Feminist Icons Who Shaped Me

“The world was hers for the reading.”

Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I grew up in a small town, in an old Victorian, surrounded by trees. I sat in corners reading books. Every occasion, whether a birthday or Christmas, a good part of my gifts would be books for reading or writing in and art supplies. Always art supplies. My mother insisted that her children express their inner artist.

I am the oldest of four children. Four children so incredibly different in many ways. My younger siblings didn’t grasp onto art. They preferred sports, video games and television. I continued to sit in my room, or in a corner, a porch and eventually a cemetery, reading and writing. I read everything I could get my hands on. Often rereading my favourites, till the books started falling apart.  I read fiction. I read non-fiction. I was often wandering the rows of books at the library, looking for subjects such as Flappers, The Suffragettes, books with strong female characters. Even as a young girl, I was already curious about the history of women.

At eleven years old, my mother gave me a copy of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Immediately, I fell in love with Francie. Her independence, her determination and her sass immediately caught my attention. She had a dream and was going to fulfill it. A dream that in a man’s world, may have been impossible. Francie would be the first feminist character introduced to me, with many to come.

Our lives are shaped by the people and events around us. Women, especially strong women our inspirations. Bell Hooks, Mary Wollstonecraft (mother of Mary Shelley), Jane Addams, Susan Anthony, Christabel Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst, Maya Angelou, Virginia Woolf, Susan G. Cole, Emily Howard Stowe, Nellie McClung, Gloria Steinem to name a few. For me, most of my inspirations came from fictional characters. Strong female characters. As a young girl, I would watch reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show with mother and The Addams Family, horror movies and westerns with my father. All of my inspirations weren’t just fiction, there was also Betty Smart, my grandmother.

Francie Nolan, Mattie Ross, Mary Tyler Moore, Morticia Addams. The four corners stone’s for me and four very different females. Their backgrounds, personalities and stories are completely different, but what they stand for, is the same. Strong, independent, outspoken women who stand for their beliefs and do not back down. They stand up for what is right. Fight for what they believe in and through their sass and determination make sure they are seen and heard. Fearless.

The recent loss of Mary Tyler Moore reminded me of how important it is to have feminist icons and heros influencing and guiding us. How important it is to teach young girls and women that they need to stand up for their rights. Marches in Washington and around the world have proven that we are not going to let anyone stop us from living our dreams or respecting our own bodies. Something has re-awoken this up in us. A small minded man, trying to bully us has added wood to our fire. A sea of pink hats is a beginning, but to ensure our futures, we need to do more. We need to channel our inner Francie, Mattie, Mary and Morticia.

Francie, Mattie, Mary and Morticia have helped to shape me into the person I am. Determined to live my dreams. Not willing to let anyone quash them. My hopes, dreams and respect for my body will not be determined by a man, even if he is a ‘man’ that is in charge of a country. We cannot stop fighting. We cannot stop sending our message. Sometimes we also need a reminder that being a strong woman and a feminist is important. Whether those reminders come in the form of a march, watching your feminist inspiration on media or reading your copy of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn for the millionth time, do it. What the world needs right now, are a lot of Francie’s, Mattie’s, Mary’s and Morticia’s.

“No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body.”

Margaret Sanger


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