For our first article on Temper Femina, we wanted to come together to talk about our personal feminist icons and inspirations; the things and people that make us who we are today. Real or fictitious, these characters have influenced and inspired us and we thank them!
Helana – Blair Waldorf
My all-time favourite has to go to the smart, strong and inspirationally scary Blair Waldorf. So much more than just ‘Serena’s best friend’, Blair owns and rebrands the ‘bossy bitch’ label. This self-appointed Queen has supremely high standards, not only for herself, but for anyone wanting to be in her life. I love Blair for her unapologetic ambition and her outspoken resolution. “If you really want something you don’t stop for anyone or anything until you get it”, and she does not stop.
Fantastically feminine in her tirade for power, Blair goes as far as to don a tiara and takes inspiration from history’s powerful women in her campaign for success. As a true feminist icon, Blair is seen insisting on gender equality in her education, career and relationships.
Blair Waldorf doesn’t compromise, Blair Waldorf doesn’t settle, and she certainly does not comply.
All hail the unapologetic bitch.
(Yes, I did crop the man out of this screen grab)
Kate – Laura Marling
For most of my adult life, the woman who I have respected and revered (and admittedly crushed on a bit) has been British singer/ songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Laura Marling. Laura’s most recent album Semper Femina (the inspiration for the name of this blog) was an interrogation of femininity, playing with perspectives and the male gaze, and celebrating the bodies and minds of women. It wasn’t just singing about strong women, however, encapsulating how fickle and changeable women can be, without patronising us for being so.
The thing I like most about Laura is that in her writing she articulates insecurities and hypocrisies that she feels, celebrating them by putting them into song, meaning that her weaknesses strengthen her. I also like that Laura, who is undoubtedly very intelligent and articulate, isn’t afraid of singing about a boy every now and again. There’s a lot of the soppy stuff you sometimes need to hear buried between the tales of strong women in all of Laura’s albums, and I like that she can unapologetically sing about heartbreak and unrequited love in a beautiful and intelligent way. Laura has been on the scene for over a decade now, but she is yet to become predictable. Her articulation of the instability of femininity cuts through the bullshit and for that I salute her.
You should check out Laura’s podcast ‘Reversal of the Muse’ in which she discusses women in the creative industries with some amazing guests, you can find it here.
Sophie – Carrie Fisher
I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan, so as a kid I idolised Princess Leia (and had a fair few attempts at the hairstyle). In contrast to the Disney princesses who I also adored, Leia never fell into the ‘damsel in distress’ trap – she was running a rebellion, rescuing her friends, and telling a whole empire where to shove it. Leia was a character to be reckoned with, but Carrie Fisher was the real thing and so was all of that attitude and spark that she brought with her.
In a world where famous actresses work hard to be seen as these glamorous, perfect creatures, Carrie always inspired me by doing the exact opposite and being completely candid about her flaws and pitfalls. She’d talk about overcoming drug addiction and struggling with mental illness with such honesty and humour that were relatable and demanded respect – she was never going to let imperfections that were part of who she was be hidden away by an image-obsessed industry.
Right down to having a giant Prozac pill for her urn, Carrie was a hilarious, no-nonsense, fireball of a woman right to the end, and an inspiration to women everywhere to defy expectations, own whoever you happen to be, and not take life too seriously.
Celine – Angela Carter
It’s perhaps not the most original choice, but my love for Angela Carter is absolutely unchanging. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories was a revelation to the 17 year old me.
Even in the fantasy of fairytales, women are often still confined to the typical narrative grind of the patriarchy: damsel is saved despite objectionable behaviour by male hero blah blah blah.
Angela Carter looked at these plots and rolled her eyes.
Instead, she challenged the stories I’d grown up with, turning tired tropes into a feminist call-to-arms. Whilst the women in her stories are certainly not without their flaws, Carter encourages us to be aware of the complexities in relationships; men are as much victims or damsels as women are strong and powerful.
The sexually and socially liberated women in Carter’s short stories provided a shy girl from English class with aspirational rebelliousness (and a, not completely unfounded, fear of being murdered by a marquis in a castle). Often bizarre, always unique, definitely quotable, Carter’s stories were the best possible introduction to feminist literature. For that, I am forever grateful.
Alys – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I first came across Adichie while in sixth form, studying authors like Angela Carter (I went through/still feel everything Celine described- what a woman) and Carol Ann Duffy, learning to navigate myself in an awesome and overwhelming sea of feminism. Adichie’s women were real people, not just stereotypes of passivity, or femininity, or of two-dimensional strength. They loved and they struggled and they were unapologetically themselves. I read these women as they developed a self-assurance that was not propped up by a male presence, as they did not feel the need to be considered ‘likeable’ in order to conform to what femininity is. Of course, each story was different, and so these developments were unique to each character (but no spoilers – go read). There’s a defiance in Adichie’s writing (and herself – see her Ted Talk ‘We should all be Feminists’) which helped 16-year-old me ground myself as a woman, to be happily myself, even when I’m not being conventional (and I’m often not). Adichie has influenced me so much I’m writing my dissertation on her in order to justify reading more of her work during term time. The things we do for love.
Lowri – Frida Kahlo
It’s hard to pin down and pick one inspiring woman. Should it be fictional childhood favourites Hermione and Matilda, or musicians like Laura Marling, Amy Winehouse, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton or Kate Bush (I really like female singer-songwriters, in case that wasn’t obvious)? But finally it occurred to me: Frida.
Frida Kahlo is a figure whose image has been somewhat commercialised and co-opted recently (you may have seen her face on a pair of socks). But she was a radical figure in her time, and should be seen as one now. She deliberately and assuredly put herself as the focus of her artwork, producing numerous self-portraits and rejecting the idea of being a perfect image of womanhood. Her artwork is often shocking and brutally honest, but always breathtaking. She was not afraid to live her honest life and was a strong political activist. To little eight-year-old Lowri and her unruly eyebrows, looking up and seeing Frida Kahlo in an art gallery was special. She once famously refused to share her house with her husband, instead allowing him to live next door and attaching the two houses by a bridge; now if that isn’t inspirational what is? Also she had an absolutely killer wardrobe.
Sarah – Nina Simone
I was 14 when I found a version of this video of Nina Simone playing Ain’t Got No, I Got Life and, just like that, it took everything I knew about femininity, music, and power, and threw it out the window. It was the first time I had seen a woman really, fully, revel in the art she was making, as though she was singing only for herself – in all her complicated, joyful intensity.
My relationship with Nina Simone is something that has evolved as I too have learnt more and experienced more of the world – even though I have always seen her as a defiant character and a formidable talent, it is only more recently that I have developed more of an understanding of the pioneering steps and sacrifices she made as an activist. Even when her protest songs campaigning for civil rights began to seriously impact the musical career she had invested her life into, she refused to back down, and later wrote in her autobiography “I felt more alive then than I feel now, because I was needed, and I could sing something to help my people.”
Although, in terms of shared life experience, we couldn’t be much further apart, there is something in the spirit of her resolution that I still seek to find and use somewhere in my own life, both personal and professional. Quite simply, Nina Simone taught me one of the most important lessons there is. She showed me what a woman could do with her voice.
Alice – Rihanna
This one goes out to the original badgal. 100% “unapologetic” for being her true self. Everything this woman does is iconic. Rihanna’s incredible talent is undeniable, proven by the success and longevity of her music career. This has extended into acting in Hollywood blockbusters, designing her own clothing lines and launching one of the most successful beauty brands of 2017. Named by TIME magazine as one of the 25 best inventions of 2017, Fenty Beauty created a whole new level of social media buzz. It raised the bar for the industry to be inclusive of all skin tones, embracing the beauty of diversity amongst women.
As well as being the ultimate entrepreneur, Rihanna is not afraid to embrace her sexuality, which many women in today’s society are made to feel ashamed of. She dresses how she wants, says what she wants and does what she wants to do, regardless of what her critics have to say on the matter. Moving on from an abusive relationship, she embodies the power of a strong, independent woman.
If all of this was not enough, Rihanna was name “Humanitarian of the Year” by Harvard University in 2017 for funding and creating groundbreaking medical and educational foundations. This is an addition to her support for numerous other charitable causes and global partnerships. Winning awards, breakin’ records (and dishes) are all just part of her daily routine, but who knows what is next for this wild card?
*cough* new lingerie line *cough*
Charlie – Deborah Frances-White
I like to think of Deborah Frances-White as my feminist godmother. Deborah hosts The Guilty Feminist, a hugely successful and downright hilarious comedy podcast that explores “our noble goals as twenty-first century feminists and the hypocrisies and insecurities that undermine them”. While I was already fully invested in feminism before coming across The Guilty Feminist, this weekly dose of feminist energy has honestly been one of the best additions to my life since I started listening to it about a year ago.
Each episode begins with the now iconic “I’m a feminist but…” section, in which Deborah and a rotating panel of guest co-hosts confess their deeply held (and hysterically relatable) secrets. This is followed by an animated discussion of the episode’s designated topic, which has ranged from bodily functions (periods, orgasms), to current affairs (the Women’s March, Weinstein culture), to mental health and intersectionality.
Deborah has built an incredible platform for female comedians, activists, and creators of every ilk. Always with an eye to inclusivity, guests include women of different ages, races, sizes, nationalities, sexualities, class backgrounds and more. The emotional tone of an episode can span from delirious hilarity to touching honesty to rousing feminist fervour. What’s more, the podcast raises money for a designated charity each week and has been involved in several campaigns to improve the lives of women and girls in the UK, and so The Guilty Feminist makes a material impact as well as an emotional one.
And let’s be real, it’s just so thrilling to see a bunch of smart, funny, creative women being smart, funny, creative and totally unapologetic. What better way to smash the patriarchy?
Hope – “Shakespeare’s Sister”, Virginia Woolf
Last night I tossed “greatest geniuses of all time” into my Google search-bar just to see what happened. The articles that popped up (not in themselves holding any real authority, obviously, apart from being a web search top result) differed over who exactly was the smartest person to have ever graced the earth, but they had a striking common thread: lots of white people, and lots of men.
Which brings me to “Shakespeare’s Sister”, a passage from Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own. My mum first pointed me in its direction, and it blew open my fifteen-year-old, X Factor-enthused world. I really encourage you to read if you haven’t already, so it can blow open yours, too (it’s short, I promise!). At risk of butchering Woolf I’ll try not to paraphrase, but it goes something along the lines of this: Shakespeare could have had a sister of equal intelligence, but sixteenth-century gender politics insisted on marrying off young women rather than educating them. That is to say – we could have had two Will Shakespeares, two identical intellects from identical family backgrounds, but we only heard from one.
Sadly, it’s something that’s still relevant today. Minds of proportionate genius to da Vinci or Newton or Galilei have been born and will be born a thousand times over, but restrictions – namely race, class, gender, sexuality – prevent their voices from reaching us. Just have a quick look over Jess Staufenberg’s 2016 article in The Independent and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
What I’m asking is this: what voices have we not heard from – are we still not hearing from – because they didn’t/don’t fit a very specific mold that society deems worth listening to?