I’m not a fan of women. I mean who doesn’t enjoy the endless bouts of complaining, bitterness and bitching that escapes their mouths on a daily basis amiright? Joke. Not. It’s kinda true. My friend Tom calls me ‘woman-hater’ on a regular basis and I don’t seem to mind that much at all.
I went to an all girls’ school (this might provide some context to the above) and I struggled to get along most of the time. To be frank, throughout my life I have largely struggled to see eye-to-eye with the girls/women that I have encountered. When I was at school especially, I felt that the majority had largely differing interests to my own – while I was obsessed with books and cake, my peers were obsessed with looks and boys. While I was secretly going through my emo/dark arts phase, it felt like everyone else was going through a slut phase – trying to wear as little clothes as possible and gain the attention of six spotty boys that came to our school to do Business Studies once a week (most random set up ever – the all-boys school across the road didn’t have this class so they were invited to take part in ours). Their arrival always caused frenzy. IT BAFFLED MY MIND.
During college, after five years of male deprivation, I was thrust amongst the world of mixed classes. I really didn’t know how to talk to boys and made all the faux pas that the Fashion Police would probably want to imprison me for with my maternity style clothes (lots of fashion experimentation during my sixth-form years is all I’m gonna say – if you care enough to go far back on my Facebook profile you can see the tragic timeline of photographic evidence). At this point in my life, I had two solid female friends and was part of a ‘crew’ (woo) and we were the best of friends etc. so it wasn’t too bad, although I lost a few female friends that I categorised as ‘close’, and other female friendships of mine were challenged greatly during this time. But I made male friends easily through my awkwardness and realised very quickly that I just got along with men better and enjoyed their company equally, if not a lot more.
This trend continued, and I didn’t really have many girl friends whilst I was studying at university (a sad tale really – no one to go shopping with (boo) or chat about re. boys etc.). Most of my memories involve me surrounded by a room full of men in the most non-sexual way imaginable. My best friends were male and I ended up sticking to socialising with guys most of the time because they made me laugh, didn’t take themselves too seriously and would easily bend to my will (joke). There was very little drama involved (unless there was a girl involved with one of my guy mates – surprise surprise), and overall I had very little grief to deal with. I tried to become ‘besties’ with other girls (on insistence from certain family members), but it just didn’t really work. Most of the women I came into contact with simply just had priorities that were of no real interest to me – from their waning love lives/potential babies/makeup/boy troubles/shoes/rowing/attempts to get married etc. Although I can talk about these topics at length, it brings me very little joy. Towards the end of my time at university however, I did develop strong relationships with a few women that I met through societies, and they remain important friendships for me today, and I am truly grateful for that.
Both socially and professionally however, I have always fared better with men (apart from my love life – let’s not go into that…), but when it comes to people who inspire me and those I look up to (there aren’t many people to be honest) – paradoxically, they are all women. And it is in light of this, and my feminist stance on life, that I write this post, in thanks to the women that have inspired me or have had some sort of impact on me, both directly and indirectly.
8. Margaret Thatcher
Okay hear me out, because I can already hear your mind churning. This woman was, and still remains, the first and only female Prime Minister in the UK, ever. I learnt about 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, ‘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) 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
7. J.K. Rowling
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 an aspiring writer. If you haven’t already seen it, 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 <3. A handsome % of sales goes to charity as well.
6. 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 demons and 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 a lot. 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 shit together. I loved her profession/s in the show (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 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 and ‘all-in-a-day’s-work’ type attitude.
5. My managers
In my working life all my managers have been female, and 50% have been lesbian (make of that what you will). I’m lucky that my managers have all been really great. They have all had their own unique style and approach to management, from soft to hard-line, and each has motivated 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 myself now, I have reflected closely on my seniors, and always try to emulate the characteristics that I admire.
I admire and value my current manager the most. In my professional life, she has given 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 listens to me and values my input, which has increased my self-esteem and really makes me feel that I can make a difference and grow in the organisation. Key traits that I have 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.
4. Joya Chatterji
Joya was my lecturer and supervisor for my module in the History of South Asia in my final year of SPS at Cambridge. She opened up my eyes and brain to my ancestral history and key components of my past, which I had ZILCH knowledge about before starting the module. 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 into a crumpled version of yourself). She made a difference to my life, because she ignited a passion – a frenzy more like – a love for the study 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 with 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, and the content of her lectures were always fascinating, and I would have scribbled copious notes throughout, hanging onto her every word.
As a Bengali, it has always been hard 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 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.
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.
3. My English teachers
I have been unbelievably fortunate to have been taught by some of the most passionate English teachers. Mrs Cosford, Mrs Jones – who I always remember as never having owned a TV – and Shelley – teachers from school and 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 been together with for 19 years, yet remained unmarried was tremendously unique and amazing in my eyes. Shelley really helped me understand literature deeply and the life that lives within it. I fell in love with Frankenstein and Poe and Blake and Coleridge under her guidance. I remember how much I loved her lessons and would stay late up into the night writing my 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.
2. 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 10x shittier, 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.
1. My eldest sister
My eldest sister deserves a whole blog/web space/shrine of her own. She is the most incredible and inspirational woman in my life. She is my No. 1.
Like my mother’s, 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 my siblings and me, 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 random who was rather obsessed with her a day later, owned and ran multiple businesses, raised 4 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 everyday, even though she may not know it. 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.
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.