It’s hard to pinpoint my first female icon. It may have been a fictional character from a movie. A pop star. Maybe the wife of a famous politician. But I think it was probably none of these. Growing up in rural Australia on a working farm, I didn’t have your ‘typical’ upbringing. While other girls my age were being immersed in popular culture, I spent most of my time exploring the land on which I was born. Feeding our animals, our livelihood. Even capturing snakes! So it’s likely my first female icon came from someone in my midst – and I’d like to think it was my Grandmother, Hilda. An amazing woman who was fiercely intelligent, loved reading, opera and ballet, and had a wicked sense of humor. She married late on in her life given the times and was then widowed early and had no choice but to run the farm on her own for many years. I remember her for her strength, resilience, broad view of the world and empathy. Qualities that were essential if you were to survive, let alone thrive, in tough environments like the ‘outback’. Today they’re qualities we look for in leaders, not just grandmothers! How times have changed.
Today, social media and brands have the ability to extend their reach into most parts of our society. So it’s little wonder that the true stories of today’s powerful, every day women, like my Grandmother’s, get pushed aside in favor of the women portrayed in fashion magazines, movies or popular culture. But does the media also give us a chance to challenge this status quo?
Here are some facts. Women use social media significantly more than men.* We share more. We express ourselves more openly. We connect with one another more freely. So the question we should ask ourselves is whether we have the ability to pave a new way. By choosing and amplifying the female icons we believe set the standard for our gender can we set a new norm?
Perhaps this is our chance to reach back in our history – to showcase women like Ethel Watts, the first ‘qualified’ female accountant in England and Wales back in 1924. Here is a woman who championed gender equality and used her passion, education and resilience to empower change in our society because it was the fundamentally right thing to do. Perhaps this is our chance to use our voices, Women’s Voices, to reframe the conversation or ask the tough questions. Women like Malala Yousafzai who at the age of 11 spoke out publicly on behalf of girls and their right to learn. The humble daughter of a teacher, born in the small village of Mingora, Pakistan, who went on to become the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Or Blair Imani, an agent of social change, and a campaigner for racial, LGBTQ and Muslim rights who recently shared her voice in our Inclusive Voices campaign.
But above all else, perhaps this is the time to reflect on those Grandmothers, teachers, accountants, friends and countless other women who have made the biggest impact on our lives. And to take their inspiration and pay it forward to others. Because if we don’t use this opportunity to change the narrative, an opportunity that’s at our fingertips, we can’t expect others to do it for us.