It’s an exciting time to be a woman. Everywhere we look, there are thousands of inspirational women challenging antiquated values and championing equality, whether they hold a position in politics or simply campaign for body positivity.
There are too many awe-inspiring women to mention in one blog post alone, but if I had to choose, I would aspire to be any one of the following ladies. This International Women’s Day, here are a few words of respect for some of my favourite females.
As a woman whose profession relies heavily upon technology, it would be remiss of me not to mention one of the most pioneering women in technology: Ada Lovelace. I was first introduced to the Countess of Lovelace’s work while writing for a regional magazine in Surrey.
In 2018, a study by PwC revealed that women make up just 15 per cent of the STEM workforce in the UK. Furthermore, 78 per cent of students cannot name a famous female working in technology. It’s time we introduced younger generations to these women in science – Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, working with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine. She was writing algorithms long before Google and working with computers long before Bill Gates.
An extra nod goes out to her mother, too. Annabella Milbanke encouraged Ada to go into science rather than following her father’s “volatile poetic temperament” – no mean feat when your father is Lord Byron.
Imagine a world in which women have the right to vote, but not to run. This was the case in the United States for more than 50 years. Specifically, women were not allowed to enter the Boston Marathon, one of the oldest marathons in the world, until 1972.
The first Boston Marathon took place in 1897, 23 years before women’s suffrage was granted in the US. At just 20 years old, German-born Kathrine Switzer entered the marathon under the name K.V. Switzer. She ran the entire course.
Of course, this was not without interventions from race officials. A quick Google search of Jock Semple reveals that he was in fact the shamed individual who tried to remove Kathrine’s race number. Five years later, Jock oversaw the official rule change which allowed women to enter. It beggars belief that women were ever considered “too frail” to run a marathon, but worse still, it took another five years to change the rules. We must give kudos to Bobbi Gibb, too, who ran the race without a number the year before – to great cheers, no less.
It’s hard to know where to start with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In November 2018, she became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Alexandria and I are the same age, and if nothing else, this goes to show that age is no barrier to incredible achievement.
One year prior, Alexandria had been working in a bar. She came from an underprivileged background and worked to support her mother. In February 2019, she delivered an incredibly empowering speech in the form of a “five-minute corruption game”. Posing hypothetical questions, Alexandria single-handedly exposed some of the biggest injustices in the American political system.
Perhaps Alexandria’s biggest display of no-holds-barred gutsiness, however, was when she challenged the very notion of having children. Alexandria is fiercely passionate about combating climate change, and in a world in which the president’s daughter claims a woman’s “most important job” is to be a mother, Alexandria is a welcome change.
Helen Keller is another inspiration to whom I was introduced through my work: not personally, of course, but I had the privilege of writing about her in Open Hand, the official magazine of Deafblind UK.
Despite the immense challenges of going through life without hearing or sight, Helen Keller managed to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. At the time, Helen was studying at a specialist women’s liberal arts college at Harvard, which was still very much an all-male university. This alone is enough to declare Helen as a beacon of feminism, but in addition to this, she was also a campaigner for women’s suffrage.
Helen Keller was a keen writer, using a Braille typewriter and then copying her work onto a regular typewriter. Her autobiography has been translated into 50 different languages and she has written 475 speeches and essays. If I could have even one tenth of her influence as a writer, I would be thrilled.
In 2017, the Jane Tomlinson Foundation announced it had raised £10 million in 10 years. I first came across the foundation when I ran my first 10K. Four years later, when I ran my first marathon, I thought it would be the most difficult thing I’d ever done. I knew nothing.
Jane Tomlinson was treated for breast cancer at the age of 26. Though the disease returned nine years later, this did not deter her from running the London Marathon three times. She also ran the New York Marathon and two London Triathlons. Her sheer dedication led her to raise £1.85 million for those affected by cancer.
Following her death in 2007, her legacy lives on, and today Jane Tomlinson events provide funds for cancer pain relief, children’s mental health, bereavement support, and better diagnostic testing. She was a true pillar of strength and will continue touching the lives of thousands of people for years to come.
A few honourable mentions…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
It would take a lifetime to list every one of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s achievements, so let’s hope the new Hollywood biopic reflects this. Aside from proving that sex is no barrier to excelling academically, she has championed women’s rights throughout her life, and is still an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court at 85. She’s an active pro-choice campaigner and believes the government has no place in making women’s choices for them.
Queen Elizabeth I
“I have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too.” She was a keen poet, a polyglot, and the 10th longest reigning monarch. She declined a marriage proposal and defeated the Spanish Armada, all without a man making decisions for her.
She has won more Grand Slam titles than any other female tennis player in history, and she takes no bull from the media. If winning a title while pregnant wasn’t impressive enough, she’s also got four Olympic gold medals. I personally love her unapologetic honesty – we all remember when she shut down a reporter for asking her why she didn’t smile.
Another woman whose candidness is simply fabulous, Helen Mirren is very outspoken about her views on motherhood. Many of her responses come laced with just the right smattering of four-letter language, but quite simply, she says it is her “contribution to ecology”. I respect her frank responses as an actress “of a certain age” . Plus, let’s not forget this amazing interview with Parkinson. Bravo.
In a world in which so many industries profit from women’s insecurities, Jameela Jamil tells it like it is. She categorically refuses to comment on insignificant “issues” like bodyweight, instead making bold statements such as “I weigh: lovely relationship, great friends and bingo wings”. Anybody who is teaching young women to respect themselves rather than loathe themselves gets a yes from me.