By Nur Farahin Zulkurnain
Illustration by @203.yuyu
Quickly! Name one female figure who inspires you!
For me, I’d go with J.K. Rowling, Zaha Hadid and my mother. With International Women’s Day on March 8, the time has come again to remember and commemorate women of all ages, races and origins. The holiday itself began in New York in 1908, when 15 000 women went on a demonstration for better rights and it was only officially established as a holiday by the United Nations in 1975. It is only right that we look at women from various specialties and time periods to appreciate the well roundedness and versatility of women over the years.
Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005)
“Each person must live their life as a model for others.”
Let’s begin with a familiar name. Parks’ story began when she simply sat in a Montgomery bus. Then came a white man, insisting she gave up her seat to him along with the protest of the bus driver simply because Parks was not sitting in the ‘coloured section’ of the bus, seats in the front being reserved for ‘whites’. Parks was arrested for four days. This sparked the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted for a staggering 381 days. Fortunately, this protest ultimately led to the integration of buses. Parks was certainly fearless in her fight for equality, being an active member and secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) prior to her arrest. The most important takeaway from the story of the ‘Mother of the Civil Rights Movement’ was the impact of a peaceful protest.
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 – 1928)
“I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”
We can’t celebrate International Women’s Day without commemorating the Suffragette Movement, led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Some people may not have much interest in politics, who is in Parliament or whom they’re voting for, but having a vote means having a voice. Pankhurst was notorious and was arrested seven times, the Suffragette actually resorting to extreme tactics at times: her party even participated in arson, vandalism and hunger strikes. Of course, this behaviour is not to be motivated by, but their persistence and tenacity is truly something to give them credit for. Pankhurst’s unfortunate death came not too long before the vote finally extended to women over the age of 21. She now has a statue in Manchester, titled ‘Rise Up Women’.
Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954)
“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”
One of the most famous and iconic artists to date. Kahlo was a Mexican artist, best known for her self-portraits that explore her struggles, infertility, self-identity and marriage; topics that were otherwise considered controversial for women to voice on. With how women in the 1900s were restricted from such things, Kahlo completely defied it. She expressed herself through her art, embracing her ‘masculine’ features rather than conforming to gender norms and breaking stereotypes of Mexican women. Through her art, Kahlo portrayed herself not as an object but a human. One who took pride in her country, who blatantly let her struggles, suffering and emotions be known without worrying what others thought of her.
Jane Austen (1775 – 1817)
“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” – Sense & Sensibility
Female authors were once so taboo, that women had to have a male pen name. Austen, in fact, did not but rather wrote ‘By a Lady’. Her real name was only disclosed after her death. Even those who are not necessarily avid readers will know this name. Austen has some of the most well-known and bestselling classic novels of all time, the most iconic and timeless being Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility noted for humorous plots, witty, strong-minded characters and their captivating relationships; all of which puts perspective into everyday life in her time. Austen was not privileged and yet, she made the most of her talent and passion, even after rejection and disregard.
There are certainly many more women who are on this list; we can’t forget Malala Yousafzai’s courage, Marie Curie’s innovation and Harriet Tubman’s perseverance. It is truly extraordinary how far women have come. Once upon a time, women could not vote, work, drive, get credit cards or even attend university. We are privileged enough to live in a generation where we can freely do all these things, thanks to all these women. It’s worth noting that all these figures were vulnerable in their society. There are times when we still are now. It’s not perfect yet and it may never be. Thus, we should all try to make a change just like these women. What change would you like to make for women?