To mark International Women’s Day 2014, a few Belle Jar writers have contributed a few words on just some of the women in their lives and throughout history that have provided them with inspiration.
International Women’s Day is all about celebrating the achievements of women across the globe. In a society dominated by an endless string of misrepresentations seen in the mass media, there is a significant shortage of female role models in the spotlight. Whilst constructions of masculinity are just as problematic and worth interrogating as constructions of femininity, the media is undoubtedly a space dominated by men, and this needs to change. As noted by the New York Times ‘Women obtained a mere 28.4% of speaking parts in the 100 most profitable films of 2012’. We live in a time that many argue has already achieved gender equality, but as Kat Banyard explores in her book ‘The Equality Illusion’, this is far from the truth. There is still a lot to be done and we can start by celebrating these inspiring women who are fantastic role models.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie is a skilled story teller, in the written and the spoken word. She is the Nigerian author of celebrated novels Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah. . In her TED talk The Danger of a Single Story she discusses how the Literary Canon, dominated by white men, offers only an incomplete stereotype of Africa. Adichie uses storytelling to overthrow such imperial and colonial ideologies that silence the voices of anyone who is not a straight, white man. In doing so, she asserts her own identity and her right, as a writer and a reader, to Literature. She emphasizes the importance of telling more than one story and criticizes the Euro-centric frames in which Western Literature and Media are often presented in. Last, but not least, her thought-provoking talk, We Should All Be Feminists picks apart patriarchal society as she tells her own story of how women in Nigeria experience gender constructions.
Sanghera founded the UK based charity Karma Nirvana that supports victims and survivors of Forced Marriage and Honour Based Abuse. A survivor herself, she ran away from home at just 15 to escape a forced marriage and consequently faced the rejection of her parents and family. She tells her story in novel Shame, which is followed by the stories of other British survivors in Daughters of Shame. In Shame Revisited, Sanghera goes to India to discover her roots and investigate the situation for women in India. Her writing is both candid and engaging. Her autobiographical work is deeply personal as she holds nothing back in the fight for women’s rights.
Susan Mary Ring (Rosalind Hewett, Belle Jar contributor’s mother)
It’s a cliché but the woman I admire the most has to be my mum, Susan Mary Ring. When she was pregnant with me and working in central London, she spent her lunch breaks stood outside the South African Embassy in protest against apartheid. I like to think that’s where I inherited my sense of political justice. When she was heavily pregnant with my younger sister, she took a Mathematics GCSE exam in order to meet university entry requirements, (and yes, she got an A in it and my little sister is great). She then managed to get a degree in Psychology with three daughters under the age of ten to look after, going on to work as a counsellor – just another example of her love of helping people. She has raised me to think and speak out for myself, to be liberal and feminist, and to be compassionate and caring towards others. She is my mother and my best friend. She is awesome.
Founder of the Gulabi Gang in India (Pink Sari Gang), Pal will stop at nothing to achieve equality and challenge injustices in society. She is a fearless and strong activist who knows all about strength in numbers and has recruited 1000’s of members to join the struggle for change. Women who have suffered violence at the hands of their husbands come to the Gulabi Gang and sometimes the Gang will beat the husband up with sticks themselves if he does not stop abusing his wife. Pal does not just take care of women’s rights but the rights of the community as a whole, taking it upon herself to mend broken roads and reason with the law when someone is wrongly imprisoned. Tired of corrupt politics and aware of the need for change, many men are onboard with Pal and her gang. You can read all about her story in Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in India by Amana Fontanella-Khan.
As a prominent activist in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, and the first woman to be elected to the executive committee of the African National Congress (ANC), Lillian Masediba Ngoyi is a figure of immense strength, courage and inspiration. In 1952, when she joined the ANC Women’s league – of which she later became President – she was a widow working as a seamstress with two children and an elderly mother to support. In 1956, along with other prominent black South African women, she led a 20,000 strong march to the Union buildings of Pretoria in protest against apartheid legislation requiring women to carry passbooks as part of the Pass Laws (a form of internal passport system designed to segregate the population, severely limit the movements of the black African populace). Like most of the black population, she was not fortunate enough to come from an intellectual background – but she was a strong orator and an incredible inspiration.
Cel Phelan, Belle Jar contributor Anna Carnegie’s Aunt
When I think of the word ‘inspirational’, it is not a celebrity or public figure that comes to mind, but someone far closer to home; my aunt. Although perhaps not instantly recognisable, she is infamous in her field, and has a certain presence that lights up any room she enters. She is in her seventies, yet continues to head up the hugely successful design company she founded in the 1980’s. The drive and determination she exhibits is nothing short of extraordinary. Yet that is not her most impressive feat; what I find truly inspirational is, despite her success, the dedication she shows to those around her. If any of the family is in trouble, she will go out of her way to help. Social ties are paramount and – while you might imagine someone of her professional calibre to be chained to their desk – she is more than often found playing with her grandchildren or spending time with friends. When I found myself ill and far from home, it was this incredible woman who took me under her wing and ensured I got the proper help. If I can inherit one tenth of her courage, love and ambition, I’ll count myself extremely fortunate.
Annie Lennox OBE
Born in to a working-class background in 1950s Scotland, Annie Lennox grew up to be an iconic figure of the 1980s music scene as one half of the electro-pop sensation Eurythmics. Since then, she has won 8 Brit awards, 4 Grammys and an Academy Award for her music.
Lennox is also a passionate human rights activist. She campaigns to spread awareness about HIV and AIDs and how it is destroying the lives of women and children in Africa. She has received countless credits for her humanitarian work, including the prestigious OBE.
PLUS: She co-wrote the ultimate feminist pop-anthem ‘Sisters are doin’ it for themselves’ with her Eurythmics band mate Dave Stewart. The song also features the vocals of another legendary female vocalist: Aretha Franklin.