A Feminist a Day: 2015

rosieA Feminist a Day started back in October, as a little project intended to be short lived.

Every day for the month of October I would profile one woman who had done incredible things that paved the way for women today.

When October 31 rolled around, I realised I was nowhere near done. I was only getting started.

Inspired by the incredible women I discovered, each story led me to another, and now, as 2015 ends, I am determined to keep telling the often unrecognised stories of amazing women.

The most popular blog post was, unsurprisingly, Michelle Payne. My personal favourites were women whose efforts have given me the freedoms I have today – women like Margaret Sanger, Susan Ryan and Vida Goldstein. And Lisa Simpson, just for being awesome.

I was inspired by the women who spent their entire lives working to improve other women’s lives – like Jessie Street, Emmeline Pankhurst and our own Joan Kirner.

I loved the stories of women who risked their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives, to stand up for what they believed was right – like the Dagenham Machinists, Nawal El Saadawi and Alice Paul.

And the modern feminists, like Caitlin MoranLaura Bates and Destroy the Joint, who remind us that we still have a long way to go.

To those of you who read the blog every day – thank you. Your encouragement has been wonderful.

To those of you who have urged me to turn it into a book (a LOT of you!), it’s a really great idea, and I’ll keep you posted.

Please keep sending me suggestions for women to profile – I love hearing your ideas (just comment on Facebook, on the blog itself, or on Twitter @ceeemdee).

Most of all, I urge you to keep reading – and talk about these inspiring women with your friends, family and daughters. Women of the next generation should know the giants on whose shoulders they stand.

 

 

 

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A Feminist a Day: 2015

A Feminist a Day: Maria Mitchell

Who is she?

maria mitchellMaria Mitchell was the first American woman to work as an astronomer, and in 1847 discovered a comet that became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”. Maria was recognised internationally for her discovery, and went on to became professor of astronomy at Vassar College in 1865.

After teaching there for some time, she learned that despite her reputation and experience, her salary was less than that of many younger male professors. She insisted on a salary increase, and got it. She taught at the college until her retirement in 1888, one year before her death.

Maria also helped to found the American Association for the Advancement of Women, which aimed to promote practical ways for women to access higher education. She also realised that women needed to work to fund their college education (young men had always done so, but not women, and therefore their education was more expensive). Maria believed “a habit of earning money” gave women “a lifelong advantage”.

She was also a boundary pusher. In 1856 when she travelled to the Vatican Observatory in Italy, she was refused entry because she was a woman. She fought to gain entry and after two weeks this was allowed – she was the first woman to do so.

Why should we thank her?

Maria was a pioneer in establishing women in the sciences and helped pave the way for other women to pursue their own academic pathways. She was not prepared to be denied because of her gender.

Best quote

“Until women throw off reverence for authority they will not develop. When they do this, when they come to truth through their own investigations, when doubts lead them to discovery, the truth they get will be theirs, and their minds will go on unfettered.”

A Feminist a Day: Maria Mitchell

A Feminist a Day: Sybil Ludington

Who is she?

sybilSybil Ludington was a heroine of the American Revolutionary War who, mounted on her horse, Star, became famous for her night ride on April 26, 1777 to alert rebel forces to the approach of the British regular forces.

Her feat was similar to that performed by the famous Paul Revere, but she rode twice the distance he did, and was only 16 years old at the time.

On April 26, 1777, Sybil rode 40 miles to warn militiamen under the control of her father that British troops were planning to invade Danbury, Connecticut. Unlike the famed Revere, little was spoken about Sybil’s ride, and the only record of the event was written by her great-grandson. She managed to defend herself against a highwayman with a long stick along the way, which she also used to bang on doors to wake up farmers and alert them to the British approach.

Why should we thank her?

Thanks to her efforts, the British troops’ damage on the area and loss of life was limited. Sybil is a war heroine and should be remembered as such – but her story is a reminder to us all that women are often left out of history.

Best quote

“Let me! I can ride as well as any man!”

 

A Feminist a Day: Sybil Ludington

A Feminist a Day: Grimke sisters

Who are they?

Sarah_Moore_GrimkeThe Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, were 19th century American abolitionists and early women’s rights advocates.

Born into upper-class southern society, the sisters grew up in a slave-owning family, but strongly disapproved of slavery (Sarah secretly taught slave children to read, which was against the law).  They became abolitionists, and spoke in public about their views, but were criticised because it wasn’t seen as proper for women to speak about such things.

In response to the outcry over their behaviour, Sarah wrote Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman in 1838, predating other feminist theorists by decades.

Angelina_Emily_GrimkeShe asserted that “men and women were created equal…. Whatever is right for a man to do, is right for woman….I seek no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God destined us to occupy.”

Pretty challenging stuff for its time.

Why should we thank them?

The Grimke sisters sacrificed their family relationships to fight for the rights of slaves, and Sarah’s work was among the first feminist texts in the US, challenging the very fabric of the society they lived in. Their views were revolutionary for their time – they argued, for instance, that white women had a natural bond with female, black slaves.

Best quote

“Women are early taught that to appear to yield is the only way to govern.”

 

 

A Feminist a Day: Grimke sisters

A Feminist a Day: Susan Brownmiller

Who is she?

Susan_Brownmiller_CamA_001-10_ASusan Brownmiller is an American feminist journalist, author, and activist best known for her 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.

Susan argues that rape is a means of perpetuating male dominance by keeping all women in a state of fear. In this day and age, that might seem like an obvious idea, but the book was groundbreaking and changed the way rape was defined as a crime in America and internationally.

The idea that rape was not a crime of lust, but of violence and power, was a major revelation. The book was a bestseller, and attracted its share of critics, but remains highly influential.

Susan described rape in wartime as a “weapon of terror” – how prescient that in 2002 a ruling by the International Criminal Court found that rape in the context of war constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity.

Why should we thank her?

Against Our Will not only changed attitudes, it actually changed society’s understanding of rape as a crime, and in some cases, it changed the law – it’s credited with changes to the US criminal code that required a corroborating witness to a rape, and that permitted a defendant’s lawyer to introduce evidence in court regarding a victim’s prior sexual history.

 

A Feminist a Day: Susan Brownmiller

A Feminist a Day: Roseanne Barr

Who is she?

downloadRoseanne Barr is an American comedian, actress, writer and TV producer. She started her career as a stand-up comedian, and her popularity led her to star in her own TV show, Roseanne, which ran for nine seasons, from 1988 to 1997.

Roseanne was years ahead of its time – it tackled some serious issues, like domestic violence, poverty, alcoholism, abortion and gay marriage. It was also the first TV show to show a working class American family, warts and all.

In particular, the show highlights life for working class women and the challenges they face every day. As a TV character, Roseanne was sassy and unstoppable – the antithesis of the traditional TV housewife.

Roseanne herself faced the sexism of the TV industry – when her show hit No.1, she memorably was sent a chocolate “1” while male stars with No.1 shows “were being sent Bentleys and Porsches”, according to her.

Why should we thank her?

Roseanne was a pioneer for women in comedy and American TV, and her show has left a lasting influence – I’d argue it’s still ahead of its time today (the episodes dealing with Jackie’s domestic violence are still some of the best TV I’ve ever seen).  Roseanne was a major breakthrough for how women were depicted on TV.

Best quote

“The thing women have yet to learn is that no one gives you power. You just take it.”

 

 

A Feminist a Day: Roseanne Barr

A Feminist a Day: Vida Goldstein

Who is she?

nla_01Vida Goldstein was an Australian suffragette and women’s rights activist, who was the first woman in the British Empire to stand for election to a national Parliament.

Influenced by her suffragette mother, Vida helped to collect signatures for the huge Women’s Suffrage Petition in 1890. She worked alongside noted suffragette Annette Bear-Crawford, and upon her death, assumed the role as leader of the women’s suffrage movement in Victoria.

She became a noted public speaker who was adept at handling hecklers, spoke at many events around Australia and was one of the few Australian suffragettes to be recognised internationally.

When Australian women were granted the vote, Vida was invited to attend an international suffrage convention in America, as Australia and New Zealand’s delegate.

In 1903 she stood for the Senate unsuccessfully – and ran for Parliament another four times.

Through the 1890s to the 1920s, Vida lobbied parliament on issues like equality of property rights, birth control, the creation of a system of children’s courts and raising the age of marriage consent.

In 1911, she was invited to England to be an inspirational speaker to Britain’s militant suffragettes, while in Australia she founded the Women’s Political Association, the Women’s Peace Army and published the Woman’s Sphere and the Woman Voter, which were devoted to educating women on political issues.

Why should we thank her?

Vida was a pioneer of Australian feminism and one of the key suffragettes who won Victorian women the vote. She also helped to put Australian suffrage and feminism on the international map.

Best quote

“Nothing was more degrading than for a woman to have to marry for a home. Love should be the sole reason.”

A Feminist a Day: Vida Goldstein