Women Who Inspire

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Let me preface this post by pointing out that I can honestly say that no woman has had a greater and more positive impact on my life than my mother. This post will highlight women who I do not personally know, however, that have still managed to provide me with positive role-models during different ages and phases in my life without even realising it.

It can sometimes be difficult as a girl or a woman to find other women to look up to. If you want to be a comedian it might be hard to see yourself on panel shows along side male comedians, who although often incredibly intelligent and witty you may find it harder to see yourself in or feel you can emulate in your career goals. I myself wish to write and especially write academic material. Unfortunately, however, academia is still a very male dominated sphere. Once again that is not to say the men who have worked hard to attain their doctorates are not incredibly deserving of their university positions but as a young woman striving to find her place it can be difficult when the books you are reading and the lectures you are attending are so often delivered by men. It is not unnatural to wonder, especially in the insecure, malleable age post-high school whilst making your first forays into higher education, is there a place for me here? And I was raised by strong, unsilenceable socialist feminists who told me I could be anything I wanted to be.

I wanted, therefore, to write this post and focus in on three women in the media that have inspired me in various different ways and might in turn inspire you too.

Margaret Atwood – One of the most prevalent modern day authors whose books I have no doubt will be the classics of the 20th and 21st century in centuries to come. It was one book in particular that impacted my life quite violently one day. If you watch my youtube channel you’ve probably heard me mention The Penelopiad: Margaret Atwood’s retelling of the Ancient Greek epic Homer’s Odyssey. My dad gave me this book when I was 15 (some appreciation for his massive influence on my life should go here!). It tells the story of Penelope’s far less geographical journey during the many years her husband is absent and she is left to take care of their household/kingdom in Ithaca. I had always loved to read but never before, I believe, had I read a piece of modern day literary fiction, and one that dealt so explicitly with the female perspective at that, in a time period when women were had very little voice in literature and society. I am now studying for  PhD in classics with a focus on women and sexual violence in Ancient Greece. A tenuous link you might think but I can whole heartedly say that it was this book that set me on course to begin the journey I am currently on. Not only that but I have since read, adored, and been moved by many more of Atwood’s works. She is an astounding author, woman and person.

Amanda Palmer – I would be lying if I said I had known anything about Amanda Palmer before 2015. Two wonderful and equally inspiring friends of mine, Leena and Jen, zealously pushed me to read Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking last year after it had already had its way with their minds. A better book to be bullied into reading I have never read. Palmer’s book is part memoir, part creative inspiration and confidence booster. She details her own journey to who she is today, how she strove to be the musician and performer she had always wanted to be and learned ‘the art of asking’. She gave me a wholly invigorated perspective on the pursuit of art (in its many different forms), the relationship between creator and audience, the appreciation of other’s art and the importance of one’s dreams, at a time when I needed to hear it. On that note I would highly recommend the audio version of Palmer’s book as she herself reads it and it is an almost melodic experience. Since then I have also discovered the breadth of Amanda Palmer’s art and found joy in her music as well as her exuberant spirit.

Mary Beard – To come back full circle and highlight one of he most prominent ancient historians and classicists today. You read before my own passion for the study of antiquity so it may come as no surprise to you to see Mary Beard in this selection of women. Mary Beard does something for antiquity that I can only ever hope to achieve and contribute to, which is to share it with everyone. Beard, whilst an incredibly intelligent and insightful scholar, makes classics that little bit more accessible. I have always believed in sharing antiquity and helping others discover its wonders, especially as someone who never had an opportunity to study it at school. Mary Beard not only produces high quality literature and research on the topic but she is in the media’s eye, popularising something that is often perceived as exclusive or even irrelevant. As a woman in classics it is difficult not to look up to her and praise the work she does. Not only that but she is an ambassador for one of my favourite organisations/charities: Classics for All.

 Who are the women who have inspired you?

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4 thoughts on “Women Who Inspire

  1. This is a great post, Jean! The only person you’ve mentioned who, as of yet, has greatly influenced my life has been J.K. Rowling. I recently bought Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and put on hold at the library Mary Beard’s ‘SPQR’ (that last one specifically because of your recommendation!). So I suspect it won’t be long before Atwood and Beard make it onto my list of inspirational women as well. I’ll also be adding Amanda Palmer’s book to my tbr list. 🙂

    This post reminds me of part of the reason why I’m so happy you started the Feminist Orchestra Bookclub. Women have been woefully underrepresented in my reading experiences and I’m glad for the opportunity to change that asap! 😀

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    • Thanks Francesca! ^_^ I hope you find these women as inspirational as I do. I remember when I was younger all of the people ‘I wanted to be’ were men and it has taken me years to see more women amongst the men in these roles in the media. Glad I found some though.
      Also so glad you’re excited for the book club!

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  2. J.K Rowling is definitely an inspiration to me, not just as a writer but as a woman! The fact that she’s so willing to speak up about issues she feels passionately about despite online backlash is so inspiring, as is how far she has come and how humble and modest she still is! Whenever I’m feeling down I watch interviews with her or documentaries about her on YouTube and I always feel inspired again soon enough. Another inspirational woman for me is Hazel Hayes on YouTube. She creates and acts in short films which are fantastic, and her monthly vlog series was beautiful to watch. I feel like sometimes it can be hard to find people on YouTube who are genuinely inspirational, but her passion for what she does and her drive to achieve her dreams are definitely inspiring for me considering so many people tell me my dreams (to be an academic and a fantasy writer) are unrealistic (especially for women). Sometimes it can be all too easy to give u on your dreams because of what people around you are saying, but watching Hazel talk about her goals as an aspiring director always reassures me that anything is possible if you work hard enough! Fantastic post Jean, I’ll definitely be checking out Margaret Atwood/Mary Beard and reading Amanda Palmer’s book rather than just listening to her music! 🙂

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  3. This is a great list! As I’m planning to study classics at university, Mary Beard is too a great inspiration to me. As you said, not only because of her academic achievements, but also because she actively tries to make the classics more accessible/popular.
    I’ve finally read The Handmaid’s Tale last year and it blew away. I’ve been on a hunt for another Atwood’s book and after reading this I think I’ll make The Penelopiad my next read. Thanks for the tip!

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