Happy International Women’s Day!
There’s no way I would miss the opportunity to highlight and celebrate the important and inspirational women throughout my life today! It’s been so great to see IWD widely celebrated all over social media, and by government organisations and companies across the board.
Both socially and professionally, I have always fared better with men for whatever reason (apart from my love life – let’s not go into that now heh heh…), but when it comes to people who inspire me the most and those I look up to – they are all women. Most of the books I read – and have read – and absolutely loved, I am proud to say, are also written by women. Yes I am a Feminist, if that wasn’t already clear from this blog – I’ve grown up in a family surrounded by women, my core friendships include strong women (and men) and I’m a firm believer in empowering everyone, especially women, to live a life true to themselves, their values, aspirations and voice.
Without further ado, the following are a list of 9 women who have inspired me or have had some sort of impact on my growth and development throughout my life, whether directly or indirectly.
9. Margaret Thatcher
“What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.”
OK, so hear me out, because I can already feel you recoiling. This woman was the first female Prime Minister in the UK. I learnt about Margaret Thatcher during A-level Politics and found her to be an admirable and formidable force (although I didn’t necessarily agree with her policies or approach). She had balls; she had a plan and stuck to her guns in office. I really respect that. It takes a certain type of woman to withstand the male-dominated arena of UK politics, especially back in the 1980’s, and she did it with style. This post is about people who I find inspirational – I don’t necessarily have to like them. Thatcher is part and parcel of my Politics background, and I was fascinated by her lack or need to be personable, agreeable, ‘pretty’ or ‘feminine’ in front of the world. She was a woman that had reached a position of power that in my view, regardless of the steps that had been taken towards gender parity, remained (and still remains) very much out of reach to women in the Western world. It was her unique stance, ‘The Iron Lady’, and that she was ‘more of a man’ than most of the men in her cabinet, that struck a chord with me, especially at a time that I was adamant I would pursue a political career as an MP or otherwise some day. She also said: “Being powerful is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” I don’t know how many times I have used this one liner to prove a point. Genius.
A few others that I think are great:
“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”
“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”
“If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”
“I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.”
8. J.K. Rowling
“I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Rowling is an inspiration to me in many ways, but I will focus on one: she is the epitome of what it means to persevere in the face of struggle, and shows what you can achieve if you truly believe in yourself. Her journey from “rock bottom” as she describes it, is an incredible one, and not only that, she remains humble and true to herself even today – regardless of the fame and wealth she has achieved. She champions imagination and charity, two things that are very close to my heart. She remains open yet closed, and has shown me the relief and escape you can find through writing and spending time within the hidden wonders of one’s own mind. I have always loved reading and writing, but her books and her passion, continue to inspire me today in my own pursuits as a writer. If you haven’t seen it already, I would highly recommend watching her Harvard Commencement Speech, on failure, struggle and the importance of imagination. The speech has also been put together in book form – Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. I bought a lovely copy on the way back from Chicago with my left over dollars back in 2015 <3. A handsome % of sales goes to charity as well.
7. Shannon Doherty a.k.a. Prue Halliwell
More famously known as Prue from Charmed or Brenda from the original Beverly Hills 90210. I grew up watching Charmed, a TV series of three badass sister witches fighting sexy people-demons. This is slightly different because I find the character of Prue Halliwell inspiring, as opposed to Shannen Doherty herself, although I am still a huge fan of hers and admire her charitable work with animals greatly. I was a huge fan of Prue as a kid – not only because she had the best powers (telekinesis and astral projection), but also because she was intellectually sharp and her character on the show really had her s*** together. I loved her profession/s in the show as well (working with antiques and then later as a photo journalist). She was the oldest, strong, ‘kick-ass’ sister and the leader of the group. For me, she really represented what it meant to be an independent, ambitious and responsible woman, with her heart in the right place. Her life revolved around her family and protecting the ones she loved. I really saw a lot of my eldest sister in her (more on my sis later), and thought she was an ideal role model for young girls (although her clothes got skimpier as the show progressed, but she totally owned it so I thought that was great too). She was totally in tune with what she stood for, her sexuality, and although she was navigating various relationships, from romantic to familial, and discovering her newfound witch-hood, she did this all in an empowering ‘all-in-a-day’s-work’ type attitude.
6. My Managers
“R… what do you think about this?”
In my working life all my managers have been female, and they have all been brilliant in their own way. They have all had their own unique style and approach to management, from soft to hard-line, and each has motivated and developed me in different ways. They all pushed me in some capacity, and I attribute the rapid growth in my career in many ways to things I have learnt from them. As a manager in my former role, I reflected closely on my seniors, and always tried to emulate the characteristics that I admired and thought was effective in leading and motivating a team.
In my professional life, my first manager at the University of Southampton was someone who I really admire and value (she has also left the University now). She gave me the autonomy to make effective decisions, be creative and enjoy my working life, as well as develop my skills in marketing and hone my approach when it comes to working with others. Critically, she listened to me and valued my input and ideas, which really increased my self-esteem at work and really made me feel that I could make a difference and grow in the organisation. Key traits that I adopted: being smiley, open, helpful, diplomatic, understanding, straight-up honest (whilst remaining empathetic), giving clear direction and constructive feedback, and being heavily invested in developing the people I work with and manage.
5. Joya Chatterji
“Of course you will.”
Joya Chatterji was my lecturer and supervisor for my paper in the History of South Asia in my final year of studying SPS/PPS at the University of Cambridge. She opened up my eyes and brain to my ancestral history and key components of my past, which I had ZILCH knowledge of before starting the paper. It was shocking how little I knew about South Asian history, but Joya didn’t despair!
During that year, she inspired an intellectual confidence in me that I had lost a little throughout my first and second year at Cambridge (it has a way of breaking you down and building you back up into something else!). She made a difference to my life, because she ignited a passion – a frenzy more like – and love for the study of my past, of Indian history, that I was really never aware of before. This was my third love affair. My first was Psychology, the second Politics and the third, the colonial history of India. I learnt so much and was emotionally moved by the literature; I simply focused on this paper to the detriment of all my other subjects. Maybe because the history was so personal to me, it was easy for me to become obsessed or consumed by it. I went to all of her lectures even though they were at 9am on Fridays (this is a big deal because I almost always missed lectures if they were before noon). She would deliver them as if she was having a personal conversation with you. It was an incredibly refreshing way to be taught; the content of her lectures were always fascinating, and I would have scribbled copious notes throughout, hanging onto her every word.
As a Bengali women, it has always been difficult for me to identify or find other Bengali women that I could look up to or admire – they are so few and far between. Joya inspired me because she embodied what it meant to be Bengali, to be Indian, so beautifully and so well. She holds her head high and cherishes her roots. She has a gravitas and grace that is really hard to describe in words, and we bonded over the many things we had in common, especially the critical impact that our fathers had in our lives. I will always remember the way she believed in me – about a week before my exam, I was having a little bit of a breakdown and completely freaking out that I wouldn’t be able to remember anything and pass the exam – and she simply looked at me and said in her calm demeanour: “Of course you will.” I left her office feeling strangely calm and light. The fact that she writes and marks the exam helped I suppose (LOL).
I plan to return to academia in the future and delve deeper into the study of the History of South Asia, and my desire to do this truly stems from being taught by such an incredible woman. It also helps that I got a First in this paper!
4. My English Teachers
“Go in there and enjoy it. Show those examiners what you are made of!”
I have been unbelievably fortunate to have been taught by some of the most passionate English teachers. Mrs Cosford (for telling me to enjoy exams, and thus completely changing my whole approach and perspective them), Mrs Jones – who I’ll always remember as never having owned a TV and very much owning her mushroom-style bob haircut that she became renowned for – and Shelley – teachers from school and my sixth-form, who truly invested in me and praised me in my ability to express myself through words and form a coherent argument when analysing literary texts and writing creatively.
With Shelley especially, I remember her quirky habits the most and her distinct approach to life. The fact that she had a successful relationship with a man, with whom she had children and had been with for over 19 years, yet remained unmarried was tremendously unique and amazing in my eyes at the time she told me. Shelley really helped me understand literature deeply and the life that lives within it. I fell in love with Frankenstein, Poe, Blake and Coleridge under her guidance. I remember how much I loved her lessons and would stay late up into the night writing my lit essays. To this day, I still find great comfort in the classics and evaluating the deeper meanings the texts reveal about life and love. I always did say that if I hadn’t pursued Politics at degree level, it would have been English Literature.
3. My Mother
My mother is one of the most incredible and beautiful women I know. She is strong, independent, competent, self-sufficient, out-spoken, intelligent, artistic, unbelievably loving and caring, and just an all round super-talented female. She is an amazing cook (like most Asian mums), and her standards for everything are pretty high. Without going into too much detail, she has faced an incredible amount of adversity in her life and in the face of these, has remained brave and dignified. She has taught me that resilience knows no bounds, and that things in life can always be ten times worse, so appreciate what you’ve got and make the most of it. I love the fact that she is most proud of me because I was a fat chubby kid that strangers adored, and am able to buy her chocolate and plane tickets to go on holiday whenever, as opposed to my academic milestones. I am so very happy to be close to home now, especially as we were separated for so long.
2. My Eldest Sister – Nazma ❤
“Think about your future.”
My eldest sister deserves a whole blog/web space/shrine of her own. She is one of the most incredible and inspirational women in my life.
Similar to my Mother, her life hasn’t been plain-sailing and she’s had to make a lot of sacrifices, but never has she once complained or even mentioned what she’s had to give up. She has also never asked for anything in return, always very used to holding her own ground and making her own way in the world. She has done so much to support me and my siblings, and her resilience and ability to trust and love others is something I can only ever be in awe of.
Just to give you a little background on how badass she is: at 16 years old she walked out of the house after a spat with my dad, got married to a guy who was rather obsessed with her a day later (LOL), owned and ran multiple businesses, raised five gorgeous kids, bought a beautiful house, divorced, remarried, divorced, remarried again, and all the way has remained a solid rock in our family. She never got to pursue Higher Education due to the circumstances at the time – but she’s the smartest person I know. She has the biggest heart in the world and men literally fall in love with her after hearing her voice on the phone (fun fact). She is the most amazing person to me because she just gets stuff done! No request is too big – she’s always there to help, even strangers or people she hardly knows. She’s high on the saviour-complex scale. I keep having to remind her to rein it in. She is beautiful, humble, tough and modest, and when challenged, will rise to it unlike no other and continues to remain resilient no matter how many psychos continue to stalk her.
She is amazing and I love her to bits and she inspires me and supports me whenever I need her. She always puts others first and asks remarkably little in return. All my other sisters and I know how blessed we are to have her in our lives.
1. My Baby Sister – Jamila ❤
“You do you, boo.”
Words cannot do justice to how much I love my baby sis. SHE IS MY EVERYTHING. She supports me and inspires me daily, and I would not have survived the last two years without her. I am utterly blessed to have her in my life – as all my family are – and I cannot express how grateful I am that we live together! She is an angel in human form and I love her beyond anything. ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING.
So happy International Women’s Day! Celebrate and thank all the women that continue to make a difference in your life, who continue to inspire you and enable you to be the best version of yourself.
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Cover image is a painting of mine inspired by the works of Georgia O’Keeffe
Very Good Lives and Charmed images sourced from Google