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Nanos Gigantium Humeris Insidentes

March 8, 2011

(translated to : Standing on the Shoulders of Giants)

That I, a woman from a poor background, have been educated to a standard I can read. Thank you.

That I had the choice to continue education past a marriageable age. Thank you.

That I am able to work outside the home. Thank you.

That I have an international voice. Thank you.

This month marks the 100th International Women’s Day; a global celebration honouring the economic, political, cultural and social contributions and achievements of women throughout the ages.

Christine de Pizan lecturing to a group of men, image in the Public Domain

It is in this month that we look at what has inspired or influenced us as writers, and for many women, to give thanks to the female writers throughout history, whose strong voices invoked a passion to share their own words.

I’m unable to personally thank the courageous women throughout the ages who dedicated their lives to strive for equality in our society. But it is through their contribution, that I am able to now make my mark–however small it may be. I stand upon their shoulders in order to reach for the heights I now aspire to.

It is my hope that this post highlights at least part of my gratitude and perhaps to present some influential women whose selfless contribution allowed women such as myself to communicate as I do now with you.

I gave myself the scope of researching and choosing five women who have shaped and influenced society through their writing. There are many deserving candidates, so I hope that at least some of these would feature on your lists as well.

Women within western cultures began to publicly question inequality as early as the eleventh century. Hildegard of Bingen was an acclaimed philosopher, author, composer and spiritual visionary. Although she spent most of her time within a convent, her writings, poetry and music were revelatory for the time period. Hildegard focused on women’s participation and interpretation of the scriptures. She was a prolific writer, challenging societal norms and calling for reform within the church. Hildegard was consulted by a large number of influential people of the time, particularly for her God-sent visions.

Skip forward to the 14th century to writer and poet Christine de Pizan. Her feminist writings condemned the stereotypes prevalent in the male-dominated medieval culture and challenged readers to reject the negative portrayals of women in available literature.

A true pioneer in the struggle for female suffrage within the 1700s was writer Mary Wollstonecraft. In A Vindication of the Rights of Women she set forth a clear moral and practical framework for extending human and political rights to women.

No list of influential women would be complete without Jane Austen. Despite writing at a time when female authors were discouraged or ridiculed, her writings remain popular centuries after they were first published. Her books explore themes surrounding human nature and its frailty speak as clearly now as they did when she first wrote them.  Although some of her early works were written under a male pen-name, her popularity paved the way for the next generation of female writers.

One of the leading twentieth century existentialist philosophers who radicalised philosophy and challenged the roles of sexes within society was Simone de Beauvoir.  Her book The Second Sex depicted the traditions of sexism dominating society, becoming a defining book for the feminist movement.

International Women’s Day features heavily around the globe this week and I hope that you are able to attend or celebrate this in some way. Whilst I wish to pay respect and honouring those who have gone before me, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the selfless women whose contribution to the smooth running of community groups, families and organisations goes largely unrecognised. To those unsung heroes and to the women who helped shape history.  Thank you.

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  1. March 8, 2011 1:14 am

    I’d just like to say thank you, too. Men have got a lot to be grateful to these pioneers for, not just women. Some of my favourite writers are women and they have had a huge influence on my own thinking and writing. This world would not be the same if these voices had been silenced.

  2. March 8, 2011 5:05 am

    As you say there are so many deserving candidates. Top of my list, however, is most definitely my mother for her part in making ours a nurturing, encouraging family; for the keenness of her mind, some of which rubbed off on me; for the way she helped each of us to forge our own way in the world. And, as I’ve only recently discovered, she even won third place in a writing contest way back back when. So maybe the seeds of my writing go further back than I’d previously thought.

  3. March 8, 2011 10:38 am

    I’d recommend any visitor to Scotland takes the time to visit the “Travelling the Distance” (by Shauna McMullan) sculpture at the Scottish Parliament which marks the contribution of Scottish women to improving women’s lives and advancing democracy.

    A fantastic piece of art, and while I was only involved in the project management side, one of the things I was proudest to be a part of as a civil servant.

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