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Historic feminists changed modern society for the better. Whilst many women today are commendable for their achievements in the name of feminism, we would not be anywhere without the brave women from our past. Bold and strong women spoke up against male authority - daring to suggest women should be treated as equals. Though they may have spoken out a long time ago, international women’s day would not be possible without them. There is no better time to remember the admirable women who changed feminism forever.
The achievements of the following 4 women had such a profound impact on society that their legacy lives on into the 21st century.
International women’s day is celebrated every year on the 8th of March. The first national women’s day was recorded in 1909 in the United States, it became international two years later. Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland celebrated female achievements as a collective for the first time on the 8th of March 1911.
Whilst international women’s day was the result of multiple strong-minded and intelligent women, it was the leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, Clara Zetkin who first suggested it. She proposed the idea at a conference to over a hundred women. Since then, the 8th of March has been dedicated to appreciating female greatness in all areas: business, literature, art, culture, sport, and politics.
Without incredible women redefining femininity and challenging established systems, international women’s day would not be what it is today. Thanks to the women who fought for equality we are able to continue their battle and liberate more women every year.
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR (1908-1986)
FREEDOM TO EXIST INDEPENDENT FROM THE DOMESTIC SPHERE
Simone De Beauvoir was a french writer, philosopher, social theorist, and feminist activist. She is most famous for her incredible book The Second Sex (1949), in which she made groundbreaking statements on the subordinate position of women in society. De Beauvoir recognised that women were diminished to assets to male existence rather than complete individuals on their own. She claimed "If the feminine issue is so absurd, it is because the male's arrogance made it a discussion.". Her statement draws attention to the absurdity in the fact that equality between the sexes is a problematic discussion, as decided by the superior gender.
It was not only her writing that gave women hope to break free from constraints placed on them by society. Her lifestyle was inspirational to women seeking to distance themselves from conventions of femininity. Simone was in a lifelong relationship with Jean-Paul Sarte, though they never got married. They were in an intimate relationship, yet it remained open. Simone continued to take other lovers during the course of their relationship. She never had children, she dedicated her life to pursuing what she enjoyed: writing. De Beauvoir rejected the notion that women are destined to be housewives by prioritising her own desires.
De Beauvoir allowed women to dare to dream of a life separate from their male companion and domestic duties. She demonstrated one can live life for pleasure, self-development, and enjoyment. Her views were radical for their time, giving women the courage to exist separate from societal pressures in the 1950s.
HEDY LAMARR (1914-2000)
DEVELOPING CRUCIAL TECHNOLOGY
Despite being known as one of the most beautiful women in film, this was not Hedy’s greatest achievement. After fleeing her wealthy and successful husband, she moved to Paris alone. When she was in London she was offered a movie contract in Hollywood. At the same time as her success as a film star, she and George Antheil (a composer) developed a radio technique that allowed one to move undetected between radio channels in a prearranged pattern. This communication method was used to combat the Nazis in World War Two. It wasn’t until years later that people realised how profound her work was. The technology she helped develop is incorporated into Bluetooth and GPS technology today. But it doesn’t stop there! Parts of her developments were crucial in the creation of WiFi, which has become the backbone of our society.
The fact Lamarr is primarily remembered for her success in film is a prime example of women being valued for their looks above their intelligence. In recent years people have begun to realise the magnitude of her achievement as an inventor. Finally, in 2014 she was placed in the Inventors Hall of Fame in Ohio. Her achievements are inspirational to women around the world. She demonstrated that women deserve a place in science and technology spaces. Women should not be confined to artistic endeavors, we have potential in all kinds of fields. Furthermore, Larmarr’s decision to leave her husband and become self-sufficient reveals women’s ability to thrive independently.
SOJOURNER TRUTH (1797-1886)
FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND PEOPLE OF COLOUR
Sojourner Truth is one of the earliest feminist icons widely known today. She was originally called Isabella Baumfree, but she changed her name in 1843 after a spirit called on her to spread the truth. Religion was central to her work. She made the radical suggestion that men had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus and therefore should not be considered superior to women.
At six feet tall, she was a commanding presence in her appearance and her character. Her strength is evident in many ways. One of the most obvious is the fact that she was born into slavery and escaped with her child in 1826. In 1828 she went to court for custody of her daughter. Amazingly, Truth became the first black woman to win a court case against a white man.
She fought for equal rights for black people and women until her death. Sojourn is most famous for her speech ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ - referred to frequently in feminist literature to this day. However, she was raised in New York and spoke Dutch until she was 9 years old. This means it is unlikely she delivered the speech in the southern dialect it is famously quoted. Regardless, Truth was an incredible social justice advocate. She famously attempted to get land grants for formerly enslaved people, but sadly she did not succeed. Her efforts to liberate women and people of colour will be remembered and honoured forever.
One cannot help but feel inspired by the fact that Sojourner was advocating for women's rights in the 1800s, long before feminism was widely regarded as a social movement. She was brave and inspirational.
MARSHA P JOHNSON (1945-1992)
GAY AND TRANS RIGHTS ACTIVIST
Marsha was a trans gay rights activist. She is often credited for throwing the first brick in the stonewall riots, however, she was not actually there when they started. Johnson was one of the most well-known gay rights activists in the 1980s. She and her friend Sylvie Rae fought for the rights of trans women in the gay community. They faced a lot of adversity, even from LGBTQ+ people. However, Marsha was always respected for her un-wavered positivity. Her famous phrase ‘pay it no mind’ was her dignified response to people attempting to drag her down or question her gender. Her positivity uplifted the community. She inspired many people to be proud of themselves and fight for what they believe in.
Sadly, Marsha died in 1992. The police declared it was suicide, but her friends and family believed it was an attack that the police were unwilling to investigate due to her being a trans-black woman. Marsha was always so positive and full of life, those who knew her did not believe she would have taken her own life. Witnesses say they saw Marsha being attacked early on the day of her death. Loved ones speculated it was the same attackers that killed her later that day. Many people have since tried to prove her death was cold-blooded murder, but due to lack of evidence, they have had little success. Her tragic end exemplifies the unjust treatment of women, particularly black trans women. This treatment is what international women’s day aims to highlight, so we can learn from it and improve society.
International women’s day is the perfect time to reflect on the past so we can shape the future into an accepting and liberating space. A space in which women, gender non-conforming people, and men, are equal. Without history, we would not have made it to where we are today. We owe it to the brave feminists who fought for our rights to remember their iconic achievements. History plays an active role in the present.
Florenne Earle Ledger