Today is International Women’s Day, or #IWD2016. It’s a day to celebrate equality and taking action for all women, of all ages, around the world. Google has made an inspiring Doodle for the day.
The behind the scenes information about the Doodle is fascinating, too. I like the idea of #OneDayIWill to encourage women to keep hoping, dreaming and fighting for respect. It also, of course, builds on the already impressive achievements women around the world have accomplished.
As a middle-class white male, I do feel a little disingenuous about celebrating today, but, thanks to a strong mother and loving, independent wife I do feel myself to be a committed feminist. In my own way to highlight the impact women have had on me, I’ll be focusing on one woman who has stood out to me in various forms in popular culture — in books, on film, in music and in television.
I’ve read a lot of books and literature in my life. There have been tons of female authors, from poets to novelists to non-fiction writers, who have inspired me in some way. But my love of sci-fi was probably started at a young age due to the classic, A Wrinkle In Time and its sequels, by Madeleine L’Engle. I actually re-read the book a few years ago and it still holds up as an interesting story. It may be intended for children, but adults can still learn from the characters. I’m sure many people can relate to headstrong Meg Murray, or her practical brothers Sandy, Dennys, or her brilliant brother Charles Wallace. I remember being a child and reading the series for the first time, being utterly fascinated. I didn’t know it at the time, but the manuscript was apparently originally rejected by 26 publishers before getting its first printing in 1962. That’s dedication and commitment. Not to mention her total belief in the #OneDayIWill campaign, long before it started.
There are so many great female characters in films, I’m not even sure where to start. Buzzfeed created a list recently, as did American television network AMC. There are tons of recent additions to either of those lists, including Lady Sif, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch (and others) from the MCU, Lady Galadriel and Arwen from Lord of the Rings and the whole spate of characters played by Melissa McCarthy in her films. For me, though, I return (again, I know, surprising) to sci-fi, with Princess Leia from Star Wars. She’s no traditional princess, but is instead a woman willing to fight for what she believes. She’s intelligent, fierce, independent and loyal. That fact that she can kill a giant slug without batting an eye doesn’t hurt, either.
I grew up in a musical household. Not that we played instruments or sang, but that we would have music on a lot while I was growing up. I listened to everything from 60s classics to modern pop. My mother’s favourite group is the Mamas & the Papas (followed closely, I believe, by Peter, Paul & Mary). Then there’s Aretha Franklin with her female-empowering versions of ‘Respect’ and ‘Think’. Or Tina Turner’s career after divorcing abusive husband Ike. Or Madonna’s longevity with her chameleon-like ability to adapt her music or style, or even Lady Gaga, who reportedly turned her sexual assault into an Oscar-nominated song. But for me, the female musician who has had the greatest impact is Emmylou Harris. She’s got such a crystalline, clear voice that can complement anyone. She’s performed with everyone from Gram Parsons to Ryan Adams, from John Denver to Dave Matthews, and was even part of the supergroup that also featured Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. I’d be surprised if there are people she hasn’t sang with, honestly. The woman can flat-out sing, and has over 40 years of records and awards to prove it.
This was probably the hardest category for to list just one woman. Just in sci-fi alone there have been so many great characters. In Star Trek you had Uhura, Dax (both Jadzia and Ezri), the Doctors and Counselor from TNG and, of course, Captain Janeway. In the fantastically short-lived Firefly there was the loveable Kaylee — the best damn mechanic in the ‘verse, probably — the fierce warrior Zoe, the independent Inara and the enigmatic River. That was just in the main cast! Throw in the mysterious Saffron (or Bridget, or Yolanda, whatever she was called) and the women defending their brother in the ‘Heart of Gold’ episode (S1.E12) and that show is not lacking for female characterization. The whole of Joss Whedon’s Whedonverse actually, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to Dollhouse and Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, in fact, had memorable female characters (and some great female writers, like Jane Espenson and Marti Noxon to name a few). Then there’s the various strong women from the Stargate shows, the oddball characters of Farscape and the no-nonsense women in Battlestar Galactica. Sci-fi television over the past twenty years has created some pretty awesome women.
Yet, the female character that first sprang to mind as I envisioned this article was not a science fiction character, but one based in an all-too-familiar environment of politics: CJ Cregg in The West Wing. CJ is well-educated, witty, smart and outspoken in her views. Her outrage regarding the lack of women’s rights in the episode ‘The Women of Qumar’ (S3.E9) is particularly telling about her character. Allison Janney portrayed CJ with such nuance, empathy and grace that it’s almost hard to believe CJ Cregg is not a real person.
Popular culture has been a great outlet for women. These are just some of the women I have found inspiring in various mediums. There are plenty of others in other aspects of life. No matter what, though, you are all wonder women.