This week, I asked my housemates for a few suggestions of people whom they felt were good influential public figures, be they men or women. One response I got back- which was unfortunately and depressingly common- was: ‘I can never think of good public women figures’. And therein lays our problem, where have all the good women gone? Our senses are constantly assaulted by women and girls who we ‘shouldn’t’ look up to; people that either dress too slutty or act too promiscuously. Or the more worrying side effect: the unachievable inspiration; this is epitomised by the annual Victoria Secrets Fashion show. This is a showcase of skin and thin that reproduces unrealistic images of what it means to be ‘pretty’, ‘attractive’ and ‘feminine’. Teenage girls, especially, need to see real, opinionated women standing up for themselves. They need to use their power to educate on more than twerking, walking in a straight line and what essentials to carry in their make-up bag.
And so, with all the authority a 20-year-old, overdraft loving student can muster, I present The List. Here are the women and girls who are standing up for women’s rights, modernising feminism and inspiring us to be braver and bolder and- most importantly- to be comfortable in our own skin.
No modern-day feminist is ready for the day ahead without a few quotes of wisdom from the hilarious Moran. Best-selling author and tri-weekly columnist for The Times, Moran has come a long way from her Wolverhampton council home. Moran is an avid supporter of women and women’s rights and spends her days stamping about in Doc Martins, swearing profusely and trying to rid the world of the dreaded cystitis. Moran proves many points: females can be funny, feminists are not man-hating lesbians, and not having a bikini wax will not deter men. If you’ve never heard of her, buy her book NOW. Or, if you’re skint like me, follow her on Twitter (@caitlinmoran). She really is a true female icon, reminding the non-models and normal people of the world that it’s okay to be a bit weird, fundamentally working class and altogether amazing.
This woman wrote Harry Potter, a book that has sold over 450 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 73 different languages. It has a net worth (of both books and films) of nearly $15billion. She is also a prominent supporter of mental health issues- having suffered from depression herself- and is a campaigner against the stigmatisation that surrounds mental health disorders in society. Rowling is the antithesis to so many celebrity figures in modern culture: an intelligent, understated woman who appreciates and advocates the right to privacy. She has talent and proves you don’t have to sell yourself short in order to be successful.
Malala is sixteen years old and has already lived through more than many people will in their whole life. Shot by Taliban rebels for her activist stance on education, Malala has shown perseverance in the face of the adversary. She infers that the gift of education is one of the greatest to be given. Malala is a role model for girls and women everywhere and, not only undermines, but makes obsolete the priorities of many teenagers in society. Here is a young campaigner proving the female voice, regardless of age, is powerful and needs to be heard.
One half of the greatest power couple in the world, Michelle Obama has separated herself from the image of ‘just the President’s wife’. She has spearheaded many of her own initiatives, such as ‘Let’s Move’ – the programme attempting to tackle childhood obesity. With degrees from both Princeton and Harvard (and, let’s face it, a seriously enviable wardrobe!), the First Lady is an inspiration for all women, showing that success does not have to be sacrificed for your partner’s career.
My self-confessed girl crush of the millennium, Jennifer Lawrence is not only a multi-award winning actress, but she is also a breath of fresh air to the negative, skinny obsessed Hollywood lifestyle. Lawrence is known for her diverse acting roles, outgoing personality and denial to accept the need to be skinny in order to get a role. She states that she wants girls to look at the characters she plays and aspire to ‘be healthier’, not ‘starve themselves’. It only takes a quick Google search for numerous articles and clips to come up, showing some of the most hilarious moments of Lawrence. She is an inspiration for the emphasis she places on having talent not a thigh gap.
The Chancellor of Germany since 2005 (the first woman to ever hold the post), and the most powerful woman in the world, Merkel is credited for her pragmatic, focused approach to politics. When the rest of the EU was freaking out and running about like headless chickens during the financial crisis, Merkel kept her cool and tried to tackle the escalading situation. Merkel is the total opposite of the increasingly problematic ‘celebrity politician’- rejecting the limelight to instead focus on the task at hand; she is an inspiration for surviving in the cut-throat ‘man’s world’ of politics.
Now before you flee the site, bear with me. Victoria Beckham is a role model for many reasons, one being her endless versatility. This is the woman who used to be the Queen of the WAGS, and before that one fifth of the most successful girl band in history; the band that made glasses cool and left the words ‘Girl Power’ ringing in everyone’s ears. Not only has Victoria regenerated herself time and time again, she has also defied negative commentators at every turn. From small town girl, Victoria Adams went on to become one half of one of the most successful couples in the world. She has raised four (reportedly delightful) children, and has re-launched herself as a designer that not only put critics in their place, but produces desirable and wearable clothes for all women (and she did this all in HEELS!). Victoria, I applaud you for reminding us ‘haters gonna hate’, and all we can do is prove them wrong.
From the National Book Awards, to the Tonys, to the Grammys: one of the most inspirational writers of our time, Maya Angelou, has won every award going. Angelou’s I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings is a heart-breaking tale, highlighting the difficulties of growing up in the turbulent times of segregation in America. Yet, despite some of its uncomfortable content, Angelou portrays her suffering in such eloquent, artistic verse. She proves to the male writers of her time -who argued a biography of a young black girl could not be interesting- extremely wrong.
The recent winner of an honorary Oscar for her humanitarian work, Jolie is a remarkable actress who has seen a long and successful career. Jolie was a Goodwill Ambassador and is now Special Envoy for UN High Commission for Refugees. A few months ago she wrote an honest and moving piece about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy. Jolie has worked hard to improve the lives of many women and her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, highlights the suffering of many women during the Bosnia-Serbia warfare. Furthermore, Jolie is a mother of six and she’s married to Brad Pitt… Brad Pitt people! The girl did well.
Some say you save the best until last, and indeed Beyoncé is one of the most inspirational figures in popular culture; she is the first woman to ever win six Grammy awards in one night. A working mother and activist for women empowerment, Beyoncé seems unstoppable. And, although I love her, and she will always be invited first to my imaginary dinner party of the ‘Best People in the World’, as I get older (or maybe as I become more of a feminist?), I just feel she could be doing so much more. The influence she has is awe-inspiring, and yet the reservations she has about declaring herself a feminist do not match with her stance on female equality and women’s rights. Bey I love you, and you are Queen, but sometimes I just wish you’d say you’re a feminist; reclaim the word and make it positive again… and stop working with that sleeze-bag Terry Richardson.
Malala Yousafzai: http://abcnews.go.com/topics/news/world/malala-yousafzai.htm
Beyonce Knowles: http://www.beyonce.com/news/countdown-to-touchdown