Thursday, 10 April 2008

Speaking as a feminist...

No, really, I do have female heroes too. Honest. Here are a few.

Joan Armatrading b.1950
Aha, that one surprised you! Yes, the soulful, melodic sounds of Ms A were very much a part of my musical youth. (As opposed to Musical Youth, who weren't.) Not sure why I became interested in Joan Armatrading. Her voice is fascinating and at times disconcerting. The fact that she genuinely loves her privacy makes her admirable - no 'My Booze Hell' nonsense from her. I can imagine some people being irritated by her vocal mannerisms. But compare a genuine singer-songwriter-musician to some of the 'stars' of today. Also, ten points for being the only person outside the Indian sub-continent ever to have a hit record containing the word 'mahout'. She is indeed the one I need, in a Platonic way.

Alice Sheldon (1915-1987)
Writing under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr, Alice Sheldon produced some of the most inspiring and moving science fiction of the Seventies. She was involved in setting up the CIA, and her wisdom, compassion and humanity shine through in her best work.  She was particularly good on sex in such stories as 'Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death', and 'The Screwfly Solution'.  

Hypatia of Alexandria (355?-415)
Astronomer, mathematician, Platonist, and murder victim. As a leading pagan citizen she was dragged from her chariot and lynched by a Christian mob. Not a great deal is known about Hypatia's life and work, but her murder marks the end of the classical world, and the start of the mediaeval period. Reasoned argument was over - it was now the age of the believer. I used to see the fall of Rome as an unmitigated disaster, leaving Europe to the whims of flea-ridden monks. Not entirely true, of course, but still more than half-true. We took a wrong turning and we could do it again. Hypatia, renowned for her beauty, intellect and gift of rhetoric, might not have been a laugh a minute, but she is arguably a better role model for girls than the shallow, anorexic clothes-horses they are taught to emulate. 'When she appeared in her chariot on the streets people threw flowers at her, applauded her gifts, and cried, "Long live the daughter of Theon."' Substitute 'wife of Beckham' in that and see how it reads.

Shirley Hardie Jackson (1916-1965)
Author of a number of short stories, including 'The Lottery', with its very Fifties, and still very relevant, view of small town America. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House is arguably the best work of its kind ever written. She persistently refused to give interviews about her work or explain what her stories 'meant'. And quite right too. If a story has to be explained it hasn't done its job.

Janet Susan Ballion aka Siouxsie Sioux b. 1957
When she sponsored a peccary at her local zoo, she chose to name it Gregory. This in itself is proof of the woman's inherent greatness. But she also sang Hong Kong Garden, Dear Prudence, Mad Eyed Screamer, Playground Twist, Arabian Knights... Admittedly I've lost track of Ms Sioux a bit lately, but my memories of her Banshees heyday are fresh and tangy. Oh, and she started the whole Goth thing, which has surely done wonders for sensitive, bookish teenagers who want to dress in something other than baggy, pot-noodle stained jumpers.

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