2014 has proved to be a fantastic year for girl power; Emma Watson gave a fantastic speech at the UN promoting the #HeForShe Campaign, Angela Merkel demonstrated herself to be a confident and capable world leader by exercising her political muscles at the NATO Summit Wales, and Jennifer Lawrence continued her reign as the funny girl of Hollywood reminding us that that you don’t have to be super-skinny or have the heart of an ice queen to succeed in society or business.
With so many notable and motivational personalities to choose from this year, picking only three women proved to be a difficult challenge. However, after great deliberation, here are my personal favourite top three inspirational and influential women of the last twelve months:
Smart, relatable, fashionable, athletic and inspiring; Michelle Obama might be the coolest First Lady to ever set foot in the White House. Her appeal is owed largely to her down to earth nature and ability to laugh at herself, which is no more clearly exemplified than by the viral Vine of her dancing with a turnip to promote a healthier lifestyle. However, since her husband Barack Obama took office in 2009, she has proven to be anything but a shrinking violet when it comes to politics, and has taken a frontline role in working towards instigating positive social change in America.
She has worked tirelessly in the hope of encouraging brighter futures for every American citizen regardless of their race, religion, gender or socio-economic background. In 2014 she was proactive in launching the Reach Higher Initiative, which is a programme that aims to encourage young people to take control of their futures and help them meet their full potential by taking advantage of further education opportunities after high school.
Michelle Obama is walking proof that women can achieve pretty much anything with determination, gumption and a positive attitude. On top of all of this, she still manages to remain fashion forward in in her quest for equality and individual betterment. So whether you take inspiration from her outlook on life, her dedication to physical fitness, political innovation, or just want to raid her shoe collection, there’s no denying that the First Lady is the Commander-in-Chief when it comes to holding the torch for girl power.
You might think that Hilary Mantel is an ambiguous candidate for The 2014 Female Power List given the controversy surrounding her name this year following the publication of her topical book, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.
Many political figures such as MPs Stewart Jackson and Nadine Dorries condemned her indulgence in envisaging the callous scenario of the murder of the former Prime Minister. However, they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, which has shown to be true given that the hardback copies of the book have sold out on the Harper Collins website, and rave reviews for Mantel have been expressed in The Sunday Times, and Evening Standard amongst other newspapers. I for one applaud her for not giving in to political correctness, for standing her ground, and not apologising for her literary work, but defending it.
In the face of public criticism she demonstrated that she too, like Margaret Thatcher is not one for turning. She claimed in The Guardian that she believed, “You mustn’t be too timid to risk getting it wrong” and that taking chances are necessary to gain respect and to achieve in any field. Mantel is a perfect example of resilience and common sense showing us all that a powerful imagination can reap many benefits; that criticism is not fact and can often be used as fuel for success.
MP Sian James
Sian James is probably a name that not many of you have heard of, but believe me when I say that this woman is an unsung working-class hero. This year Sian was the inspiration behind the feel-good hit movie, Pride which documents the unlikely friendship between an industrial mining town in South Wales and a gay and lesbian support group in London during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike.
Although her actions occurred 30 years ago, this year has brought her achievements to recognition, and she continues to fight for socialist principles as the MP for Swansea East. Sian largely accredits her political career to her involvement in the trade-union action of the 1980s, and believes her participation in the Neath and Dulais Valley support group in Banwen–which became one of the most active and enduring support groups during the strike—built her confidence and gave her a platform from which to excel. Sian was one of the leading women responsible for setting up The Valley Star newspaper, arranging and distributing food parcels, working in soup kitchens, and taking on a more active role on the picket lines.
Sian claimed that “Women had to step up a gear because it became necessary to do more”. Consequently, she took on a proactive role picketing nationwide, public speaking across the UK, and was one of the pivotal figures in making links with the gay and lesbian groups. She claimed that “I was so angry with Margaret Thatcher, I’d have taken money off anyone” and henceforth set the foundation for the unlikely alliance between two very different communities who found common ground in fighting oppression. Due to this alliance, which was to a great extent brought about by Sian James, the miners were provided with key funds to feed families and continue their class war against the Tory government, and gay rights were in turn enshrined and protected in Labour law.
Therefore, Sian can be seen as an instigator of change, a key campaigner for breaking down the walls of prejudice and injustice, and is a lady who proves that true strength and determination can often be kindled during the most trying of times.
This years’ Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to 17 year old, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, making Malala the youngest person to ever achieve this accolade. She was recognised for her brave efforts in campaigning for universal education for girls worldwide and for opposing discrimination and inequality suffered by women on the basis of their gender.
Malala is known as a human rights advocate, and for the last five years has documented and shared her experience as a girl seeking an education in the Swat Valley of Pakistan district where the Taliban aims to prevent it. In 2012 she was shot in the head by the Taliban for not conforming to their value systems, for rebelling against the widespread belief that women are subordinate to men, and was punished for attempting to achieve an education. However, instead of silencing the schoolgirl, the Taliban aided her campaign against discrimination and extremisms and provided her with a voice which is being listened to worldwide and is only getting louder.
What makes Malala so remarkable is that her injuries have only encouraged her to proceed with promoting female education. She continues to fight for literacy and peace, and has this year shown her solidarity and empathy with over 200 abducted school girls who were kidnapped by extremists in Nigeria who denounced female education. She travelled to Nigeria in the hope of encouraging the Nigerian President to take responsibility of the abductions, but claims that her public engagements do not interfere with her studies. She aims to get straight As in her GCSEs and would like to study Arts subjects at A level. It’s true to say that Malala is not a typical teenager, and has probably already achieved more than most of us will hope aspire to in a lifetime. Malala is a walking reminder that we have a long way to go if we are to achieve gender equality, but rest assured that with her help we’re surely going to get there that little bit faster.
Okay, this one might be cheating a little, but if you knew this woman like I do, I’m sure you’d agree that she deserves her place on this list. You might have guessed it, Helen Phillips is my mother. She has been my chauffer for the last nine months as I haven’t been able to drive, my personal assistant during my dissertation research, my photographer at parties, partner in crime when taking a few too many wallpaper samples from Homebase, and my singing partner during car journeys where we rock out to Carrie Underwood.
Without my mother, I doubt I’d still be studying at university, had the confidence to write for the student newspaper, and certainly wouldn’t have such an amazing hat collection from her 1980s wardrobe. She is always there for me, and has been known to stay up all night making me a dream-catcher to expel my childhood nightmares of Maleficent, saved me from eternal banishment to my bedroom after crashing my father’s car, and continues to put my interests above her own.
However, as well as being my hero in many instances, she has also instilled in me that I can often save myself. She continues to reinforce this fact with a lasting reminder of a canvas that stands in a proud place of my bedroom which reads, “Realise how good you really are”. It might be a little bit cheesy, but the message gets across and often provides me with that extra boosts on deadline days. Because of my mother I know that I can’t please everyone and that I have strengths and weaknesses. Just because I can’t dance, doesn’t mean I’m not capable of the best sun salutation yoga has ever seen. Just because I can’t swim, doesn’t mean I can’t give Mary Berry a run for her money when it comes to making lasagne, and just because I’m a granny at heart who loves tea and Downton Abbey, doesn’t mean that I can’t throw out some pretty witty one liners.
This is the perfect time of year for us all to show our appreciation for mothers everywhere and give back to these special women; our fairy godmothers who are able to remedy our problems with their invisible magic wands. To me, Helen Phillips is a pretty inspirational woman and has made 2014 a year full of laughter and adventure. My mother has provided me with one of the greatest gifts you can give by showing me that happy endings are often achieved by believing in yourself.