family: My mum, my aunties and Mya.
My mother’s side of the family has always had a heavy female influence. My mum is one of six children (three boys and three girls) and they were raised by a single mum; my Nanna. From my point of view the women in my family seem to be ones that have their sh*t together. My nanna raised six kids single-handedly whilst working. No one is perfect but she loves her kids unconditionally. I look up to my aunties Michelle and Janice- they’ve shown me that with hard work, determination and kindness you can achieve anything- whether that is owning your own house to starting a successful business based on your passion. My cousin Mya and I have always had a close bond- I see her more like my sister than a cousin. She’s always there for me and I can always rely on her for good advice. She was the first person in our immediate family to go to university- I admired that so much and I remember going to her graduation bursting with so much pride- seeing all of her hard work sparked something in me and gave me the push and the drive to also go into further education university too. Despite all of the obstacles she’s faced in her life- she is a wonderful mentor and has the most positive attitude, she’s one of the strongest people I know and I’m lucky to have her in my life. The biggest inspiration however is my mum. I love her unconditionally- she is my rock and although we butt heads sometimes I wish in some ways that I was more like her. I can be a soft person- too forgiving and don’t speak up for myself enough. My mum is the complete opposite. She knows who she is she is assertive, strong, speaks her mind and always encourages me. She’s one of the most resilient people I know and if I ever have children I would hope to be at least half the mum that she is.
And there you have it, that’s my list of all of the women who inspire and encourage me day to day. Of course there are male role models in my life too- but I think that today, above all it is imperative that we take a moment to reflect and concentrate on the women who inspire, encourage and motivate us.
More women who also inspire me:
- King princess: she is a singer song-writer redefining how we look at lesbianism in pop music and what it means to be queer. Her songs are tender, delicate and deal with love, relationships and the feminine.
- Oprah Winfrey: Of course Oprah is a huge inspiration to myself and other women around the world. She is a literal definition of the American Dream story- her rise to success shows us how hard work and determination supersede adversity and strife.
-Michelle Obama: This woman has paved the way for so many women- her commitment as first lady as well as her enduring grace and courtesy when faced with the likes of Donald Trump has always amazed me.
-Emma Watson: I think that she is just an incredible human- not only is she a talented artist but also a dedicated and generous philanthropist who uses her platform and her eloquence to highlight issues which surround us.