International Women's Day: Our Heroines

 Tuesday 8th March was International Women’s Day.

The occasion has been marked every year since 1911 and its vital mission is the same now as it was when it started – to celebrate the achievements of women in all walks of life and to amplify the call for gender equality.  As a female-run business, Little Bird Creative have decided to use our Wordy Wednesday blog post this week as an opportunity to talk about some of the incredible women who inspire us.

Audrey Hepburn in black trousers and black top
Ada Lovelace portrait

Ada Lovelace

Lesley’s first choice is Ada Lovelace.

Born Ada Byron, daughter of the poet Lord Byron and mathematician Lady Byron, she is best known for her work with Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical, general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.  

In 1842, Ada was asked to translate an article about Babbage’s Analytical Engine, written by Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea.  Babbage, knowing that Ada knew the machine better than almost anyone else, asked her to expand on the article, too.  Her translation was therefore supplemented with a set of elaborate notes, which contain what many consider to be the world’s first computer program.  Her writing examined the ways that individuals and society relate to technology as a collaborative tool, showing her to be truly visionary. Thanks to what she referred to as her “poetical science” approach, Ada was able to predict that computers had a number of potential uses beyond simple mathematical calculations, including the creation of music.  

Ada’s notes were an enormous source of inspiration for Alan Turing in the 1940s, during his work on the first modern computers.  To this day, Ada’s passion and incredible vision make her a heroine to many women working in technology.

 

Audrey Hepburn

When most people think of Audrey Hepburn, they picture her in a long black dress, nibbling a pastry in the iconic scene from Breakfast At Tiffany’s.  But for Little Bird Creative’s Emma Tofi, Audrey is far more than a Hollywood icon.

Born in Brussels, to an aristocratic family, it was dancing rather than acting that was young Audrey’s passion.  Having begun ballet lessons at boarding school in Britain, Audrey moved to The Netherlands after WWII broke out.  Although her parents had recruited and fundraised for the British Union of Fascists in the mid 1930s, Audrey performed silent dance recitals during the war, in order to raise money for the Dutch resistance against the Nazis.  Her dreams of becoming a professional dancer were, however, dashed by the malnourishment she suffered during the Dutch famine, in the winter of 1944.

Audrey’s film career is well documented, but it’s what she did next that places her at number one on Emma’s list of heroes.

In 1989, Audrey officially became a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, explaining that she had received aid from the charity as a child during the war and that she viewed working for them as a way of showing her gratitude.  Following her first trip to Ethiopia the previous year, Audrey had told the press: “Third World is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world.” 

She fiercely believed in equality and compassion and devoted the rest of her life to this cause, travelling all over the world, raising awareness of those in desperate need.  Her kindness and humanity are still remembered by those connected with UNICEF and beyond.

Audrey Hepburn during her work as a UNICEF ambassador
Richard Rothwell's portrait of Shelley was shown at the Royal Academy in 1840

Richard Rothwell’s portrait of Shelley, shown at the Royal Academy in 1840.

Mary Shelley miniature portrait

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley, best known as the author of the early science-fiction novel, Frankenstein, was the daughter of philosopher and feminist activist Mary Wollstonecraft (herself an icon to many!) and the political philosopher William Godwin.  Tragically, her mother died just 11 days after Mary’s birth and she was raised by her father. When Mary reached the age of 15, she was already showing signs of following in her parents’ footsteps.  Her father said of her: “(she is) singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible.”

It was likely these characteristics that drew her to the radical poet-philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Percy had been alienated from his family due to his liberal views and political activism – qualities Mary recognised and admired.

Modern studies of Shelley’s works have led people to realise that she was far ahead of her time.  Her writing often championed cooperation and sympathy as the best ways to reform society.  She followed her mother’s feminist principles by taking it upon herself to help women whom the rest of society looked down on.  Shelley realised the work she was doing would not be acceptable to many and said of her efforts: “I do not make a boast – I do not say aloud, behold my generosity and greatness of mind, for in truth it is simple justice I perform and so I am still reviled for being worldly.”

Whilst some have tried to downplay Mary Shelley’s radicalism, many – Little Bird’s Lesley included – now celebrate not only her literary achievements, but her political voice as both a woman and a liberal.

Jacinda Ardern

Emma’s second choice is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Jacinda became the world’s youngest female head of government when she was elected Prime Minister at the age of 37.  A passionate believer in fixing social inequality, New Zealand’s most recent general election saw her Labour party win a record-breaking percentage of the national vote.

Little Bird Emma, who is classified as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, particularly admires the way New Zealand’s PM handled the Covid-19 crisis.  She genuinely “followed the science” and insisted on “going hard and early” with restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.  She gave regular interviews and communicated clearly to the people of New Zealand, most importantly leading the country by example.  She also found the right balance between acknowledging the human cost of Covid and Covid-sanctions, as well as the economic cost.  Never did the economy seem more important to her than lives.  Indeed, her Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, was quoted as saying:  “We know…that a good health response is also the best economic response.”  

Jacinda’s views on equality and her compassionate approach to leadership are enough to earn her a spot on this list.  She describes herself as someone who follows “the politics of kindness.”  And doesn’t the world need a bit more of that?!

Our mums!

Obviously, we couldn’t possibly release a blog about the women we admire, without giving a shout-out to the two that brought us into the world!

Our mums, Sue and Angela, are both kind, generous and exceptionally supportive.  We owe so much to them both and we hope they know they’ll always be on this list!

We celebrate the incredible women we admire – and that of course includes each other!  – not only on International Women’s Day, but every day.

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