Last year on International Women’s Day I wrote of women older and younger than myself who I admire and feel inspired by. The year before I wrote of the women I know best, my peers and friends whose lives I have witnessed, women I love deeply and have the greatest admiration for.
What about “famous” women in history whose lives, at least the bits we know of them through media, might inspire us. Honestly, for me there were few in my younger years, though no doubt I’ve forgotten, and will think of others later. They are the same ones that inspired many of my peers. I think I found more inspiration in the lives of women around me, women I knew as friends, teachers, those in the community. (Edited: I did remember later Annie Oakley, my first grade heroine)
What did those well-known women I recall admiring have in common? Their independence, their boldness, seemingly living their lives outside conventional roles expected of women in their time and place. They were women living as they chose. I would later learn each had paths that were greatly influenced by outer circumstances they adapted to. Yet within those adaptations they maintained an independence and individuality by which they became known.
An early heroine in my life was Amelia Earhart, a mythical figure, a woman of firsts, a woman who flew away, never to return. As a real, yet mythical woman, she grew to represent the independent woman, willing to take risks, be daring, seek adventure.
Then there was Katherine Hepburn, the woman who wore pants, looked beautiful, spoke her mind, and was a great actor. She also became a symbol of independence and individuality, if for no other reason than her clothes and the fact she never married or had children
In my 20s I was impressed by Simone de Beauvoir’s writings. The socialist who became a feminist role model due mostly to her writings, wrote that women had for too long been seen as the “other”, defined by and in relationship to men. She had a lot more to say, but that theme of her thinking and writing influenced feminist thinking, though she herself did not identify with feminism, being a strong socialist, until later in life when she decide socialism as she knew it was not going to give women the rights and recognition she felt they needed.
Emily Carr, an eccentric, creative woman who patched together a life filled with animals, and a few people, was someone I learned about in my 30s. As a woman, she was not recognized in her early life as the great painter she is, though some recognition came later. She was well-known for her quirky books, telling enhanced stories of the people in her boarding house and neighborhood, as well as stories of her beloved animals. She began writing late in life when painting became physically difficult. I identified with her aloneness and her passion for Nature in the Pacific Coastal forests and beaches on Vancouver Island where she lived.
These women, I learned when reading their life stories, had contradictions and incongruences in their lives. They did not necessarily live according to the perceived and legendary roles in which others placed them.
Later I learned of women mystics and saints, who lived remarkable lives not just from a spiritual or religious point of view, but from the perspective of women not following conventional lifestyles.
Women like Mirabai, the 16th century saint of India who defied the traditional role of women of her time in order to worship as she chose. There is more myth than fact known of her life, but it is clear she was a strong, self-determined woman not easily threatened, for example, refusing to perform Sati, (burning herself alive) as was expected, at the time, of a Hindu wife when her husband died. She worshipped God in the form of Krishna and is best known for her beautiful devotional poetry.
Reaching further back in time is Hildegard of Bingen, born at the end of the 9th century. A devout Catholic, her visions early in life resulted in her parents sending her to a cloister. There she wrote volumes on her spiritual experiences as well as on her practices and insights into plants, the healing arts, and her other scientific discoveries about the human body and nature. She also wrote music. No other woman of her time wrote as much about so many topics. Most women then didn’t even write.
These women are superstars in our current awareness of women’s history. But they did not know that about themselves, they did not make life choices to become historical superstars, but rather they were trying their best to honor their own interests and passions, to learn and do what they were drawn to regardless of their life circumstances. That may be the lesson to learn from their lives.
I read of women today living remarkable lives, doing remarkable things in all areas of life. Women changing the lives of others and changing the world. Most are unknown except for those who may be a news story on a back page. Many live in countries or cultures whose attitudes toward women have not changed much since the times of the women mentioned above. Some have become famous and been recognized.
I believe all women are strong, are healers, inventors, writers, artists, leaders, teachers, discoverers, adventurers, role models, and always have been, regardless of the times they lived in. Like many women in history, we do not always define ourselves with all the labels that represent who we are, we do not always see who we are. Today, to celebrate you, a woman, write boldly a list of words that describe all of who you are in the world. Share it, tell someone who you are as defined by your interests, passions, actions.
And always remember – you are fabulous! Happy International Women’s Day!
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