Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘strong women’

“Women Transform Into Their Idols” – BuzzFeed

I just watched this super cute video from Ladylike, a series by BuzzFeed. In this episode, the team get to dress up as their female role-models. It’s amazing. I loved all their reasons for choosing these women as their role-models, and their choices said a lot about what each Ladylike member finds important in their own identity.

 

5 Spectacular Sportswomen

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, kicked off today. In honour of this massive international sporting event, I decided that this article should feature 5 incredible feats of athleticism and endurance… by women. Women were first able to compete in the Summer Olympics in 1900, but, even as recently as 1992, 35 countries were still entering exclusively male competitors. The first time that at least one woman competed for every country was in 2010, a whopping 114 years after the first Olympic Games in 1896.

Lena Jordan

Lena Jordan was a Latvian trapeze artist and aerial performer. In 1897, she became the first person to successfully perform a triple somersault on the flying trapeze. No man beat the record she set until 1909. An article from the Chicago Tribune in 1982 states that “… fewer than 20 trapeze flyers have ever succeeded…” and also that two of the men to ever complete the move died trying to replicate their success, which gives you an idea of how scarily dangerous this move is! Hats off to you, Ms Jordan – you were a braver woman than I!

Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle

In 1926, Gertrude Ederle – born in Manhattan to German immigrant parents – became the first woman to swim the English channel. She was a champion swimmer, Olympic gold medallist and a world record holder in five events. Only five men had successfully swum the English Channel before her attempt. The former record had been 16 hours, 33 minutes (set by Enrique Tiraboschi). She crossed the Channel in 14 hours and 39 minutes. From Trudy herself: “People said women couldn’t swim the Channel, but I proved they could.”

Bonita Norris

Bonita Norris was the youngest British woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, at the age of just 22 (until 2012, when 19-year-old Leanna Shuttleworth broke her record). Bonita also successfully climbed to the summit of Mt. Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world. She’s a television presenter and a charity fundraiser too (seriously, what can’t this woman do?!). I was lucky enough to listen to her speak about her experiences at my school, as part of our International Women’s Day celebration (she’s lovely and you should Google her!).

Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith Joyner

“Flo-Jo” was an American track-and-field athlete. In 1988, she set the world record for the 100m sprint at the U.S. Olympic Trials, astounding everyone watching. She completed the race in just 10.49 seconds, and it’s this achievement that has led to her being considered “the fastest woman of all time”. At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, she set another world record in the 200m sprint. Well, actually, she set two – she completed it in 21.56 seconds in the semi-final and then beat her own record in the final, finishing in 21.34 seconds. In 1998, she sadly passed away at the age of 38, after an epileptic seizure.

Cheryl Haworth

Ever wanted to meet a woman who can lift the equivalent of two fridges over her head? Well, let me introduce you to Cheryl Haworth, the American weightlifter. During the Summer Olympics in Sydney, in 2000, women’s weightlifting was introduced. It was Cheryl’s time to shine, and she brought home a bronze medal at the age of just 17. She competed in the heaviest class. Her weight made her the subject of media scrutiny, and in an interview with Stumptuous, she stated: “It’s frustrating, because it’s like instead of “Oh, you’re the strongest woman in the history of the US”, it’s like “You’re big but you don’t sit on the couch and do nothing. How does that work?” They just don’t understand that bigger people can be elite athletes.”

 

So there you have it: five fantastic women, of all different shapes and sizes, who set incredible records and achieved amazing things!

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#LoveForLeslieJ

Leslie Jones has been forced off Twitter, and the reason for it has made me – and will probably make you – very angry indeed.

As you may be aware, Leslie Jones has recently come to prominence since starring in the new all-female installment of the Ghostbusters franchise. You might recall the backlash after the film was announced, with most people arguing that the film would “ruin” the original for them and that it was a blatant attempt to pander to a more PC audience.

I’ve always supported the “girl Ghostbusters”, because I think the film is undoubtedly a force for good. It showcases the talents of four immensely funny actresses and it has the potential to inspire so many little girls. I love the whole concept of it. My best friend (who has ambitions of becoming a film director) went to see it and utterly adored it, which is saying something because she is incredibly picky about the media she’s willing to watch.

But since the film’s release, the abuse directed at the cast and crew has only intensified, mostly targeted at Leslie. Milo Yiannopoulos – a man notorious for inciting his mob of fans to hurl abuse at those who displease him – kickstarted a seemingly endless wave of trolling and racist harassment. People have photoshopped tweets, ostensibly from Leslie, with anti-Semitic slurs in them, in order to make it appear that she is abusing Yiannopoulos. When she reacted to such misrepresentation, she was condemned as “too sensitive”. It all became too much for Leslie, who has sadly left Twitter – possibly for good. It genuinely upset me; she tweeted that the onslaught of online abuse was a “personal nightmare”. I can’t imagine what it must feel like.

The bigotry directed at her was vile, but it is nothing compared to the surge of love and support that has emerged in its wake. I myself have used the hashtag #LoveForLeslieJ, and you’re welcome to do so as well if you want to show your support. A second hashtag, #BanNero, has also developed as an attempt to have Milo Yiannopoulos permanently banned from Twitter. He’s already had his blue tick, the mark of verification, taken from him, but it’s not enough. Yiannopoulos is a professional troll. That’s what he does, and we as Internet users shouldn’t put up with it.

Yiannopoulos often espouses his belief in a right to “free speech” – in his case, his right to spread bigotry and hatred. However, his actions and those of the people who take their inspiration from him have denied Leslie Jones her platform and her voice. It’s indicative of a growing online trend of attempts to silence women, especially women of colour.

The Guardian have already published an article about these events.

Much love to Leslie, a talented, funny, smart woman. And what’s more: she’s strong too. I have no doubt that she’ll beat the haters.

Writing – Artemisia

The third (very belated) part of my historical women series. You can read Cleopatra and Olympias first, if you like, but they’re not interconnected. This is not 100% historically accurate, but I wasn’t really aiming for that. Artemisia’s life has become part of mine, and I simply enjoyed taking the time to explore how I feel about her work. Trigger warning for non-explicit references to rape and sexual assault, as well as some moderate violence.

For Artemisia, and for the sister she never had.

Rome, 1612

Artemisia approaches the canvas. She hesitates briefly, as though asking permission from a lover, before placing a hand upon its textured surface. She touches every bump, every ridge, every pore, until she knows each one intimately. She feels a strange sort of camaraderie with it, like an old friend.

Her wounded hands are glaringly obvious against the white and her thumbs throb with remembered pain, caught in a tightening vice that has not touched her flesh for months. She remembers how she shrieked until her throat was dry and burning and she could shout no longer – even now, she swallows slowly, at a thankful, reverent pace – and she remembers the metal inside her. How cold, how clinical. They never drew blood, not there, but still she felt dissected, split asunder. For months, she could not quite believe that anything below her waist belonged to her. It had become public property. It had become evidence.

She had become evidence. She had been victim, witness, judge and jury.

Her body may have healed from that indignity, but her soul had not.

 

She wants her next work to be powerful. She wants to give her weeping heart manifest form. Looking up at the canvas, she knows the space would allow for it. Empty as it is, it already physically dominates, but she wants it to be emotionally overwhelming too.

She wants something epic, something towering and forceful.

“Something of Biblical proportions,” her father had said when she told him; she had agreed.

She wants rage and she wants revenge and she wants blood, yet she craves companionship and sisterhood and triumph.

Judith, she thinks, it can only be Judith. I must paint Judith, here and now, for when she slays her Holofernes, I will have slain mine too.

She gathers her materials. Slowly but firmly, she starts to sketch. For now, it is bare bones. One day, it will have a heartbeat of its very own.

 

Over the months following the trial, she gets to know Judith very well. She could have told the tale with ease prior to this, but she could not have attested to the slick darkness of Judith’s hair, like the Tiber on a stormy day. She could not have described the flex of the tendons in Judith’s forearm, nor the grip of her fist in Holofernes’ hair, nor the thrust and the drive of the blade in her hand. Judith is fluidity and Judith is motion, so Artemisia lets herself be taken with the ebb and flow of her tide.

She even acquaints herself with Holofernes. She had no desire to know him before she began. It was Judith who mattered most, and that remains gospel in her heart. That doesn’t stop her from feeling a surge of ragehatepity at the sight of his frightened eyes, his grasping hands, his gaping mouth. Perhaps this is because she is familiar with this expression. It is the same look she has seen in the eyes of dying fish, asphyxiating in fishermen’s nets, and it is the same look she saw on the face of Agostino Tassi that day in court.

She paints Holofernes differently, violently. Judith is born of tender recognition, but Holofernes is born of painful otherness. Holofernes is dissonance, he is an untuned string in the symphony of Artemisia’s… Judith’s life. Sometimes, she has to stop herself for fear that she will stab him, right through the heart and right through the canvas. She has to pause occasionally, for she is breathless, she is spent. She leaves a trail of blood in her wake. It spatters, adorning his throat and chest, a garland of roses, a chain of rubies. She is caught in their crossfire as Judith plunges downwards with her dagger and Holofernes fights upwards and, often, she wonders: when did she stop being an onlooker and become a participant? When did she join the brawl?

Artemisia is not the only one dragged in from the sidelines. Behind them both is Judith’s maidservant, pinning the general down while Judith beheads him. Despite Holofernes’ punishing grasp on the front of her gown, the maid stands firm, determined. She is more a sister than a servant. Artemisia wishes desperately that she had a sister, so she is gentle, coaxing the maid out from the shadows as she paints. Perhaps there is a secret part of her that is jealous, that craves what Judith has.

She remembers how she had screamed for Tuzia all those months ago. It was hard with his hand over her mouth, dragging stale stinging air into her lungs as she inhaled, but still she had screamed and screamed. She had begged. Tuzia never came.

In court, Tuzia had denied all knowledge. I heard nothing, she said, I saw nothing.  I’ve never followed Artemisia into her workshop. I heard nothing.

She kept saying it, over and over, I heard nothing. Artemisia is sure she burst into tears at one point and had to be consoled, for she would have made herself ill with the sobbing. You heard everything, she had wanted to bellow, I yelled and I begged and you heard but you never came, you traitor. But she hadn’t screamed. She only had to look Tuzia in the eye for a second and the woman knew it all. Remember me, she demanded with those precious moments of eye-contact, Don’t you ever forget me, don’t you dare.

Artemisia used to hope – and she hated herself for hoping – that whenever Tuzia broke bread, she’d think of her former friend’s broken body and whenever she sipped wine, she’d think of the dried blood on the bedsheets. She doesn’t wish for that now. She might not have forgiven Tuzia, but she wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. It is not in her nature.

 

Rome, 1613

When she steps away from the canvas, for what she knows is the very last time, Artemisia is not shocked by what she sees.

Not Judith, Holofernes and the maid.

Rather, Artemisia, Agostino, and Tuzia.

Her instinct is to rush to change it, to scrub away its significance. With a darker shadow here, a more pronounced cheekbone there, there would be no sign, no suspicion, that the three of them ever shared a canvas.

But she can’t do it. She won’t do it.

 

For weeks, people come to see the painting.  News travels fast on the streets of Rome, and they soon flock to her father’s exhibitions to see the works of both father and daughter. Some of them marvel. Some of them are aghast. One lady faints at the thought that a woman could paint such a thing as this. How improper to depict a Biblical widow engaging in wilful decapitation.

This is her testament. This is her monument.

It makes her laugh to think that – on a wall, rather than the gallows – Agostino Tassi will hang.

 

Florence, 1614

When Cosimo de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, asks her to recreate the work, she paints with such vigour that it scares her. It takes her six years to complete. The finished work, far more refined and yet far more animal than the original, certainly scares the Dowager Grand Duchess Cristina, but, unsurprisingly, Cosimo loves it. So she paints another, and another, and another.

The scandal dies down, the gossip withers, but she is still an oddity in the Florentine court. An artist’s daughter from Rome, a victim of rape, a sociological phenomenon.

This is fine by her. She is content to be an oddity, on her own terms.

Everything is on her own terms now.

The Tide

I don’t know if we can talk about ‘waves’ of feminism anymore – by my reckoning, the next wave would be the fifth, and I suspect it’s around the fifth wave that you stop referring to individual waves, and start to refer, simply, to an incoming tide.

– Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman

With the establishment of my Instagram (@dollydastardly, if you’re interested!), I’ve connected with so many different activist accounts – some of them dedicated to feminism, some of them to womanism, some of them to equalism… and some of them to anti-feminism.

Or, more specifically, anti third wave feminism.

Often, in their Instagram bios, activist accounts will list the things they are “pro-” and “anti-“. “Anti third wave feminism” occurs frequently. Sometimes they will even specify that they “respect” first and second wave feminism, but they hate third wave feminism. This statement troubles me for several reasons. (Mostly, it’s because I am 99.9% certain that they don’t actually know what “third wave feminism” means.)

Sooo, let’s make sure we’re all starting on an equal playing field and begin with a crash course in the three(ish) waves of feminism:

First-wave feminism usually refers both to activity that occurred prior to any organised feminist activism and to the fight for voting and legal rights (i.e. ownership of property, financial independence). By some definitions (including by that of Simone de Beauvoir), it can stretch back to Christine de Pizan, writing in the 15th century. Much of her work focused on practical advice for women and on the role women ought to play in society. The works of Mary Wollstonecraft also belong to this era of feminism; she penned treatises on the social and moral equality of the sexes. First-wave feminism is generally accepted to have culminated in women’s suffrage in the early 20th century, at least by Western standards – see, we’re already having trouble with this wave system, right?

Second-wave feminism began in the early 1960s and “ended” (yes, those quotation marks are deliberate – another problem with these bloody waves!) in the 1980s. It differed from the first wave in terms of purpose. It still retained the basic tenets of gender equality, but the second wave was characterised by activism based upon reproductive rights, relationships and sexuality. It drew attention to domestic violence and sexual assault. In 1961, the contraceptive pill became commercially available in the USA, leading to greater autonomy for women. Feminists in this period began to critique the social expectations of women and their role in the family. Authors like Betty Friedan, in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, argued that the idealised familial structure was in fact degrading to women.

But there were problems with this second wave of feminism, and who better to solve them than…

Third-wave feminism is generally accepted to have originated in the 1990s. This is an entirely different kind of feminism. There is no cohesive goal, instead replaced by a strong sense of individuality and identity. Amid the riot grrrl scene (think Bikini Kill) and the rebirth of radical feminism, third-wave feminists have sought to build upon second-wave feminism. They have acknowledged that their foremothers cultivated a movement that was exclusively white, straight and cisgender, leading to the inception of intersectional feminism and more celebration of the beauty in diversity. This has led to conflict between the ideals of second-wave feminism – which still exists, living and breathing in the realm of academia – and those of the newer movement.

Class dismissed.

Some people argue that the third wave has ended and we’re now in the fourth or possibly even fifth wave of feminism. Personally, I like Caitlin Moran’s analogy more – a truly feminist society sometimes feels like an oncoming inevitability for me, as though one day the straw will break the camel’s back (i.e. we’ll break the patriarchy) and we’ll be free. I know that’s idealistic and downright silly, so, on other occasions, I feel as though we’ll never achieve that.

This is why I object to condemnation of so-called third-wave feminism. Third-wave feminism is improving the movement. Imagine that the first wave of feminists have planted a seed, the second wave have cultivated and felled the tree for their daughters and granddaughters to make use of, and the third wave are whittling the wood into something beautiful – a chair or a table or a massive wooden vulva.

H&M - sculpture

Spot the vulva, babes.

To be honest, with all the overlap and uncertainty in the waves system, I think a more accurate way of dividing up feminism is to look at the different strains that have emerged. From womanism to chicanisma, from lesbian feminism  to ecofeminism, there’s a branch on the feminist tree for everyone to sit on (yes, I’m sticking with this metaphor, shut up). If you – assuming you are an anti-feminist – have beef with a particular aspect of feminism, why not take it up with the group within the wider feminist community who actually uphold that belief? We’re not a hive mind; we don’t all think the same way.

I don’t describe myself as a third-wave feminist, by the way, although I probably technically am. At some point, I want to write another article talking about the labels I apply to myself and why, as well as a bit of musing about which feminist variant fits most closely with my own activism.

If you’re curious about how we analyse the waves of feminism, this article from Pacific University, Oregon, was really interesting. The PSA (Political Studies Association) also have a great article exploring whether we have entered a fourth wave, due to the influence of the internet on feminist activism. The quote from Caitlin Moran came from her fabulous book How To Be A Woman, which you can peruse on Amazon here, should you wish to! It’s naughty, but it’s utterly hilarious and I adored it. My copy is thoroughly thumbed to pieces.

So there you go, that’s all my thoughts on this particular issue – hope you enjoyed! Please like and share on Facebook/Twitter/Google+, and help me to spread the word about feminism!

5 Best Female Police Officers from UK TV

The UK has a proud history of cop dramas. We love ’em. It feels like there’s a new one being released every fortnight; we can’t get enough. However, with all those car chases and shoot-ups, the genre has a tendency to be a bit of a testosterone disaster zone (yes, that rhyme was intentional).

So, just to prove a point, here are my top 5 female police officers who just kick ass constantly.

DC Kate Fleming, Line of Duty (Vicky McClure)

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Line of Duty is probably one of the best dramas I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. It’s so good, and I’m praying a fourth series will be produced. It would be criminal (ha, get it?) not to include Kate on this list, because she’s such a brilliant character. She’s dedicated; she’ll put her life on the line (of duty) to serve the cause of justice. Also, she starred in the most tense car chase in the history of British television. She chased armed criminals down on foot  having hitched a ride on the side of a lorry – and then managed to shoot out the car tyres from the top of a bridgeKudos.

DC Janet Scott and DS Rachel Bailey, Scott and Bailey (Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones)

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I got your sisterhood of the travelling bulletproof vest right here. Scott and Bailey has some truly inspiring and awesome ladies, who are all exceptional and the forerunners in their respective fields, but these two are the protagonists and deserve a mention. They’re courageous, they’re tough, they’re bloody brilliant, and they’re taking exactly 0% of your bullshit. They’re very different – Janet is a no-nonsense mum to two teenage children, whereas Rachel’s a bit more of a party-girl – but their friendship is what really makes the series. I love ’em. Suranne Jones 5eva, tbh.

DI Alex Drake, Ashes to Ashes (Keeley Hawes)

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Alex deals with being sent back in time pretty well, all told. She’s super sassy – she can give true drama queen Gene Hunt a run for his money – and I think her fashion sense is awesome too! She brings her 21st century knowledge with her when she finds herself stuck in the 1980s, and she takes it all in her stride. She’s one lady you definitely don’t want to mess with. Keeley also played another police officer in Line of Duty, DI Lindsay Denton, who is implicated in the work of corrupt officers. She’s somewhat less friendly there, although Lindsay is still a complete and utter badass.

DS Sally Donovan, Sherlock (Vinette Robinson)

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I love Sally, but my love for her is nothing compared to my abject hatred for the way 99% of the Sherlock fandom chooses to treat her. Sherlock’s an arsehole. She calls him out for being an arsehole. I don’t know why they struggle to grasp that (well, I do – it’s the fact that she’s a WOC calling out a white dude with millions of fangirls benefiting from the rose-tinted “quirky white guy” glasses), because I think she’s super cool and really inspiring. Honestly, I think she’s probably the most well-balanced (emotionally speaking) character on the show. Obviously, calling Sherlock a “freak” wasn’t very nice, but it’s not really in the same ballpark as Sherlock outing her affair with Anderson and doing his level best to humiliate her. Nice double standard you got there, Sherlock fans.

(Also, Vinette is my major woman-crush. *heart eyes*)

WPC Rachel Coles, Inspector George Gently (Lisa McGrillis)

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I’ve chosen Rachel mainly for the episode Gently With The Women, which deals with the treatment of sex workers by the police force during the 1960s, when the series takes place. How were they treated? Not very well, but Rachel (along with feminist ally Inspector Gently, goddess bless him) sets out to challenge perceptions. She faces opposition from her male colleagues – all of whom see rape allegations by prostitutes as inherently laughable – but she perseveres, and it’s a really powerful episode. By the end of it, her colleague John Bacchus, initially sceptical, realises that she’s right and that the police force is flawed as long as it allows such injustice to continue.

Thank you for reading! I hope you liked this article – if so, please consider liking and sharing it!

5 Smashing Shakespearean Ladies

It’s Shakespeare Day here in the UK, the 400th anniversary of his death in 1616 (and arguably his birthday, although we don’t have a definitive date of birth). The works of William Shakespeare cover a whole range of themes and span the breadth of human emotion, from love to hatred, from grief to vengeance. The portrayal of women in his plays can tell us a lot about the attitudes of the time, as well as presenting challenges for directors and actors performing for a modern audience (looking at you, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and your weird “I’ll force thee yield to my desire”).

You might not think of Tudor England as a utopia with a progressive outlook on life, but Shakespeare was a man who wrote about racism 350 years before the Civil Rights Movement took off, a man who wrote about a mentally ill prince – I read Hamlet as clinically depressed, personally – before the complex field of psychiatry was even a concept.

He was also the creator of some of the most wonderful women in literature.

So, without further ado (about nothing)*, here are my five favourite Shakespearean ladies:

5. Ophelia, Hamlet

“Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?”

Ophelia might not strike you as a particularly feminist character. She is one of just two female speaking roles in the play (indicative of the fact that Hamlet is not a particularly feminist play, either). She is in love with Prince Hamlet, but when it seems that he loves her no longer, she kills herself in his absence. Not exactly what you’d call a role-model.

However, I still like her very much. It’s very easy to empathise with Ophelia – she’s caught between all the influential men in her life: her father, her brother, and the man she loves. There’s also an interesting gendered distinction drawn between the madness of Ophelia and the madness of Hamlet. You’re probably familiar with the “flower” scene, in which Ophelia sings and hands out flowers. Her madness is depicted on a starkly emotional level, but Hamlet’s status as an intellectual means we’re never sure if he truly has gone mad. It’s worth mentioning that, up until the 20th century, “hysteria” – an alleged (and fictitious) mental illness caused by the uterus – was a common diagnosis for women. The artist Emilie Autumn explored these themes in her song Opheliac, which gives you an idea of the enduring symbolism Ophelia possesses as a woman struggling to fulfill an ideal.

Ophelia

Sian Brooke as Ophelia, Barbican Theatre (2015)

4. Mistress Quickly, Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2); Henry V; The Merry Wives of Windsor

“Pray ye, pacify yourself, Sir John: there comes no swaggerers here.”

Mistress Nell Quickly is totally dissimilar to all the other women on this list. She’s no noblewoman or queen; she’s the landlady of the Boar’s Head Tavern, the usual haunt for Falstaff and crew. True to her name, she’s a lively lass (she’s practically the medieval Peggy Mitchell). She’s closely linked with the criminal underworld, but, nonetheless, you’ll find no woman with a more *ahem* respectable reputation.

Honestly, she’s just great. I often find that the women in Shakespeare’s comedies are depicted far better than in his tragedies – none of that damsel in distress nonsense! They’re just ordinary, lower-class women, brawling and gambling and double-dealing with the men. And if that’s not equality, I’ll eat a leek.**

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Sarah Parks as Mistress Quickly, RSC (2015)

3. Desdemona, Othello

“I am not merry; but I do beguile
The thing I am, by seeming otherwise.”

In Othello, Desdemona elopes with the eponymous general, much to her father’s dismay. They leave for Cyprus, where Othello takes command of the troops on the island. Throughout the course of the play, Othello’s close friend and comrade Iago persuades him that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio – a white soldier – and Othello, consumed by jealousy, eventually murders his wife. At the discovery of her innocence, he commits suicide.

Desdemona falls in love with Othello after listening to his life story. I think that’s beautiful – she falls in love with, not despite, his humble beginnings. But it’s her willingness to disobey her father that unsettles Othello; he fears she might just as easily betray him and this is ultimately her undoing. It’s a story reflected throughout history – take Anne Boleyn, for example. Her boldness is what attracted Henry VIII to her, but it was also the thing that led to her execution.

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Irene Jacob as Desdemona (1995 film)

2. Titania, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;
And for her sake do I rear up her boy,
And for her sake I will not part with him.”

Titania is the queen of the faeries in the play. In a parallel plotline – the main plot concerns four Athenian lovers – her husband Oberon tricks her into falling in love with Bottom, an amateur actor with (courtesy of the mischievous Puck’s magic) a donkey’s head. She and her husband make amends by the end of the play, fortunately enough for everyone else! It’s their refusal to yield to one another that causes much of the chaos that ensues.

I really like Titania (although I like Hermia and especially Helena too, who are the play’s other female protagonists).  She’s stubborn and she doesn’t back down. And why should she? She’s the faerie queen, after all. It also amuses me that Benedict Cumberbatch played her when he was at school. 🙂

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  1. Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing

“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”

Beatrice isn’t just my favourite lady on this list. She’s my favourite Shakespearean character of all time. She’s witty and she takes exactly zero shit from anybody. It’s definitely worth noting*** that Much Ado About Nothing is fantastic at turning gender roles on their head. Beatrice and her love interest Benedick make jokes at each other’s expense and their conversations are barbed. Beatrice gives as good as she gets, and it honestly feels more like a quirky modern rom-com than a 16th century play.

You could argue that the fact that Beatrice has to change herself and accept marriage, rather than continuing self-sufficiently, isn’t very progressive. It’s not perfect. But Benedick has to change too – it’s not a play about a woman realising that marriage should be her aspiration, it’s a play about two people learning to compromise, cultivating not just a relationship but a friendship too.

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Meera Syal as Beatrice, RSC (2012)

Shakespeare is a defining figure in this country’s literary heritage. What we should take away from his work is that we are not so different from his contemporary Elizabethan audience. His work endures because of its innate humanity. We can perform his plays anywhere, anytime, to any audience. No matter if it’s a traditional production or one set in India or Afghanistan or the Second World War, the Bard’s words will always ring true.

As his friend and rival Ben Jonson once said, “He was not of an age, but for all time!”

Thank you for reading! As you can probably tell, I’m passionate about Shakespeare! I’d really appreciate it if you would share this on Facebook/Twitter/Google+!

Glossary of geeky jokes:

* From Much Ado about Nothing

**From a brilliant scene in Henry V, in which the Welshman Fluellen makes Pistol eat the leek on his cap

***Really nerdy joke. In Shakespeare’s day, “nothing” would have been pronounced “noting”, which adds a whole new level of pun to the play.

You can find out more from the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.