Listening Intelligently #6 | Her-Story…

It’s remarkable how you can live life with non confrontational bias around you and not realise how language reinforces a patriarchal system

It wasn’t until I heard of Judy Chicago, ironically on a flight to Chicago, when I read an email that magically (in that I hadn’t turned on data roaming and was at 20,000 feet above the Atlantic) appeared in my inbox from The New Yorker which showcased her exhibition “Herstory” set against a striking image from her 1969 work, which briefly and impactfully engulfed the facade of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Image showing Judy Chicago, Her-Story artwork

Art work © Judy Chicago / ARS; Photograph © Donald Woodman / ARS

Perhaps it was the fact the image shown was my favourite colour (orange), perhaps the fact I was on a flight to Chicago and an unexpected email arrived into my inbox talking about a lady called Judy Chicago – whatever I was it struck me…

History, His-story not Her-story. His. 

It was a transformational moment. One that made me stop in my tracks and scribble down this piece.

If everything that has ever been is openly described as his-story there really should be no surprises that the her in society is ignored or worse forgotten. 

Here’s just fifteen, of thousands of moments, of Her-story:

Boudicca (25AD-60/61 AD) – Queen of the Iceni tribe during the Roman occupation of Britain. Leading an army of around 100,000 she succeeded in driving the Romans out of modern-day Colchester (then capital of Roman Britain), London and Verulamium (St Albans)

Pocahontas (1596-1617) – A Native American princess of the Powhatan tribe. She is believed to have saved the life of the leader of the Jamestown colony, Captain John Smith. This act and her marriage to the Jamestown colonist helped establish peace between the Natives and the colonists, aiding in the survival of the colony

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) A gifted mathematician Lovelace is considered to be the first computer programmer – note, not the first woman, the first full stop. An industry that has since transformed business, our lives and the world. In an industry still dominated by men, it’s particularly striking that the first programmer was a woman.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) – A bright, tough, driven professional, a brilliant organiser and statistician, and one of the most influential women in 19th-century England. She led the first official team of British military nurses to Turkey during the Crimean War, fought between Britain and Russia (1853-56). More soldiers died from disease than wounds in this conflict and Nightingale – as well as tending the sick – reported back to the army medical services on how to reduce avoidable deaths. 

Harriet Tubman (c. 1822-1913): An African American leading abolitionist, humanitarian, and a key figure in the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by enslaved African Americans to escape to freedom in the 19th century. Born into slavery in Maryland, she escaped to the North in 1849 and later dedicated her life to helping enslaved individuals escape to freedom.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) – An American lyric poet who lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision.  Dickinson wrote close to 2,000 poems during her lifetime, the majority of which were not published until after her death. Despite her relatively small body of published work during her lifetime, her posthumously published poems gained widespread recognition for their depth and innovative use of language, covering a range of topics, including nature, love, death, immortality, and the human experience. 

Marie Curie (1867-1934): A pioneering physicist and chemist, Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and remains the only person to win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields (physics and chemistry).  She founded the new science of radioactivity  and her discoveries launched effective cures for cancer.

Marie Stopes (1880-1958) – An advocate of birth control and sex educator, she studied for a science degree at University College, London. Stopes was a key figure in publicising her cause (a first birth control clinic was set up in a poor working-class area of north London in 1921) and in bringing to women worldwide the opportunity of planned pregnancies.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962): An American political figure, diplomat, and a prominent human rights advocate, Roosevelt served as the First Lady of the United States (1933-1945) and played a pivotal role in shaping American social and political life and a crucial role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Amelia Earhart (1897-1937?): A pioneering aviator, Aged just 24 Earhart took up flying, and went on to break the women’s altitude record the following year when she rose to 14,000 feet. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, and set numerous aviation records before her mysterious disappearance. 

Mother Teresa (1910-1997): A Catholic nun and missionary, Mother Teresa devoted her life to serving the poor and sick in Calcutta, India, and received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work. On 4 September 2016, she was canonised by the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

Rosa Parks (1913-2005): Often referred to as the “mother of the civil rights movement” Parks challenged race segregation that existed in parts of the US by refusing to give up her seat on a bus so that a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, could sit down. Her protest was supported by many other African Americans and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the civil rights movement which, in the 1960s, eventually won equal rights. Four years after her death in 2005, Barack Obama became the first African-American US president.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954): A renowned Mexican artist known for her distinctive and highly symbolic style of surrealist paintings, Kahlo is celebrated for her self-portraits, which often incorporated elements of Mexican folk art and explored themes of identity, gender, post-colonialism, and her own physical and emotional pain.  Frida Kahlo’s life and art continue to captivate audiences worldwide, and her impact extends beyond the realm of visual arts to influence discussions on identity, feminism, and cultural expression.

Indira Gandhi (1917-1984): The first and, to date, the only female Prime Minister of India, Gandhi played a crucial role in shaping the country’s modern political landscape.  She was assassinated on October 31, 1984, by two of her Sikh bodyguards. She remains a prominent figure in Indian political history, and her impact on the country’s political and social landscape is still discussed and analysed today.

Jane Goodall (1934-present): A renowned English primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist.  Goodall’s groundbreaking work with chimpanzees in Tanzania transformed our understanding of primates and their social behaviours. Goodall has become a prominent advocate for wildlife conservation and environmental issues. Her work has had a profound impact on primatology, animal behavior, and conservation. She has inspired generations of scientists and conservationists and remains an influential figure in the global environmental movement.

Selecting a definitive list of just 15 inspirational women in her-story is challenging due to the countless remarkable women who have made significant contributions across various fields.  This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are countless other inspirational women who have made significant contributions to her-story in various fields. The impact of these women continues to resonate and inspire generations.

And here’s the fabulous New Yorker article, that inspired this blog:

Judy Chicago | New Yorker

There have been many truly transformational men throughout His-story, and this is not a post to deride their impressive contribution and legacy, it’s simply one to also shout out that there have been an equal number of women in Her-story. 

Language is important, and as marketers and builder of brands, we need to remain vigilant that the tropes we use are balanced and reflect the whole of society that we live in – 51% of the population deserve this at least.

Let’s teach our daughters.  

Let’s teach our sons. 

And let’s teach ourselves. 

Happy it’s not International Women’s Day, but it may as well be…

Hello Finch. Listening Intelligently.