International Women's Day: The women who inspire us
I read a book earlier this year, about how women's history isn't recorded with the same detail in textbooks and records as male history. The book discussed how male history was imbued with the importance of war and politics and power, whereas female history happened largely in domestic spaces – but why was one considered less important than the other? Yes, male history records big world events, but isn't the home life, the environment that makes up our day to day just as important? Does that environment not affect our mindsets and ideologies about the world, which in turn, causes the major world events?
Either way, it got me thinking about female history and keeping records of the female influences in women's lives. I set out to find out which women and female stories are inspiring us and why in 2021.
Elaine: One woman that really inspires me is Trisha Lewis, creator of Trisha’s Transformation. I just think she makes the world of Instagram a really positive place for young people, especially when Instagram can be a very negative space. I think she promotes health, both physical and mental and she’s just a really good person to follow. Her stories and her posts always inspire me rather than depress me.
Julie: Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez. I just think that not many politicians use social media very well and I think she’s very professional on it. She has managed to strike a balance between polished and accessible and relatable and down to earth. She’s struck that chord really well. It’s very impressive she’s been able to make the impact that she’s made. She’s not being portrayed as a bitch, she’s not coming across screechy which a lot of people associate with ambitious young women. She’s managed to gain this following and climb so high on the political ladder while retaining her femininity which I very much admire. There’s a lot of advice out there these days to email ‘like a man’, don’t use exclamation marks, don’t be afraid to take up space at the table and to be accepted like a man is, you have to almost pretend to be a man. Whereas she is very stylish, she does embrace her femininity. She’ll talk about political things on her Instagram, but she’ll also do a makeup tutorial – obviously you don’t follow her for her makeup tutorials, but I think previously, if a female politician did that, she would be written off as a bit of a joke.
She used to work as a bartender and she got into politics because she wanted things to change, and I really admire that she wasn’t coming at it from a philosophical standpoint. But in her own area, her own community, she was seeing problems and she looked for how she could change it. In America, you’re told if you’re from a lower class that that’s not an accessible route for you and I just admire that she saw that opportunity and took it. It’s empowering to see someone so young take such hands-on action and start form the bottom and work their way up without any sort of doubt or fear and ultimately make loads of changes. And not lose their integrity, not sell out on the way and not compromise their feminism.
Nyala: AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) is one huge one for me too, because she's so young and she has done absolutely amazing things so far, poltically, socially. She just keeps helping no matter what political side the people she is helping are on. She's in it for everyone. Mary Robinson too, for all that she's accomplished and the million and one lifetimes that she has had just within the one. The way she speaks and writes is so inspiring. Janelle Monae, she's an artist. Everything about the way she lives her life, the way she identifies, she is so proactive and muscially awesome and it's something I aspire to in my own musicianship. Maya Angelou, she's really inspiring, for how she writes and Nikki Giovanni too, who is also an African American poet, for how they write and how eloquent they can be within poetry.
Eva: One woman I admire is my mother because she’s so impressive. She can be tenacious when she wants to be, but also kind. She’s got a forcefulness behind her that drives her but there’s also a gentleness to her. She’s so with it and together. Also, Countess Markievicz. She was inspiring revolutionary and socialist…and just cool. She was the first female politician in Ireland, in England and I think second in Western Europe. She was up there with the 1916 feminists like Kathleen Lynn, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington – the real diehards.
Ciara: My grandma on my mum’s side. Basically, she’s had it tough, her whole life really. My mum’s brother has cerebral palsy and is highly disabled and can’t do anything for himself at all. No control over his body at all. And my grandma and granddad are now in their late eighties and care for him. Like all his needs. He’s fifty, he’s never been put into a state facility, they have just refused all kinds of help and they just do it all themselves. Because they know that they can give him the best care. I think the biggest thing is my grandma’s quite religious. She keeps it very much for herself, it’s for her strength. Her faith and her religion, she’d never use those to formulate opinions or views on anything really, on me or on societal issues, it’s just for her. She says, ‘God needed someone to take care of him and he chose me’.
My grandma used to waitress in the Metropole, and she loved it, she absolutely lived for it. That was her break I suppose, from the care really. Since he was an infant, they’ve just received no help, no state benefits. She’s just persevered and she’s just positive and so content with the life she’s been given even though most people would look at it and go ‘God, that woman has been dealt a tough hand of cards’. It was her birthday there the other day, she was 89. She’d probably die if she thought I was telling people her age! But my grandad is unwell at the moment and she’s just a trooper, she’s so selfless. If I ever call, she’s always asking about me and my life. She’ll never mention if things are hard at the moment. She’s dedicated her life to her son, to all her children. To the care of my uncle, to give him the most comfortable and fulfilled life that he possibly can – they’re mad about him. They’re at his beck and call. That’s all they’re thinking about, they’re not thinking about themselves at the moment, it’s all about him and about us the grandchildren and their kids, And I just think that’s selfless. As a mother and grandmother – that’s selflessness is mad. I think she’s just the best thing since sliced bread.
Anet: The woman who has been my inspiration is Estonian poet, Lydia Koidula. I wrote a dissertation about her when I was first graduating high school, because we had to write a paper about someone. She was a poet in the 1900s, when females were allowed to be no one, and yet she was able to write four plays, eighty-six short story collections and over 300 poems. She was running a newspaper, which has since become one of the biggest and most important newspapers in Estonia. I was so inspired by her because at a time when females were no one, she managed to have four kids and do all of that. So whenever I wonder, can I do something or can I not, I always think back about her and her poems, which have since made it into Estonian songs, national songs that we sing in our national song festivals… she’s really our female body of patriotism in Estonia. So I think out of all the women – except of course, my mother – she’s one of the most inspiring ones for me.
Fiona: It’s hard to pick just one inspiring woman, when I think may of us are the product of multiple women’s influences – our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, teachers, friends. But I think some of the women who have really influenced and inspired me are Irish writers. There’s a lot of bravery in writing, in putting your work and therefore yourself – your views, your values, your identity – out there the world to see, consume and judge. And yet so many women seem to do it so fiercely and fearlessly, opening themselves up to the world in order to get their message or their story out, to challenge the world they see around them. Pioneers, like Edna O’Brien, who took on the censorship act in her novels that frankly and honestly discussed female sexuality. Louise O’Neill who drew attention to the rape culture and gendered double standards that are prevalent in our own society. Doireann Ní Ghríofra, who writes in an open and raw fashion about the experience of motherhood and dissects female history like no other. Adiba Jaigirdar, who is showing us what modern Ireland looks like through her gorgeous YA books. And the hundreds of others who have all poured themselves out for the enjoyment and education of others.
Alice: There are many women who inpsire me and I think it's very difficult to pinpoint one. The first person who came to mind, in recent times, would be Kamala Harris, the Vice President of the U.S. I don;t know what it is about her, I think she represents her minority, but she represents it without seeming above it. I feel like she's just very down to earth, trustworthy, composed, professional and I feel like she stands up for what's rigth and just without disregarding the opinions of others. She seems very headstrong and I feel that down to earth quality is important in her position that she can, I suppose, relate to people on their own level and be approachable. I know she wears Chuck Taylor's or Converse everywhere, to kind of feel like she's a normal person. And I just think it's super refreshing.
Eimear: I find Sinéad Hegarty to be inspiring because she’s really into mental health and cause and effect in relationships – she has a really good relationship book out. I bought it and read it during the first lockdown. It really helped me to understand why I behave in such a way in relationships and why other people behave the way they do. It’s allowed me to step back and realise not everything is about me. She’s helped me understand how to be better in relationships and how to improve my self-worth. She’s always promoting charities and different ways to better yourself. She’s really different to other influencers.
Rachel: The woman that inspires me in my own life definitely has to be my own mother as she’s somebody who amazes me with her get up and go attitude that she always has had and always will have. Being a woman in her early sixties, she has had an extraordinary life so far. She’s in the full of her health and she is out running and walking everyday with friends, she’s very active and very sociable and I think that’s where myself, my sister and my brother get our sociability from and our get up and go attitude also. It’s definitely from her. She has this fantastic work ethic, it’s always been there. Coming from a family of ten, she’s always been so hardworking – when she was a child herself, each of her siblings had to pull their weight on the farm. It was a hard life on the farm – it was hard labour and that’s where she got this raw work ethic.
She’s still working full time as an SNA with children who are severe and profound, which I think is just very inspiring as many people would go part time at that age or give up work all together – especially working through Covid times as well. In fairness, she would have the right to cut back on hours, but she doesn’t want to she wants to stay working full time as she wants to keep her hand in the job and help out children that are in need. To me that is very inspiring and I would love to have that attitude. She also pushes my dad in the best way possible, as she encourages him to get out of his comfort zone and experience things that he wouldn’t experience if she didn’t push him to do so. I even notice a change in my dad in the last few years that he takes initiative to do things by himself because he knows that mam would love him to come out of himself. They work really well as a team which is fantastic to see. If I have the same relationship when I grow up and grow old with somebody, I’d be happy, they are an inspiration as a couple. She is definitely the glue that holds us all together. She is definitely the person I look up to a lot.
Mary: A woman who inspires me is Radie Peat. She’s the female singer in a trad folk group called Lankum. She’s just a genius and has completely changed the way people look at traditional folk songs. For example, in their most recent album, they did a version of ‘The Wild Rover’. She took the lead on the vocals, and that’s a song you never hear sung by a woman. She has a way of imagining our tradition from a female perspective, and I think that is class.
Juliet: A woman I really admire is Elizabeth Day – She’s a podcaster for ‘How to Fail’. She’s just amazing. Her podcast is really honest and open. It’s just very raw and she always has a great selection of guests on, representing different backgrounds. She’s very self-aware and understanding. Her podcast is never a debate or a compromise or an answer reached – it’s quite philosophical. She interviews famous people about their three failures or the three biggest knocks in their life. She interviews a lot of women on it and after listening to a few of them you do get a sense of the huge pressures that are on women. The conversations that she’s hosted have been really beneficial in exposing the universal pressures on women. They’re very universal issues and you feel way less isolated listening to the discussions. One of the reasons her marriage broke up was because she couldn’t have kids and I think no one really talks about that openly and honestly? I think that’s important to dispel a lot of the stigma around it. It’s really swept under the rug although it affects a lot of women and should really be out there in the open. She validates a lot of the feelings that women go through and isolates them.
Siobhan: One woman who inspires me greatly is Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland. Not only for being the first female to hold this office, but perhaps even more for her work beyond her presidency in her project ‘Climate Justice’, a project and book she created to bring attention to the issues of climate change and the people most affected by it. To use her knowledge and voice in such a selfless way is empowering not just to women but to people as a whole. I am also forever inspired by my aunt, who unfortunately lost her battle with cancer in 2018. International Women’s Day was one of the final times I spoke to her before her passing, when I told her she inspired me not just on this day but every day. That message still stands in the years after her passing, her kindness and strength being something I hold as a standard for myself, especially as an aunt to my two-year-old niece.
Jill: The women who inspire me are both of my grannies. I often stop and think if I’m in a difficult situation, what would my granny do. They balanced strength with kindness and they always put other people before themselves and above all else they loved their families, so I think they’re excellent role models for me in my life.