It took the love of an extraordinary woman for me to start becoming aware. Aware of the huge continuous struggle and achievements of women in a world that makes it all so much harder than it usually is for men.
The #MeToo movement was a badly needed poke in the eye for plenty of men, and I would include myself in that demographic of ignorance. I had the general opinion that my half of the species had evolved to be largely respectful and kind towards the other half, but it’s now as clear as the glass ceiling that I had overestimated male behaviour.
During Women’s History Month in March, I also started to think specifically about which individual women I have a strong admiration for or those that have inspired me. In the news very recently, there has been the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, teenage climate-crisis activist Greta Thunberg, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, as well as the youngest ever female US Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They all have in common an energy, inner strength and brilliance that has been truly remarkable. These women offer great hope for the future in so many ways.
A bit further back in history, there were underrated figures, such as Mo Mowlam, who, working with a deadly brain tumour, was the UK government minister finally able to secure peace in Northern Ireland. (Her then Prime Minister Tony Blair recently completely neglected to include her vital role when he gave a public speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of these peace agreements.)
In the same area of study as the intellectual pioneer Ada Lovelace, there are many others who should be more well-known. Patri, an acquaintance of mine told me the other day about just one of these geniuses: Emmy Noether, a Jewish mathematician from the first part of the 20th century. Patri believes that in fact “most of what is done in the fields of modern physics and a huge branch of mathematics is based on something Noether came up with.” African-American Shirley Ann Jackson is another groundbreaking physicist who few outside the US would have heard of.
Closer to my own personal interests, I have been greatly touched by the work of writers such as Virginia Woolf, Helen Keller, Sylvia Plath, Joni Mitchell, Siri Hustvedt, Slavenka Drakulic and Joanna Bourke. Because of the quality of their work, these last three also deserve much wider recognition.
I also have a great respect for a black woman named Antonella Bundu (who has a Senegalese immigrant father) and is now running to be mayoress of Florence in the local elections at the end of this month. In an increasingly violent, right-wing part of Europe this kind of bravery and heart is both rare and wonderful.
But I don’t just admire women who are public figures. What about all the countless mothers, grandmothers, nurses, carers, teachers and women in the broader world of work who do what they do – and do it well – every day?
Sadly though, some are unable to fulfill their lives’ great potential and I cannot ignore this awful truth. Not long ago, a (male) friend sent me a poignant article that listed just eight young women aged between 16 and 27 who were killed by fanatical, extreme religious family members, all in parts of western Europe and the US. The reasons for their murders ranged from refusing an arranged marriage, to not covering their heads, to listening to American music, to getting a job. Here were true individuals. All died purely because they insisted on being themselves and to me, that too merits huge respect.
I would also acknowledge the life and recent passing of Neus Català, who will be well-known to many readers. Finally, I want to dedicate this article to all the victims of domestic violence across the globe.