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I was searching for my next blog topic, when I came across World Woman Hour on twitter.
This initiative charts the stories of 60 brave women, with the aim of helping girls to find a hero that inspires them to follow their heart and ambition, thus accelerating the future of female leadership.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report, at current pace, it will take 108 years to achieve gender equality. Shocking, yes, but sadly not surprising.
This got me to thinking about my own heroes. About whom has inspired and empowered me, both growing up and as I navigate adulthood.
In my blog One for the Boys, I expressed the need for role models of both genders in equal measure. As a proud feminist, I find no shame in admitting I have plenty of male heroes. After all, can we ever expect to reach equality if we don’t recognise and aspire to the achievements of men and women alike?
However, whether it’s a greater comfort in my own skin, an experience of sexism at work, or a changing perspective with age, I am increasingly and acutely aware of the impact and importance of championing female heroes.
A Hero is defined as ‘a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities’.
Considering this, I realised, happily, that I am not short on material here.
So many amazing women spring to mind. From those in the public eye, (both past and present), in sports, media, and the arts, to family and friends who don’t command fame or fortune, but who’s qualities are noble and notable nonetheless.
So, I have selected a number of individuals to write about. To tell you about their achievements and their qualities, and why I count them among my idols, my champions, my heroes. This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but hopefully it will make you (and with this I include any men that might be reading) think about the women who inspire, motivate and empower you. Let’s not wait 108 years for equality!
First up, is Victoria Wood.
I must have been about nine or ten years old when I first saw Victoria on television and was perhaps my first time seeing a female stand- up comedian. I’m sure back then many of the jokes were lost on me. But her command of language wasn’t. Victoria’s ability to manipulate and deliver the words in a way that had people in raptures, left me spellbound.
It would be many years later that I would truly appreciate the genius that was Victoria Wood, but seeing her for the first time lingered.
As child I was painfully shy and self-conscious. I found any kind of public speaking excruciating and so was in awe of those who took the floor with ease, particularly if it was with humour.
I don’t think there were many ten-year olds asking for a ‘Victoria Wood haircut’, but I begged my mum to let me have my long locks cut into a short, spiky ‘do’ to emulate my comedic hero. The result, a slightly dodgy mullet that could have commanded a stand-up tour all of its own!
Growing up, being funny generally wasn’t a quality that girls were expected to aspire to. Pretty, clever or sporty were desirable, but being able to make people laugh, had somehow been missed off the list.
I was to discover much later in life, while I am no sell-out comedian, humour is not only an important but an inherent part of who I am. Laughter is my key to connection.
Successful women who are competent and comfortable with being funny, telling it like it is, daring to be rude, speaking the unspeakable, are for me, both validating and empowering. There are so many on our screens and in the media who fit this description.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Olivia Coleman, Rebel Wilson, Julie Walters, Amy Schumer, Miranda Hart, to name just a few. But Victoria Wood paved the way. She was the first and will always be my number 1 Comedy Hero.
Next up, more current, is my sporting hero. This is a relatively new, and for me surprising hero, but one who is more than worthy of a mention.
In 1989 Tracy Edwards skippered the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, becoming the first woman to receive the Yachtsman of the Year Trophy.
I was 13 years old in 1989, and completely unaware of this momentous achievement. I have always loved the water, but more as a swimmer than a sailor. The only boats we tended to see in East Lancashire were those on the canal.
For us, Whitbread was what old men drank in pubs.
It wasn’t until 30 years later, when a friend and I met at the Curzon cinema in Bloomsbury, I learned of Tracy, her crew and their phenomenal achievements.
We had tickets to see the film Maiden, the story of how one woman formed a team of 12 to defy the sceptics and the cynics, and not only complete one of the toughest races on the planet, but to come second in their class, winning a couple of legs, many hearts and much respect along the way. If you haven’t seen the film, then I encourage you to do so. On the surface, it is an incredible story of sporting success in the face of adversity. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a tale of women with an unapologetic lust for adventure, of strength, both in body and mind, of friendship, teamwork, and the acknowledgement of mistakes made.
However, it would seem the race is just the beginning of Tracy’s story.
Reappropriating the boat for a new mission, she founded the Maiden Factor, an organisation that is ‘changing the narrative around what girls can achieve’, ‘reaching millions of girls, families and communities around the world in order to reshape what we think of girls and how we value them’.
Check it out.
From Girls Who Climb Trees to those who Sail the Seas, I’m sure you will agree that Tracy Edwards is well deserving of Hero status.
Next up is my hero of the kitchen.
In a previous blog, I describe my once dysfunctional relationship with food. For this reason, I have never taken much interest in cookery shows. However, as I have learned to fear the calories less, I am more inclined to get creative in the kitchen and will now happily sit in my pyjamas on a weekend looking for inspiration from the chefs on Saturday kitchen or Sunday Brunch, Nigella, Asma Kahn and Rick Stein among my favourites.
But when it comes to hero status in the food arena, for me, it has to be the 2015 Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain.
I must confess here, that I didn’t even watch Bake Off in 2015.
It was ‘The Chronicles of Nadiya’, a journey to trace her culinary roots in Bangladesh, that brought Nadiya to my attention.
At a time when the Muslim community suffered many negative associations and typecasts, she arrived on our screens as a positive force. But not in a cynical, box ticking attempt at political correctness. Just by being herself. Her ability to communicate with the audience conveyed an honesty that transcended judgement and prejudice.
In sharing her passion and love for the food, the people, the country, both of her roots and her birth, Nadiya showed how lucky we are to live in a place with such a rich tapestry of cultural diversity. She taught the nation how important it is to see the person, not the stereotype, and redefined what it means to be British.
Like so many others, and perhaps the reason for her ongoing success, I was bowled over not just by Nadiya’s skills in the kitchen, but by her warmth, her enthusiasm, and ‘that smile’. I have followed Nadiya with interest over the years. Despite TV success, she hasn’t lost sight of who she is. Sharing her struggles with severe anxiety, her unwavering pride in being a wife and a mother, and her delight in sharing her culinary creations.
In a world that is so often intent on filtering out flaws, Nadiya is a breath of genuine fresh air.
At the end of Bake Off, Nadiya was quoted as saying
‘I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say, ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can and I will’
Courageous and noble, a true Hero.
My next Hero is a little closer to home, but one who has been there from the very beginning, who has shaped who I am, who has been my biggest fan, and at times also a critic. Someone who instilled in me the values of honesty and integrity, who taught me to respect people and not hierarchy. She’s not perfect, but she’s honest and funny, strong and caring.
She’s my mum.
Although she left school at 15, and never moved out of the north west, my mum’s horizons stretched much further than the Rochdale council estate where she grew up. She has a passion for art and nature. Despite, as a child, telling her dad that she loved Blackpool and would always holiday there, she loves to travel, and not to seek out the sun like so many Brits, but to immerse herself in a foreign culture. To taste the food, drink the wine, chat to the locals.
My mum has a natural curiosity about many things, but no more so than for anything medical. At the age of six, when the vet visited the house to spay the pet cat (back then veterinary surgery was performed on the kitchen table), my mum begged to be allowed to watch. It is no surprise then, that she found her vocation, initially as a nurse, and later as a midwife. She has provided comfort at the end and welcomed new life into the world.
My mum was never off duty. I remember her tending to an unconscious woman at central London bus stop, while many others walked by.
Technology makes her anxious, but if someone was to collapse in the street, she would be cool, calm and collected.
When I set up a business, her support was unwavering, and when it all fell apart, she never criticised or condemned.
On her 70th, she swam in Coniston Water, and is debating whether to spend her birthday vouchers on a race-track day, or a sky dive!
My mum has taught me that just because you’re a grown up, you don’t always have to be grown up.
Nurse, wife, mother, friend, my mum is a hero, and I know I’m not the only one who thinks so.
There are so many more women who inspire and motivate me every day. Women who have survived cancer or are dealing with chronic illness. Women who are open and honest about struggles with mental health, others who are suffering the pain of grief. There are women who are following their dreams in the face of adversity, and those making a difference to the lives of others. There are women who are challenging stereotypes in the workplace or sporting arena and those of the next generation navigating their teenage years with fierce individuality. Too many names to mention here, but you know who you are! You are all Girls Who Climb Trees. You are all my Heroes.