Since the early 1900’s, International Woman’s Day has been a pivotal feminist movement, born from the striving of millions towards justice and gender equality. From its humble beginnings at Copenhagen’s ‘International Conference of Working Women’ (now over 100 years ago, scary!!), to the official public holiday we now recognize in countries all over the globe, IWD stands as a beacon for positive change towards a fairer global society. It’s important to remember that without these visionary woman who took part in marches and strikes and rallies, taking the lead towards political and social parity, we might not have this list of creative female geniuses to goggle at! But we do. Though the struggle is far from over, these 7 innovational women are shining examples of the good that has and will come from the equilibrium of both political and sexual aspects of gender.
When we talk about combining the personal and political, French artist Claude Cahun is a name that should definitely spring to mind. Pretty much her entire portfolio is dedicated to undermining traditional gender roles and smashing the patriarchy. She started her series of self-portraits in 1922 at age 18, which became gradually more highly staged, surreal, and fantastical. She also published a load of writing, including a series of monologues called ‘Heroines’, in which she wrote about female fairy tale characters intertwined with clever, witty comparisons to the contemporary image of women. In 1932, she started hanging out with Andre Breton and the rest of the surrealist group, and had a hand in the founding of the left-wing group Contre Attaque, alongside Breton and Georges Bataille. During WWII, she lived in Jersey and became a resistance worker against the German occupation. She produced anti-Nazi leaflets, snuck into German military events, and strategically placed them in soldiers’ pockets and around the buildings. She was arrested, but managed to avoid execution, dying ten years later, aged 60. Bad-ass.
Oh Georgia, the mother of American Modernism, there is so much to say about you. Rising to fame in the New York art community around 1916, Georgia’s masterpieces took the form of giant paintings of flowers in bloom, but close up, as if you’re looking through a magnifying glass. She also painted a series of New York buildings, most of which date from the same time period. In 1929, she began working here and there in Northern New Mexico, and eventually moved there in 1949, to be with her husband and his family. Later she recovered from a mental breakdown, and went on to paint one of my favorite pieces of all time, Ram’s Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills. Her paintings from New Mexico were influenced by what she saw around her, and seamlessly intertwined themes of death, desolation, and the rebirth of nature. During the 1940s, she had two one-woman retrospectives, the first at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the second at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in Manhattan, the first retrospective MOMA held for a female artist She also earned lots of honorary degrees from numerous universities, and in death has had a play, a biopic, and a museum dedicated to her life and works. Oh, and also a dinosaur fossil named after her. Not bad.
Often named the greatest female French director of all time, Denis’ has enjoyed a thriving career mastering her own trademark style of filming, and has won numerous awards for her silver screen endeavors. Her first film, Chocolat, a semi-autobiographical story about life in colonial Africa, earned her critical acclaim. It won two awards and was selected for the Cannes Film Festival in 1988. Danes is known for rejecting the commercial conventions of Hollywood; she aims to free the audience from the expectation of clichés, from the mundane and stereotypical. Her films are often have an autobiographical nature to them, and as such, she is known as a pioneer of auteur cinema. Not only that, but she has experimented with a wide range of genres, from horror to romance drama. She has certainly never been afraid to undertake new ideas, and her bravery has produced beautiful results. In 2013 she was awarded Stockholm Lifetime Achievement Award at the Stockholm Film Festival, a trophy well and truly deserved.
New Zealand-born directing heavyweight Jane Campion is the second of four women ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, and is also the first female filmmaker ever in history to receive the Palme d’Or, for her acclaimed film The Piano (1993), for which she also won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Since then, she has produced a directed a multitude of films spanning across different genres and dealing with varying themes and aesthetics, but not forgetting a common goal. The presence of gender politics is strong felt in all of her films; she often focuses on the art of seduction to convey a message about social and political constructs of the female body. She was the head of the jury for the Cinéfondation and Short Film sections at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and also the head of the jury for the main competition section for the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. She has received praise from critics and fellow filmmakers alike; Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan said that The Piano made him want to write more roles for women, ‘beautiful women with soul, will and strength, not victims or objects’.
Angela Carter’s novels are wonderfully magical and wonderfully feminist. She was evacuated as a child, battled anorexia as a teen, divorced her first husband and ran away to Tokyo, where she learnt what it was to be ‘radical’. All of her novels, including the infamous series of re-imagined fairytales, ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ offer a deconstruction of traditional female figures, roles, and ideals, both in terms of the aesthetic and political. Her heroines bat back against the male gaze, and take control over their own bodies and identities. As well as being a prolific fiction writer, she wrote articles for The Guardian, The Independent and New Statesman, and also adapted a number of her short stories for radio. Two of her fictions were made into films, The Company of Wolves (1984) and The Magic Toyshop (1987), and she had a hand in producing both adaptations. In 2012, Nights at the Circus was selected as the best ever winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. She left a legacy revered by contemporary feminist writers everywhere, and will never be forgotten.
Maya is champion of a multitude of artistic areas; over a span of fifty years, she has churned out three books of essays, several books of poetry, and a plethora of plays, movies, and television shows. She has received awards more awards than I can remember and more than fifty honorary degrees. Best known for series of incredible autobiographies, Maya stands as a celebrated spokesperson for both feminism and black culture. She worked closely alongside Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights movement, and in the 1990s she made roughly eighty lecture appearances a year, promoting equality for all (and she kept going into eighties...her eighties). She recited her poem ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recital since Robert Frost at John F Kennedy’s. Her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is now taught in schools and universities all over the world, and oh my lord, it is incredible. If you’re going to take anything away from this list, let it be the inspiration to read this book.
Maggie Smith is possibly the most celebrated actress in English history, with a career spanning over sixty years in which she mastered both stage and screen. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1990 for her services to the performing arts, as well as a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in 2014. And if that’s not enough for you, she is also Professor fucking McGonagall, and she can turn into a cat at will. Ok, so maybe not that very last part, but in all seriousness, she has played lead roles in some incredible films, including California Suit, Sister Act, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Private Lives, The Secret Garden, and many, many more. She has won two Academy Awards, Five BAFTA Awards, three Emmy Awards, three Golden Globes, four Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Tony Awards. Phew, and I thought I was busy! All this and she still finds time to do charity work; among other things, she became a patron of the International Glaucoma Association in 2012 to support the organisation, and has also raised funds for UK charity Cats Protection. N’aaawww, the big softie.