Happy International Women’s Day!
To celebrate the day, I wanted to tell you about just a few of the many inspirational women on this Earth. Disclaimer: some of the following women may or may not be fictional. (Second disclaimer: this list is subjective and I know how the internet feels about subjectivity. Third disclaimer: I have never actually met any of these people – they could actually be secretly evil vampires for all I know)
Author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, it was Susan Cain who first properly convinced me of the notion that introversion is a strength, and not a weakness. Her book taught a 16-year-old me that the problem with introversion isn’t that introverts are inherently flawed – it’s that society is guilty of a bias towards extroverts. She put forward the case that introverts can be great leaders, contrary to their own beliefs, and that introverts can see things that extroverts often don’t pick up on. The book manages to instil a quiet confidence in its readers, gracing them with the knowledge that being an introvert is a great thing to be. Despite being a self-proclaimed introvert with a disliking for public speaking, Cain has graduated from Harvard Law School, spent time as a Wall Street lawyer, and given a TED talk on the power of introverts.
Say what you will about Lena Dunham, I have to respect her for Girls. When she created the hit HBO series, she unwittingly became the voice of a generation. The series hits on so many of the issues faced by women as they progress through their twenties, from unemployment, to sexual health, to love, to existential crises. And the series is even funnier (but also more tragically illuminating) when you’re actually in your 20s. Girls erases taboos, and exposes truths most 20-somethings would never dare to say aloud. On top of this, Dunham produces a twice-weekly newsletter, Lenny, which invites guest writers and famous faces to write about anything from feminism to friendships, to politics. It was Lenny which brought us Jennifer Lawrence’s famous essay about the gender pay gap, and earlier today, Dunham published her own piece about why she will no longer allow herself to be photoshopped. She might not always say the right things, but she has tried more than most.
Carrie Mathison (Character in Homeland)
Carrie Mathison is inspirational for two reasons. Firstly, because the character herself is brave, strong-willed and ambitious. Secondly, because Carrie is an example of a rare, three-dimensional, complex female character in television. Rather than simply ticking all the boxes for a “strong” woman, Carrie is as real as a character gets, ticking some boxes, and falling short on others. Whilst Carrie is impulsive, and maybe even obsessive at times, she’s committed, determined and resourceful. She’s living in a man’s world, and suffers from bipolar disorder, yet in the end, she’s the one who saves the day.
Though she may be best known for her role as Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, Mayim Bialik has done a lot more than play the role of the smart, yet dorky neuroscientist. Despite being a child actress and spending four years playing the title character of 90s TV series, Blossom, Bialik went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, Jewish studies and Hebrew studies at UCLA (though she was accepted to both Harvard and Yale) and then studied for a PhD in neuroscience. Amidst all this, Bialik also had two children before becoming a regular star of The Big Bang Theory. Last year, she launched her own lifestyle website, Groknation, which explores topics including parenting, faith, and what it’s really like to work in Hollywood. Mayim Bialik never fails to amaze me with her range of talents, and discusses issues on Groknation with sensitivity, intelligence and passion. Side note: she also did a great job of shutting down a sexist and uninformed interviewer who asked if people expected her to be able to “solve calculus at the drop of a hat” – she’s a neuroscientist: she trained in calculus.
Althea Vestrit (Character in Robin Hobb’s The Liveship Traders Trilogy)
When faced with a moment of fear, I ask myself “what would Althea do?”
Another of my favourite fictional women, Althea Vestrit is a headstrong and driven young woman from my favourite book series. Defying the gender roles enforced on her by many she knows, Althea will stop at nothing to get what she knows she deserves. She’s also another example of a well-rounded character in fiction. Rather than being relentlessly “strong”, Althea, like all of us, is vulnerable, prone to brief moments of self-doubt, and makes more mistakes than readers can bear. Yet she always works to right those mistakes, and that’s what’s important.
Those of you who know me will have seen this one coming. Felicia Day is a woman I admire in so many ways. Day is the founder of Geek and Sundry, one of the biggest and most exciting production companies on the internet. Geek and Sundry have brought the counter-culture of nerdy entertainment to the forefront of the internet, and in doing so, have created a platform for countless nerds – from the actors and presenters of the shows, to the audience in their bedrooms – to be themselves and embrace their passions.
One of the qualities I admire the most about Day is her ambition. From reading her memoir, you can immediately see the huge expectations Day places on herself, and the tireless perfectionism and anxiety she has faced. Yet she hasn’t let it stop her, and instead has continued moving upwards and onwards, onto greater and more exciting projects. To think that Geek and Sundry started with only a few crew members and some borrowed equipment, it’s come a long way, something which couldn’t have happened without someone as driven as Felicia Day at the helm. To boot, Day is also the most unapologetically nerdy person on the web. The internet can’t get enough of her. (And neither can I.)