Five Centuries – Five Influential Female Writers #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2020 #EachforEqual

Yvey IWD 2020

Today, Sunday 8th March, is International Women’s Day. With its humble beginnings going as far back as 1911, International Women’s Day helps shine a light on the economic, social and political achievements of women. The call to action this year is #EachforEqual drawn from a notion of ‘Collective Individualism’. The idea being that, “Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world”.

about-iwd

As an author I have been inspired by many female writers over the years, many of whom defied the rigid rules of society, often risking ridicule and reputation in order to pursue a writing career. Trailblazers, if you will, that both individually and collectively paved the way for future generations to come.

So, in order to mark IWD 2020, here are my thoughts on some of those trailblazers, whose lives and work have both inspired and intrigued me.

 

Aphra Behn – a celebrated poet and novelist, was also one of the most influential dramatists of the late 17th century. Working as a spy for the British Crown after her husband passed away, then refused remuneration for her services, she found herself in desperate need of money. She vowed never to depend on anyone else for money again and took up writing to support herself. Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage was produced in London in 1670. She became of the period’s foremost playwrights and continued earning her living in the theatre and as a novelist (links to The Rover here) until her death in April 1689.

Virginia Woolf said of her:

“All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds… Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind but was of practical importance.”

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Mary Wollstonecraft – was an 18th century philosopher and proto-feminist, best known for her feminist philosophy A Vindication of the Rights of Women, written in response to educational and political theorists of the time who did not believe women should receive a rational education. Instead of viewing women as ornaments or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintained that they were human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men. Her daughter, Mary Shelley, also went on to become a writer, best known for her Gothic novel, Frankenstein.

 

Elizabeth Gaskell – was a 19th century English novelist, biographer and short story writer that I was first introduced to whilst studying at university. Like Charles Dickens, Gaskell’s stories offer detailed portraits on a wide variety of Victorian society including the poor, and the appalling state of impoverished workers in the industrial centres of the North. Her novels are therefore of great interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature and because of the social realism in them, her stories attracted the attention of Charles Dickens, who in turn invited her to write for the periodicals he edited: Household Words and All Year Round which included my favourite Gaskell novel, North and South – if you haven’t read it, you should.

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Jean Rhys CBE – best known for her critically acclaimed novel Wide Sargasso Sea – the prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (written over a hundred years later) – Jean Rhys was a 20th century novelist born on the Caribbean island of Dominica to a Welsh doctor and a third generation Creole. However, when she was 16 she moved to England for education purposes. In Wide Sargasso Sea she turns to the themes of dominance and dependence, especially in marriage, depicting the mutually painful relationship between a privileged English man and a Creole woman from Dominica – namely a certain Mr Rochester and his first “madwoman in the attic” wife, (Bertha) Antoinette, who is drawn in quite a different light than she was in Jane Eyre.

I love this quote by Jean Rhys:

“Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.”

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – is a 21st century Nigerian writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction, and was described in The Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. My first introduction to her work was We Should All Be Feminists, an essay based on TEDx talk of the same title that the writer gave in London in 2012 (here). She shared her experiences of being an African feminist and said gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. However, she also said she is “hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better”.

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Eva Jordan reviews… A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray ‏

Eva Jordan reviews A History of Britain in 21 Women - Post Header

Published by Oneworld Publications

This year marks the  100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK.  Also, on March 8th, it was International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, observed annually since the early 1900s. I, therefore, thought it appropriate to review a book that was both fitting and relevant to both these historic events.

A History of Britain in 21 Women is written by Dame Jenni Murray; probably best known as Radio 4’s presenter of Women’s Hour and whom I had the very great pleasure of meeting last year. These short biographies are a personal selection chosen by Murray to present the history of Britain through the lives of twenty-one women, whose lives embodied hope and change, who refused to surrender to established laws of society, and, who still have the power to inspire us today.

In the introduction, Murray, born in 1950, states that growing up “the role of a woman was to learn how to be a good wife and mother, do the cooking and cleaning and nurture those her around her.” She quotes Thomas Carlyle, circa 1840, who said ‘The history of the world is but the biography of great men,’ and as a young girl growing up in Barnsley in the 1950s and ‘60s that’s pretty much what Murray believed. However, it was education that made her question the expectations placed on women, and after attending a wonderful girls’ school she began to discover many women that had influenced history and also challenged the assumption that a woman’s place was in the home.

Murray writes about, to name but a few; Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni tribe who fought bravely against the Romans to preserve a social structure that had been practised by, and was so important to the women of the tribes of Britain, namely equality; Aphra Behn, the first English woman playwright to earn her living by her pen; Astronomer Caroline Herschel, after whom a crater on the moon is named; And, computing pioneer Ada Lovelace. We are also given an insight into the courageous account of writer Fanny Burney (1752-1840) entitled ‘Account from Paris of a terrible Operation – 1812, who, when she discovered she had breast cancer and under the insistence of specialist surgeons, underwent one of the first recorded mastectomies at a time when there was no effective anaesthetic – ouch! She was 59 years old at the time and went on to live until the ripe old age of 88!

Written as biographies in small chunks, A History of Britain in 21 Women is well researched, informative and entertaining. Dedicated to “all the young people who need to know” it is an illuminating, easy read offering a great deal to both women and men of all ages. However some of Murray’s omissions were interesting and there was one woman in particular whom I felt wasn’t deserving of a place amongst such great individuals – but that’s purely politics. Nonetheless, a thought-provoking read finishing with a timely reminder that we still have a way to go and the fight for gender parity must continue.

 

#PressforProgress – Still A Long Way To Go

 

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

–Mary Wollstonecraft

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Image: Pixabay

Today, Thursday 8th March 2018, is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, political, cultural, and economic achievements of women. It is also a day that marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The call to action this year is #PressforProgress and with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp momentum is particularly strong this year. 2018 also marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK. So, a century on, how are we doing?

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Image: Pixabay

Sadly, the findings of the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report (International Women’s Day website) suggest gender parity is still over 200 years away. Disheartening to say the least. Further research suggests that globally, one in three women suffer from gender-based violence, sixty-two million girls, annually, are denied access to education, and women in the workplace still suffer in terms of pay and representation. Much has also been written about the inequality female writers still face in the writing and publishing world. As a female writer myself, I wanted to explore this a bit further.

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Image: Pixabay

In terms of reviews, literary prizes, and senior positions within publishing houses, many are still being awarded to men above women. Even World Book Night (The Guardian) shows that the picks of the last 5 years have been made up of 64 male versus 36 female authors. And author Nicola Griffith shows gender bias in her study, published in May 2015, of prizewinning books both here and across the pond, broken down by the gender of their protagonists. Her findings suggest that in the last 15 years, 12 of the Booker-winning novels have had male protagonists, two have had female protagonists, and one has had both male and female protagonists. The Booker fared better than the Pulitzer, which has had no female protagonist among its 15 winning books. I was also disappointed to find in a study carried out by The Guardian in August 2016, articles written by women, irrespective of their content or subject matter, attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men.

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Image: Pixabay

Aleesah Darlison (Writers Edit) attributes continued gender discrimination to “tradition and possibly even culture… It’s incredibly difficult to change centuries-old thinking, but women are continually striving to move forward.” 

Whereas some writers like Christine Piper (Writers Edit), author and winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award for After Darkness suggests that the confines of professional limitations based on gender are sometimes self-imposed and said “Like many women, I’ve been guilty of self-sabotage: doubting my ability, playing down my talents, taking rejections personally, and being shy about pursuing opportunities. Men are socialised to be confident and champion their abilities (but of course not all male writers are like this), while women are not – if a woman does do those things she’s often seen as arrogant or a ‘tall poppy’.”

However, it’s not all bad news, women are making advances. I only have to look at my daughter to see the opportunities available to her compared to my mother who, born in 1950, was paid half the wage of a man when she first started working. Nonetheless, let’s not get complacent, continue to unite, support one another and #PressforProgress for women.

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Image: Pixabay

 

International Women’s Day 2017 – #BeBoldForChange

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Today, Wednesday 8th March is International Women’s Day 2017. With its humble beginnings going as far back as 1911, International Women’s Day is regarded by most as a way to celebrate the economic, social and political achievements of women. And, although the world has made great strides toward gender equality, especially during the last several decades, major disparities between men and women still exist. Women from all walks of life still face disadvantages. Around the world women will earn on average only 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages and are 65 per cent more likely to work in informal, and often unpaid, work. And for some this still appears to be perfectly acceptable, the idea of gender parity preposterous, proven several days ago during a discussion with members of the European Parliament. Politicians were debating the pay gap when Polish nationalist MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke shared his thoughts on the subject. He stated that,

“Of course, women must earn less than men, because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent. They must earn less, that’s all.”

This is shocking to say the least and until this conscious and unconscious bias is challenged and completely eradicated, women still have some way to go before they can truly observe a gender balanced society.

However, although there is still some way to go, women in more developed countries, in general, have come a long way. Sadly this is not the case for those living in countries still developing. Activists for women in developing countries tend to focus on more basic issues like combating violence against women and providing equal access to vaccines, basic healthcare, and primary education.businesswoman-453487_960_720

Therefore, as both a woman and mother of daughters, I feel compelled to acknowledge such an important day. I hope this post will help draw attention to some of the ongoing issues still experienced by women and eventually lead to a change in attitudes that find us living in a more gender-inclusive world. Unfortunately, the World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186 and I for one don’t believe this is acceptable. I implore anyone who wishes to help bring about change to mark this day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything big or grand, we all live busy lives but even the smallest gesture or acknowledgement can make a difference. You may even be rather surprised as to who takes note – like I was last year.

To mark IWD in 2016 I posted a tweet on my Twitter account of a quote by Malala Yousafzai:

“Extremists have shown what frightens them most: A girl with a book.”

Malala was shot in the neck and head by the Taliban in October 2012 in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. She was attacked because she advocated a girl’s right to an education; an idea that the Taliban fervently opposed. Malala was only 14-years-old at the time and amazingly, Malala survived. The extraordinary thing about my story though is how quickly my tweet was retweeted. I’d like to say it was all down to me for posting such a poignant message but the brilliant truth is it was mostly due to J.K. Rowling – and yes I do mean the writer! J.K Rowling retweeted my tweet and thanks to her that particular tweet now has 8,363 likes and has had 6,159 retweets, which only goes to show that sometimes even the smallest contribution or support towards change can have a far greater reach than you’d ever imagined.  

J K Rowling

If you do tweet some words of inspiration today, don’t forget to use the hashtag campaign theme #BeBoldForChange and if you’d like some more information about IWD you can take a look at their website here.

If you’d like to take a look at the video footage of Janusz Korwin-Mikke you can visit the BBC News (World) Twitter account here where you can also see the brilliant response to his statement by the Spanish Socialist member Iratxe Garcia Perez – go girl!

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