Recently, I started thinking about the female characters that I was exposed to while growing up during the 1980’s and 90’s.
At school, we studied books by George Orwell (1984), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), William Golding (Lord of the flies) and lots and lots of Shakespeare. I don’t remember a single female novelist on the curriculum. Strangely, this didn’t strike me as unusual and none of my classmates seemed to notice.
In history class it was the same.
In my 12 years of piano lessons, I didn’t learn a single piece by a female composer.
The role models that I was surrounded by were mostly from pages of Girlfriend and Dolly, and back then, these magazines contained a great dose of body image self-consciousness, portraying stars looking better than perfect.
Sam Smethers who is the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a UK organisation campaigning for gender equality says, “The adage ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ really resonates with me, which is why representation is so important… Women need other women to look to, to believe that they can do it. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
So where are the female role models, heroines, SHEroes?
They do exist. But often they have been silenced, ignored or overlooked. They have been stifled in time and history, behind the shadows of men.
This is where SHEroes comes in. Shedding light on women in all fields who have made a contribution to art, science, innovation, society in general and to bring them to the front and centre, for all to see. It’s a mission that we all need to take up. Because the more we expose ourselves and unveil SHEroes, the more these role models will be visible within society.
Some tips to help you get started on your SHEroe finding journey:
- List-making. Make a list of all the women that you admire. Think of specific fields such as literature, music, visual arts, sport, science, social justice, technology, etc and try and think of women who have made a mark in those fields.
- Research. Once you’ve exhausted your list, start researching women in fields that interest you e.g. perhaps you like gardening – who are all the female gardeners who have made a mark in the gardening world?
- Read their stories. Learn about the stories of the women who you’ve come across in your research – through researching on the internet, listening to their music, reading their books, admiring their art, learning their ways.
- Celebrate them + spread the word. Share about them on SM, on blogs, on your website, make art about them or simply talk about them with others.
- You can start by reading the book Wonder Women: 25 innovators, inventors, and trailblazers who changed history, which tells the stories of wonderful women who excelled in their fields, even with the odds stacked against them.
A few SHEroes to be inspired by:
- Lizzie Maggie, a feminist and game designer who invented the game Monopoly (as a commentary and protest against the capitalist regime) however she was never recognised for doing so. Read her story here.
- Susan Kare, was the one who gave Apple its look and feel and user-friendly appeal, working alongside Steve Jobs. She largely goes unrecognised for her contribution, in a male-dominated field.
- Jocelyn Bell Burnell, an astrophysicist, discovered pulsars – rapidly rotating collapsed stars. Her supervisor and colleague won the Nobel prize for this discovery and she was casually omitted.
- Biologist Nettie Stevens discovered why some babies are born female and others male – thanks to chromosomes in male’s sperm. Credit is more than often given to a male colleague, E.B. Wilson instead of Nettie Stevens.
- A pianist and composer, Clara Schumann, was one of the most influential pianists in history. She was a child prodigy and was one of the first pianists to play music from memory. She earned most of the money in her household, even though she was married to another pianist, Robert Schumann.