Inspiring a Generation: The Best Female Role Models | Sarah Stook

In the age of feminism, we women have plenty of role models to choose from. For many, Beyoncé’s strong feminist character, no-nonsense attitude and open sexuality make her a great role model. Others are more interested in Hillary Clinton, 2016’s failed nominee whose political capital has many saying that they are still ‘with her’ (usually with a hashtag). From actress/activist Angelina Jolie to human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, there are so many women that inspire us in this generation.

The women listed here are certainly not just for Conservative/conservative girls, but the intention is for young, right-leaning women to know who to look up to. Today, many celebrities and vocal media types tend to swing for the left, leaving women wondering where they can look for inspirations. There do not seem to be plenty, yet there are.

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1979-1990.

If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.’

A deity to some, a disgrace to others, Thatcher is a hugely divisive figure. At the end of the day, regardless of your political beliefs, she was a strong woman who did not let anything get in her way. It didn’t matter to her that she wasn’t loved by all, she genuinely believed what she was doing what was right and set out her vision of the country in a way the Tories today should. An ideological soulmate and good friend of Ronald Reagan, she still didn’t let him knock her down, for example when she bashed him on the Grenada decision. A strong believer in the individual, Thatcher believed that the state should not dictate lives and that a powerful state was a dangerous one. Her handling of the Falklands is to be admired, and she handled the conflict with the skill of a great leader. The sign of a strong leader is their strength in battle, and considering how easily she won re-election next year, it is clear that the people believed that too.

Many criticise Thatcher for not doing a lot for women whilst in office. She appointed few women to Cabinet and was also critical of women’s lib. Yes, that may be true, but she believed in meritocracy, and not diversity for the sake of diversity. To her, women just needed to be tough in order to succeed in a man’s world, though she accepted there was sexism- she famously believed that there would never be a woman PM in her lifetime. Thatcher knew what she had to do to succeed. Whilst she came off as an ‘Iron Lady,’ she did not come across as cruel and had an exciting personality. She showed that through hard work, any woman can get through in a man’s world.

Laura Bush (1946- ), First Lady of the United States from 2001-2009

Women have a better chance to secure freedom and protect themselves from violence, from abuse, from injustice, if they are well-educated and know their rights.’

Wife of 43, Bush is one of the most popular recent first ladies. A two-term First Lady, Bush is a hugely respected first lady. Though she admits she does not agree with her husband on a lot of issues, and is seemingly liberal in some respects, she is still a member of the GOP. Sandwiched between Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and twice Ivy League educated lawyer Michelle Obama, Bush still holds her own. Often, society forgets that some women are more traditional, and Bush is definitely so. Though she sometimes shows opinions, Bush often keeps her politics to herself and stated that it was not her job to ‘undermine’ her husband. Equally, she was passionate on some very non-partisan issues, most notably education. As a former librarian and teacher, Bush passionately discussed literacy, and its importance. It’s great to see an influential woman encourage kids to pick up a book, especially in an age where one sees little toddlers glued to their parents’ phones.

In terms of women’s rights, Bush chose Afghanistan women and breast cancer as the focal points of her campaign, the last one because of her mother, who was diagnosed with it a few years ago. As America geared up for war, Bush delivered a famous speech in which she discussed the Taliban treatment of women, something she hoped would change with a new administration. It was very well received and one of the most notable of her husband’s tenure, especially since she did it on the Presidential Weekly Address, the only non-President to speak on it.

Hedy Lemarr (1914-2000), Actress and Inventor

Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. The unknown was always so attractive to me...and still is.’

Lemarr will strike many as the typical Hollywood star. Starting young, Lemarr was a glamorous and sophisticated woman who made many jokes about men. She married and divorced six men, and had an adopted daughter along with her two biological children. Lemarr was more than meets the eye. A self-taught inventor, Lemarr had a keen interest in the scientific world. Her first husband had close ties with Mussolini, Lemarr worked with the allies to invent radio signals that could not be jammed or tracked, a problem with torpedoes. It wasn’t used during the war, but was patented in the 60s. Without her, we would not have WiFi, as this was the precursor to it.

She was not taken seriously at the time because of her acting past and her gender, but has received much acclaim posthumously. Still, Lemarr is not well known to this day, which is a shame as she is a genuinely brilliant woman. Lemarr eventually worked to sell war bonds, which was a backup as she had wanted to join the National Inventors Council. She had been prevented so because it was believed her celebrity status would help with the war effort, though the modern person knows it may have been because of her gender.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), Philanthropist and Campaigner.

I hope, if you should live to grow up, you will endeavour to be very useful and not spend all your time pleasing yourself.’

Known for formerly being on the £5 note, Fry’s work came from her beliefs as a Quaker. Her work started when she visited Newgate Prison, where she was horrified with the terrible conditions. Children were often imprisoned with their mothers, and many of those in the women’s section had not even gone through a trial. Fry was also disgusted by the practice of transportation, which she successfully campaigned against. The Quaker believed strongly in rehabilitation and fairness, setting up schools for the children and getting the women to learn to sew so that they may have their own trade after being released. Fry had many famous supporters, including Her Majesty Queen Victoria, who funded some of her work, and Prussian King Frederick William IV.

Though most known for prison work, Fry had a number of other ventures. Her nursing programme inspired the famous Florence Nightingale. Like many other Quakers, Fry campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade, which she despised. Fry was also inspired to help the homeless after seeing the dead body of a male child one winter, and she opened a homeless shelter after the encounter.

Kemi Badenoch (1980- ), MP for Saffron Walden

There are few countries in the world where you can go in one generation from immigration to parliamentarian.’

A rising star, Badenoch is part of the 2017 intake. Born to middle-class parents (a doctor and a professor) in London, Badenoch spent most of her young life in her family’s home of Nigeria. These experiences gave rise to her conservative views, as she lived under socialism. Even though her parents were comfortable in their London lives, their affluence soon fell to poverty as they experienced water shortages and doing her homework by candlelight. Her father saved his wages for months to get her a plane ticket to the UK. She worked part time during sixth form, and was shocked by the attitude teachers had to their ethnic minority students- she was even told she shouldn’t bother applying for Oxford as they didn’t accept ‘people like her.’ Before Parliament, she worked in the IT sector before working for a second degree in law. Following that degree, she worked in the financial sector.

Badenoch shows how far hard work can get you. She was disadvantaged in her early life, but because of her strong work ethic- which she credits to her Nigerian roots- allowed her to go far. Her love for Britain makes her an amazing example of what a great immigrant can do, and she speaks warmly of her new home whilst never forgetting her home. Badenoch, as a black female immigrant, shows how we should work against identity politics, considering how much she gets mistaken for a Labour politician.

Nikki Haley (1972- ), US Ambassador the United Nations

I’m a huge fan of women, I think we’re great.’

Similarly to Badenoch, Haley was born to immigrant parents, though hers are Indian. At the tender age of 12, her economic views were influenced by her keeping the books at her mother’s shop. After graduating from university, she worked for several businesses, most notably the family’s Exotica International. After joining the South Carolina House of Representatives, Haley ran for Governor, receiving a boost from Sarah Palin’s endorsement. During her tenure, she became hugely popular, with one of the highest approval ratings of any state governor, re-elected with a comfortable majority. Haley’s dedication to her state was so great that she said she would turn down Mitt Romney’s VP slot, which she was apparently being considered for. As UN Ambassador, Haley is showing a strong resolve and is not shy about criticising foreign regimes, especially Iran. So far, she is doing an excellent job and is doing it without being a mouthpiece of the Trump administration.

Haley, a Sikh turned Christian, has never used her ethnicity or religion as a ‘vote for me’ kind of thing. She is rightly proud of it, but she has never used it as a political card. Her family’s belief in working hard has clearly influenced her, and the fact she has a business background means she’s not a career politician. Popular with her citizens, Haley is definitely one to watch and I wouldn’t be upset if she got the 2024 nomination.

Nancy Astor (1879-1964), First Sitting MP in the UK Parliament

Thank Heaven for that’- her response when a man yelled that he hadn’t voted for her.

Sassy, sophisticated and smart, Nancy Astor isn’t what one would expect when you hear about the first sitting female MP (not the first elected female MP, as she was Sinn Fein and therefore didn’t take her seat). A wealthy American, her first marriage had ended in divorce, and her second made gave her a noble name. She managed to win her seat through her charm, wit and charitable disposition, her American mannerisms delighting with the more reserved Brits. In Parliament, Astor’s sharp tongue meant she clashed with many people- including, most notably, Winston Churchill. Even so, she dedicated herself to helping children by expanding schools, and women by encouraging their participation in politics. Interestingly, her religion encouraged her to seek alcohol reform, such as making 18 the minimum age to drink in pubs.

A Conservative who used her privileged position to help the disadvantaged, and her gender to help fellow women, Astor is probably the best first female MP we could ask for. Astor was also open in her opposition to Stalin and Communism, even when he was a vital ally. Her opposition and strength were so fierce she was listed in the infamous German ‘Black Book.’

Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883), Former slave, abolitionist and women’s rights activists.

‘If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.’

Truth did not have an easy life. Born a slave, she was sold aged 9 when her master died, to a man who was very cruel to her. When she fell in love with another slave, the relationship was banned, and he was beaten when he snuck over to meet her. They never saw one another again. She was forced to leave behind most of her children, all sold into slavery, when she escaped with her baby daughter.  After discovering her son had been sold illegally, she was one of the first black women to win a case against a white man. In 1851, however, she became truly famous with her ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ speech, one of the most famous in American history. It was brave to ask for women’s an African-American rights, and braver still as an African-American woman. We sadly don’t know the exact speech, as no official version exists today.

Further on from her women’s rights, she was also an ardent abolitionist, who even met with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. During said war, she worked hard in encouraging young men to join the Unionist Army and also hoped to improve conditions for African-Americans. After the war, she continued her work through speeches and lectures, becoming widely respected. Truth is probably the bravest woman here, as she overcame massive obstacles and risked everything to spread the word. In a world where we’ve had an African-American president and a female nominee (even one as bad as Clinton), she’s the person to thank.

 

Sophie Scholl (1921-1943), Anti-Nazi activist and martyr.

‘How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?’ Scholl’s last words.

Scholl is unusual here as I would not want to define her with a political belief, even related to the right or conservatism. She is, however, an undisputed hero. At the tender age of 21, she became involved in the White Rose moment, a non- violent intellectual moment which criticised both the Nazis and the war. The group were influenced by reports of what was happening on the front, especially the mass killings of Jews and other ‘undesirables.’ Though all were intellectuals, their varied religious backgrounds allowed their concerns to come from a good moral standpoint. A bright girl horrified by the Nazi indoctrination in the education system, Scholl was valuable in transporting their leaflets as she was less likely to be searched. The group distributed many anti-Nazi leaflets, also mailing them out in order to widen the range.

Their downfall came when they were arrested whilst distributing their leaflets at a university. Charged with treason in an unfair trial, the group were executed by the medieval punishment of a guillotine. Though she was only 21 when she died, Scholl remains a hero in Germany and throughout the world as a young, brave activist. Fighting against an oppressive regime such as the Nazis, even non-violently, was incredibly risky but Scholl paid with her life. All she wanted was to stir up those who already held anti-Nazi sentiments, and open the eyes of the Germans who had their eyes closed by the Nazis. For younger women such as myself, it shows how even a girl so young can be so powerful.

Táhirih (c.1814/17-1852), Poet and theologian

‘You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women’- her last words.

Táhirih is easily the least known on the list to a Western audience. Born in one of the most prominent Persian families of the times, her gender meant that she was not properly entitled to an education, but was privately educated by her liberal father. She even listened in behind a curtain when he lectured his male students. Her father and uncle also taught her theological matters, and she was an expert for her time, even memorizing the Quran.  Unfortunately, her education ended when she was around thirteen, and she had an arranged marriage to a cousin, which was unhappy. Táhirih broke protocol by teaching behind a curtain, which was scandalous because she was still in the company of unrelated males. In 1844, she converted to the Bábí faith, becoming deeply religious.

1848 was her biggest year. At the Conference of Badasht, she unveiled herself in front of the assembled men, many whom had previously seen her as a symbol of virtue. Many of the men present screamed, and one even slit his throat, changing her opinion of religion. Soon after the conference, she was arrested and imprisoned. During her time, she spoke out against forced veiling and polygamy, making her a symbol of women’s rights in Persian times, at odds with the current oppressive Iranian regime. Eventually, Táhirih was executed at the age of 35 with her own scarf. A martyr for women, Táhirih bravely showed that women were not to be put into a box, and that they could break out without help- something people today still struggle with. If we want another non-Western, non-partisan role model, she’s the one.

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