If you’re like me, than you probably don’t give a bat’s fang for Women’s Day. Yes, that day that blissfully comes and goes every 8th of March in celebration of the world’s Venuses.
For my part, I maintain that one needs to be celebrated according to deed and nothing other. The following eight women deserve our respect not in virtue of their sex, but in virtue of their contribution to humanity.
1. Audrey Hepburn — 1929-1993
She once famously said: ‘I don’t want to be alone, I want to be left alone’. The Hollywood icon and star of unforgettable classics like Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Roman Holiday never dreamed of capturing the attention and hearts of so many. Charming and elegant, she was one of the first movie stars to use her status for charitable work in Africa, becoming ambassadress for UNICEF and travelling to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Tigre. Her commitment to saving lives was unwavering and the role of helping to bring attention to famine-ravished children was her greatest. In 1989 following her return from Africa she commented: ‘… to save a child is a blessing: to save a million is a God-given opportunity’.
2. Temple Grandin — 1947-Present
Unconventional and unfazed. She was born autistic, understanding the world primarily in pictures. After a turbulent youth she finally figured out a way to harness her uniqueness to help others, namely animals. Now at 69, she is a professor of Animal Science, a consultant on animal behaviour to the livestock industry, but most notably, she is a passionate spokesperson for autism. Her lectures on dealing with autistic children have helped bring hope to countless families.
3. Édith Piaf — 1915-1963
Arguably one of France’s greatest charms. The cabaret singer, songwriter and actress who was famously portrayed in 2007 by Marion Cotillard in the film, La Vie en Rose led a troubled life. This tiny woman with a mighty voice was full of pain, both emotional and physical. Abandoned by her mother, she grew up in her grandmother’s brothel and began working as a street performer with her father when she was just fourteen. Crippled for many years with arthritic pain and alcohol addiction, her private suffering didn’t stop her from continuing to perform almost right up to her death. This ‘Piaf’ (little bird/sparrow) brought joy with her effulgent voice, giving life to that sacred word: Liberté.
4. J.K. Rowling — 1965-Present
I’m aware that this person probably needs very little introduction. Whether you love her wizarding world or not, this woman never set out to achieve fame, all she wanted was to have her story published. Losing her mother to multiple sclerosis after a ten-year battle with the illness, a troubled marriage, depression, being on welfare and a separation from her father never stopped Rowling from continuing to write. Twenty years later, she has accumulated an impressive oeuvre of children and adult fiction, even branching out into screenwriting. But behind all this success is really a person who remains humble and dedicated to her work.
5. Tamara de Lempicka — 1898-1980
Beautiful and talented, the Russian-Polish Art Deco painter was an aristocrat and celebrity who effortlessly mingled with the likes of Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe. Her work exhibited opulent elegance and a seductive brashness, but could also be arrestingly intimate as seen in The Mother Superior and The Sleeping Girl – one of the many paintings of her daughter, Kizette. A bohemian lifestyle and prolonged absences from her only child make Lempicka an easy target for social scrutiny; but ultimately, just like her most memorable work, Autoportrait, this was a woman determined to make her own decisions, and she did.
6. Carol Ann Duffy — 1955-Present
The Scottish poet, professor and playwright was made British Poet Laureate in 2009. Witty and intelligent, her poetry has a certain bittersweet aloofness, as in Valentine, and effortless levity that is her mark and our pleasure. See for yourself in ‘Mrs Darwin’:
7 April 1852.
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him –
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me
7. Anna Akhmatova — 1889-1966
This Russian poet survived the Stalinist terror reign, producing arguably her greatest work: Requiem. Written between 1935 and 1940, the poem is an autobiographical account of the suffering and suppression of the Russian people. Her own husband was shot on false accusations while her son spent many long months imprisoned on counter-revolutionary charges. Requiem is about the death of justice, when physical death becomes an antidote to the relentless grief. Though translations are notoriously difficult in matching the original, the following lines speak for themselves:
Already madness trails its wing
Decisively across my mind;
I drink its fiery wine and sink
Into the valley of the blind.
8. Yim Wing Chun — 1700
Legend has it that a Buddhist nun and one of Five Shaolin Elders in Southern China, Ng Mui, applied her knowledge of Shaolin martial arts training to create a different form of Kung Fu after witnessing a fight between a crane and a snake. Ng Mui took on a pupil, Yim Wing Chun, teaching her this new style of self-defence which transcended size, weight and gender. Yim Wing Chun in turn, mastered and developed the art, applying it in a fight with a thuggish warlord to reject his advances. Having defeated him, she was free to marry the man she loved who named the martial art after her. Despite much debate as to the origins and identity of the founder of Wing Chun, I say every legend contains at least a fine grain of truth.