I spent weeks trying to think of who to write about as an inspirational female figure and I was struggling. I could think of lots of women who I think are amazing, brilliant, brave, lovely etc etc and started scribing – but I couldn’t think of what to write past the first paragraph and I couldn’t understand why. I think the problem is that sometimes the reasons why someone makes you feel a particular way is either difficult to articulate, boring for other people to hear (or read) or both. And ends up being as much about you as it is about them. And I really didn’t think you’d be interested in knowing anything about me in that sense.
So here’s a list of amazing, inspirational women – Maya Angelou, Irena Sendler, Susan Greenfield, Margaret Thatcher, Jane Austen, Aung San Suu Kyi, Germaine Greer, Elizabeth 1, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Helen Keller’s teacher, my friend Avril…. etc. But for lots of reasons that are specific to ME – which is perhaps less interesting. Also, I thought, the ones that inspire me because they are personally close to me are probably not of great interest to anyone else – we need something more universal in what they have done to connect to – and the ones I don’t know – well, I don’t know them. I only know what history, legend, limited knowledge or a good PR machine can tell me. And that makes me think that I might not think them quite so inspiring overall if I knew more about them and their inevitable weaknesses or slips into the dark side we all know we are capable of…. Yes, I know that just because they may have done unpleasant or unappealing things at some point, that doesn’t negate their overall contribution or greatness, but I think the reason I was struggling to pin it down is that I subconsciously felt uncomfortable eulogising about someone I didn’t know and that in the end there are lots and lots of women who consistently do THINGS that inspire me and I admire and respect them for those things. But I don’t know them as a fully rounded individual, so whilst I am happy to list them as someone who has done some inspiring things, when I try to write a longer piece about them, I feel like a bit of a fraud.
Being a fiction addict, I have only very recently begun to read biographies (what’s the difference, I hear you cry…) and I think, because I have in the last few months read three different ‘accounts’ of Jackie Kennedy Onassis that this is what’s colouring my strange inertia on the topic. (And, just to be clear, she is not remotely on my inspiring women list – and anyone who is wavering should read ‘Nemesis’ by Peter Evans which just has that sense of ringing truth about it….but then what do I know, really?) It’s that sense that none of us is superhuman and we are all flawed; even those women who are revered by most have their detractors (Christopher Hitchens on Mother Teresa anyone?), whilst even those who are largely demonised (step forward Maggie Thatcher and Germaine) did good things too, were outstandingly competent in their field and clearly loved by lots of people. And we don’t really know them at all anyway. Is Hillary Clinton inspirational? Depends who you talk to. Diana, Princess of Wales? The complete opposite if you ask me, but I’ve had some juicy arguments over that one too. I am inspired by honesty, courage, integrity, intellect, dignity, generosity and love, amongst other things. But that’s as much about me as it is about the places I think I see them.
I suppose in the end, what matters is that we recognise we have a limited and constrained view of an individual; we can take the positives from them and the bits that we find inspirational – well, we can salute them, honour them and hope to see more of them. Different people find different things inspirational, which is why Hitler was so popular in 30s Germany; we are, essentially, what we do and how we behave because that’s the imprint we leave on the world. And true enough, some of us will appear to leave a more lasting, broad-sweeping and influential imprint than others and may be held up as inspirational characters to current and future generations. But nobody’s perfect and I imagine it’s pretty tough to be inspirational all the time – and I bet they’d be the first to say that to you if you tried to give them an award…
You can read about the Independent Women Ambition Debate, here