“While I breathe, I hope”
This morning Rebecca from Artemis Mindset asked a question on her Facebook Group. Which women inspire you?
Inspirational … it’s a word that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to women. To inspire someone is to ‘ exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on‘ them. Millie Slavidou breaks down the word inspire:
in = Latin prefix meaning ‘in’.
spire = from Latin spirare meaning ‘breathe’.
And suggests that we ‘think of it as a breathing in of ideas, or atmosphere, a filling with the air of imagination’.
This was a hard list to write because I was conscious of the women who would not be included. What criteria do I use when compiling such a list? The women who offer love, support and advice in my daily life are too many to mention and deserve my thanks and appreciation. I struggled for hours, before realising that there are a couple of types of women who inspire me.
The Women Who Break the Mould
Women who go beyond their background and upbringing, ignoring the dictates of their society, refusing to be silenced, going their own way. We will never hear the stories of many of these women, but they are all around us.
Women like my husband’s grandmother Brigitte, who left her remote village to work in a city, where she recalled seeing Kaiser Wilhelm parade through the streets. She travelled further afield, to the Alpen town of Kitzbuhel, on the border to Austria, where she met her husband. Returning to her home village, she raised her children during a dark period in Germany’s history. In the late 1950s, her two middle children announced they wished to visit America. Brigitte shocked her neighbours by selling a pig to raise the money for this youthful folly. By the time I met her, she was a widow who refused to abandon her rickety old house, without central heating or even an electric boiler. Defying her children, she would climb the wooden ladder to the loft in the barn to fetch wood for the stove. A decade later, she admitted that she could no longer live alone, and moved in with my in-laws for her final years. She died just days after meeting my newborn son for the first time. As he was gently laid into her arms, she sighed, ‘At last, he’s here’.
Other women who broke the mould include Sophia Duleep Singh, whose life I’ve been reading about in Anita Anand’s excellent biography. The Bugatti Queen, Helle Nice is another woman, who forged her own path. Bessie Coleman grew up without any of the advantages of Sophia but went on to become the first African-American female aviator. Some women are less well known, such as Victoria Drummond or Florence Mills, both of whom feature in the Jump! Books #12Women series.
The Women who Move the Debate
Politicians are tricky women to find inspiring, because while we may admire their achievements, we might not admire or share their politics and their policy focus. . Angela Merkel’s quiet determination and humanity is a shining light in the current refugee crisis. If you get the chance, watch The Making of Merkel by Andrew Marr. The following scene from the Andrew Marr documentary is pivotal to understanding Merkel. Her fellow minister Norbert Blüm pushes and patronises the woman they called ‘Kohl’s Mädchen’ (Chancellor Kohl’s girl), trying to make her sit down. She smiles and tries to escape, then sits before immediately jumping up again. The steel beneath the polite smiles and deference shows for a moment. Nobody puts Baby in a corner – and she doesn’t rely on anyone else to defend her.
Female politicians are harshly judged, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, as are all women who put themselves in the public eye. I don’t share Nicola Sturgeon‘s aims for our country, but I greatly admire her as a woman and role model for girls. Sheryl Sandberg implores us to lean in, Brene Brown dares us to be vulnerable and courageous, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie encourages us to look beyond our cultural borders, and says we should all be feminists, while Beyonce uses Adichie’s words to bring feminism to young girls.
We teach girls to shrink themselves to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful otherwise you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. A marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they can not be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.
The Women Who Quietly Change the World
In Caitlin Moran’s column How to Start and Win an Argument Online, she talks about the ‘whataboutery’ of internet discussions. You know the type of person. The one when you post about doing x, will ask ‘but what about…’. She quite rightly points out that everyone specialises in their own area of interest and expertise. We didn’t ask Ghandi to tackle sex-trafficking, FGM, climate control and the World Cup while he was decolonising India.
The future is a communal effort, like a patchwork quilt. Everyone interested in forming our society takes a square each – a square they have chosen according to their interests, knowledge and ability – and sews it, then we join them together to make a fabulous quilt. That’s how things get done.
There are women out there changing the world, tiny baby steps at a time. They aren’t as visible as Angela Merkel or Beyonce, but their small contribution is just as worthy, and just as inspiring as the women who get all the press coverage.
My aunt’s name isn’t really Gabby but this is how she’s known to all her friends. I assume it was one of her elder brothers who gave her the nickname on account of her ‘gift of the gab’. My family has always been a matriarchal one, with strong women at the helm. Gabby is one of them. She’s a wonderfully supportive mother and grandmother. Over the years, Gabby supported many women, particularly those from immigration backgrounds, working for a charity as a business support advisor to help women set up their own businesses. Gabby is a take-no-nonsense person, but not a no-compromise one. She balances her directness with a kindness that comes from the heart and a willingness to listen to the cultural experiences of others.
A glance through my Twitter feed shows the work of countless women, sewing their own square of the quilt, some of them quite literally, such as the Woolly Hugs gang, who make blankets for terminally ill children and bereaved families. The LetToysBeToys campaign takes retailers to task for selling gendered products to children. Jo Costello and Louise Pennington, created the Everyday Victim Blaming campaign, to highlight instances of victim-blaming, and to support abused women. Karen Ingala Smith has taken on the terribly distressing cause of putting a name and a story to the women killed in the UK as a result of male violence with her Counting Dead Women campaign. Samantha Asumadu created the Media Diversified campaign, which aims to promote the work of people of colour, who are incredibly underrepresented in the press and literature. Amber Kirk-Ford is a young writer and blogger, who draws attention to YA books and writers on her MileLongBookshelf, and has spoken honestly and openly about her struggles with anxiety. Leyla Hussein, Nimco Ali and Sainab Abdi have faced abuse for demanding an end to FGM, with their campaign Daughters of Eve. The teams of ScienceGrrl and Stemettes work to further women and girls in STEM careers.
All of these women work tirelessly for their cause, often for little or no financial compensation, in addition to working and/or bringing up their children. In Amber’s case, while studying for her GCSE and A-level exams. Talk about inspiring!
Who inspires you?