So yesterday (8th March 2012) was, by my count, the 101st International Women's Day. Smarter ladies than me have talked about the significance of this day and what it means to modern women, so I won't do that.
Instead, I'll tell you about the women who inspire me.
1. Annie Lennox - If I had to pick one woman of all the women who've been to meet, I think it would be her. Her voice accompanied much of my youth, her look has inspired mine and made it acceptable for a woman to mess with the perception of feminity. She is probably the only woman that could ever appear on Cosmopolitan's cover in full Bowie-esque make-up. She campaigns tirelessly for whatever cause she believes in, and continues to make beautiful music. She is a mother, a musician, a performer, possessed of an incredible voice and is a full-on, 100% megawatt superstar.
2. Joan Jett - Similarly blasting her way up the musical ladder, forty years after her career began, challenging the perception of sensuality and sexuality, looking utterly badass in leather catsuits, rocking a mullet and writing some utterly great rock records.
3. Miranda Hobbes - sure she's fictional, but she's the greatest career woman, and redhead, ever to grace the small screen. A killer career, a great home and a family; she's the one who you never believed would want it all who managed to get it. Plus (again I know she's fictional) the amount of different looks she could get out of that red crop of hers puts me to shame.
4. Ellen MacArthur - I remember watching the documentary filmed when she set the record for round-the-world solo sailing. This was before I could watch the internet trolls rip her apart online, and when all I saw was an extremely brave, skilled and determined young women setting the standard.
5. Donna Tartt - The Secret History remains my favourite novel, and it's more extraordinary as it's her first. Her skill at maintaining the book's neutral tone of observing only and letting us judge for ourselves, while also being appropriately masculine, is not to be sniffed at. I'm excited for her third book.
6. Carol Ann Duffy - I got into Carol Ann Duffy relatively recently but her poetry fascinates me in the same way that Tartt's prose does; timeless, ageless and someone strangely sexless, veering deliberately from masculine to feminine. Plus, White Writing is one of the most beautiful declarations I've ever read.
7. Jojo Harvey - this one is a) fictional and b) slightly cringeworthy as she is a character from a Marian Keyes novel. For those of you not familiar with her, she is described as looking like a living Jessica Rabbit. She is a 'high-flying literary agent' with buckets of chutzpah. And (aside from a certain ill-advised relationship) I kind of want to be her.
8. Emma Thompson - a classic British luvvie and one of our most versatile actors (plus the only person to win an Oscar both for acting and screenwriting). Similarly a campaigning queen like Annie Lennox, known to say stupid things occasionally but also known for being honest, genuine and sensible (and, according to the Guardian, 'refusing to be grand' by shunning plastic surgery. *Headdesk*). She's the perfect example of the best of British women - self-assured, well-spoken, timelessly beautiful and uncompromisingly real. Plus, by including her I get an excuse to post numerous pictures of her phenomenal turn as the Angel America in Angels in America.
9. My grandma - My maternal grandmother still goes to the gym three times a week, still drives the four-hour journey to visit us over Christmas, has an MBE for services to special needs education (after sitting on a board of a special needs school), ran her own travel business while raising my mum and uncle, and works an all-black wardrobe as well as Coco Chanel. She is a powerhouse and if I have half her energy at her age, well...watch out.
10. My mum - Does anyone remember being read a book called Isn't She Clever? about all the roles a mum fulfils on a daily basis (doctor, chef, taxi drive, handywoman, etc?) It's a shame that book appears to have gone out of print as it's more relevant now than ever. The book ended with a list of all the roles a mum fulfils and concluded with the ever-so-slightly patronising statement 'Isn't she clever?'
My mum is an activist, a worker, an A-grade chef, a gym queen, a library curator and culture vulture. Graduating from a male-dominated course and making her way in a male-dominated industry, stopping to have kids and then pretty much seamlessly making her way back into work. She is the one who is always (without knowing it) pushing me forward and my burning ambition in life is to make her and my dad proud. Isn't she clever?
Now go forth and inspire. Be it your daughter, someone else's, the women of the world or just the women you know, make sure at least one person includes you on their version of this list.