What inspires us can change over time. As our thinking develops and changes we seek new heroes who speak to the things we come to value. Every girl* should have more than one hero: your interests, values and pleasures are formed by your unique experiences, and you should have an idol for every one of them. A style icon; a political hero; a favourite character. Here are just a few of mine – you should definitely follow the links to be inspired.
Viola Liuzzo has been a hero of mine since I first read about her. She is the ultimate ally: impassive, helpful, dedicated. As a cis-gender, middle-class white educated woman most fights for injustice are not mine – as a person who lives in the world, though, all injustices are mine. Luizzo used her power in the most effective way to benefit a cause. She didn’t step into the spotlight, she didn’t gain from it as an individual. Her actions taught me the lessons I hope to embody and shown me that the consequences of occupying that space can be profound and worth it.
I don’t know much about Karen Chapple’s work. I’m not a geographer or a city planner – her academic interests don’t even fall into the same school as mine let alone overlap. But her fascination is fascinating to me, and her self-evaluation as she goes about her business is something I want to embody. Academia is not a high castle in which we can objectively state this and that, and Chapple’s attitude reminds me of this. It also reminds me that sharing your passion widely is more valuable and interesting than keeping it to yourself.
Caitlin Doughty is, really, more of an activist or a philosopher than an entrepreneur. I hate entrepreneurs. I hate businesses that build themselves from nothing on the backs of workers just to stick a plaster over some problem they have noticed in the world. Doughty wants nothing more than her own business to fail due to a radical shift in mainstream Western attitudes. By asking profound, scary questions (and giving answers with warmth, humour and no judgement), Doughty gives control to people who never knew they were missing it. Using new medias she has shone a light into the strange (peculiarly interesting) area that is her home territory, and taken us with her.
Being a girl used to mean liking pink or liking football. I remember that when I was growing up, liking makeup or sports or good grades were, by and large, considered incompatible, and it hadn’t yet dawned on me that hating ‘urban’ music or Kristen Stewart were performative (and unhealthy) cultural behaviours. Since last year’s IWD, though, we’ve had cultural behemoths showcase women with contradictions: girls who are cheeky and intelligent, women who are strong and sensitive. We have seen characters whose contradictions make them unique and dynamic and powerful. The reason I loved Shuri and Diana so much was that showed me the dichotomy within themselves. Real women don’t choose a single aspect of themselves, let us remember that.
Claudia Rankine is, I think, our greatest living poet. Citizen is amazing, and thoroughly deserves all the praise that is heaped on it, but her book that speaks to me at the moment is Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Like Citizen, it categorises itself as ‘An American Lyric’, and it walks the line between prose and poetry and fiction and truth. It amazes me that these feelings from the beginning of the Obama era are so resonant with me now, but the power of Rankine is that her words depict both specificities and general feelings which can reach out and grab you any time. The creeping sense of dread in her work is something I am just coming to truly understand, and she is helping me come to terms with the world as it is.
*Girls, boys and non-binary children are included in this sentiment, but for IWD I will condense people to girls. These people can be your heroes whoever you are – even if you are a grown up like me.