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The women who shaped me


1st Jan 2015 Life

The women who shaped me

The editorial team discuss the diverse women who have had a strong hand in shaping their lives, from grandmothers to teenagers, singers to authors. Which women have left their mark on you? Let us know in the comments below.

Fiona Hicks, editor

Image via The Tempest

My woman of the year is my grandmother. It's particularly poignant because this is the first year of my life that she hasn't been with us—but she continues to influence me in so many ways. 

She was an absolute matriarch in the warmest sense. A devoted wife, a loving mother and a doting grandmother; the epicentre of our family. She grew up in an era before women were expected to have careers—but having left school in her teens, she worked hard to create a business in partnership with my grandfather, managing to save enough money to send my father to a good school. 



"My grandmother, born in the 1920s, had it all before it was fashionable"



She was renowned for her cooking, especially her cakes, and would give you an enormous doorstop slice, saying with a wave of her hand, "Oh, it's just a puff of wind!" She always got involved and helped out, spending 50 years of her life working for their local village committee. She treasured good memories, saying how she would keep them in a drawer in her mind and get them out whenever she wanted the pleasure of reminiscing. She wouldn't dwell on hardship, though, saying in that instance that it "doesn't do to look back too much."

We live in a time when women are expected to have it all. My grandmother, born in the 1920s, had it all before it was fashionable. The crucial difference, however, was that she never made it about her. She dedicated her life to other causes and other people and was wonderfully positive because of it. 

She taught me to cherish the good, not dwell on the bad and take an interest in everything. Thank you, Granny.


Jenessa Williams, writer

Hidden Figures
Image via Twitter: @juneericudorie

When we think of our heroes, we so often look to the past instead of the future. But colour me different; my heroine is indisputably June Eric-Udorie. At just 18, she has already done more for equality, intersectional feminism and black rights than a lot of people do in a lifetime.

An incredible writer and activist, she embodies the ethos that you cannot be what you cannot see, campaigning for the inclusion of feminism in A-Level syllabuses and recently organizing for 400 low-income girls of colour to see a free screening of Hidden Figures.

Now in my twenties, she reminds me that it’s never too early (or late) to make a difference. 


Eva Mackevic, culture editor 

Images via Shutterstock and Debut, Björk's first album

When I was a teenager, my pantheon of role models was exclusively male. Possibly because I come from a vaguely patriarchal family, I associated femininity with meekness and dutifulness and, as a grunge-and-eyeliner-obsessed 13-year-old, I didn’t find it very inspiring. So I sought power and drive in men like Kurt Cobain (a firm feminist, ironically), Sid Vicious (I know), Joe Strummer and the like.

And then, one day, I saw Björk’s Bachelorette on MTV. Not only was the video utterly bizarre and unsettling, but the forbidding beats and strings, and Björk’s otherworldly, wailing vocals were more than my poor, Anarchy in the UK-soaked brain could handle. The music was raw, angry, anguished and so very different to anything else I’d ever heard—I was entranced.  



"I associated femininity with meekness and dutifulness and, as a grunge-and-eyeliner-obsessed 13-year-old, I didn’t find it very inspiring"



The rest, as they say, is history. I devoured her entire discography and saw her perform at a festival a few years later. The beautiful thing about Björk is that even though she’s such a wild, fierce force of nature, possessing one of the most powerful voices in music history, she also embraces femininity, vulnerability, even a certain childishness. She folds these contradictions into one consistent whole, which is one of the reasons her music is so nuanced and complex.  


Sidonie Chaffer-Melly, writer


I met my best friends in my final year of university through my then boyfriend. Inevitably, they stayed a major part of my life, while the boyfriend did not.

I never had sisters growing up, but I don't know how blood could bring us any closer than we already are. I can't remember a day when we've not spoken to each other in years, and aside from my mum, I can't think of who else I would instinctively turn to first.

We've carried each other through many a crisis, both small and big, and I'm sure we'll carry each other through plenty more.


Anna Walker, associate editor

Angela Carter
Image via Wiki

When Angela Carter won the Somerset Maugham Award for her novel Several Perceptions in 1969, she used the £500 prize money to leave her husband and run away to Japan.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with this uncontainable writer—who Salmon Rushdie once described as “English literature’s high sorceress”—but reading about that escape, in a dingy room in my university library, was definitely the tipping point.

I had never read anything like Angela Carter before. Her writing is dizzying in its descriptive density, like a mad dressing up box, bursting at the seams with corsets, cosmetics and codpieces. It was always her characters, however, and that unapologetically dirty sense of humour, that saw me return to her work time and time again.



"Her writing terrified and exhilarated me in equal measure"



From the surreal heroine of Nights at the Circus—the 6ft 2 peroxide-blonde circus performer, Fevvers, whose voice “clanged like dustbin lids”—to Melanie, the shy teenager of The Magic Toyshop, her characters grabbed hold of my imagination, and sunk in their fingernails: I could never shake them off.

Carter’s writing dazzled me, educated me and challenged me at a crucial time in my life. I was a teenager and had just discovered feminism. Her novels, which delighted in subverting illusions of gender, terrified and exhilarated me in equal measure. I am sure I would not be the same person, had I not read her. 


Which women have left their mark on you? Let us know in the comments below.

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