On Sunday, November 17th, the British author Doris Lessing died in her home in London at age 94. Lessing’s writing and life were exemplary—she held herself and society to a high standard—and if you were searching for a woman writer who might serve as a role model, you certainly could do much worse.
Lessing was a writer who refused to let others define her, and insisted (much earlier than most) that women’s inequality was part of a larger, all-encompassing problem of inequality in the world. She is one of only 13 women who have ever received the Nobel Prize for literature.
On August 18, 1970, Angela Yvonne Davis's name was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List for kidnapping, murder, and interstate flight. Being hunted by J. Edgar Hoover for a crime she clearly did not commit made Davis instantly as famous or infamous, depending on your point of view, as revolutionaries such as Che and Mao.
Almost from day one, posters were the way the world connected with Angela Davis.
In a time when prostitution and female education were both considered unwholesome, professional courtesan Veronica Franco established herself a leader in the 16th Century literary arts. Although initially known among the Venetian literati for her iconic beauty and razor-sharp wit, Franco busted through the Venetian glass ceiling with her success in erotic love poems.
Susan Bordo is one of the most acute and lively chroniclers of our time. Whether she takes to task the male body (in her aptly named book The Male Body) or female body image (Unbearable Weight), Bordo is always a pithy observer of her subject matter, candidly disclosing her own biases and shortcomings. In her newest book, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Bordo's skills are sharp as ever as she compares narratives from history and popular culture, revealing the bits of truth we know to be for certain about one of history's most elusive characters: Anne Boleyn, the Queen of England from 1553-1556, when her husband King Henry VIII had her imprisoned and beheaded.
Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University, published these words twenty-five years ago in her renowned essay on slavery, race, gender, and rights called "On Being the Object of Property":
There are moments in my life when I feel as though a part of me is missing. There are days when I feel so invisible that I can't remember what day of the week it is, when I feel so manipulated that I can't remember my own name, when I feel so lost and angry that I can't speak a civil word to the people who love me best. Those are the times when I catch sight of my reflection in stores windows and am surprised to see a whole person looking back.
In a symposium last week at Columbia Law School that celebrated her continued work in law, critical race theory, and intersectional feminism, she recalled the climate in which she wrote this reflection on the dispossession of black people in general and black women in particular.
In 1966, when Jean Rhys was 76 years old, her novel Wide Sargasso Sea was published. The novel, a prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, is told from the perspective of the Caribbean Creole "madwoman in the attic" who was Mr. Rochester's first wife. Her editor, who worked with her on Wide Sargasso Sea,highlights the difficulty of Rhys' life, saying, "It is impossible to describe briefly the burdens inflicted on her by poverty, loneliness...It remains a mystery how someone so ill-equipped for life, upon whom life had visited such tribulations, could force herself to hang on, whatever the battering she was taking, to the artists at the centre of herself."
Domitila Barrios de Chungara was a labor rights leader and political activist from Bolivia. In addition to advancing the status of the working class of Bolivia, Barrios de Chungara was also an advocate for women's rights.
You probably know her as the French intellectual who penned the feminist tome The Second Sex. But did you know that in addition to writing this 800-page (in English translation—the French is shorter) classic of feminist theory, Beauvoir was also a journalist, essayist, novelist, playwright, memoirist, and travel writer? Recently, there has been a renaissance in Beauvoir studies dedicated to fully exploring her prolific body of work.
Margaret "Marge" Tucker was a 20th-century Australian Aboriginal activist, organizer, and writer.
Born on the Moonahculla Reservein 1904, Tucker (at the age of 13) and her sister (who was 11) were forcibly separated from their mother and sent to Cootamundra Girls' Home, where they were trained to be domestic workers for two years. She then went to work for little pay for white families, some of whom were abusive. These relocations came courtesy of the Aboriginal Protection Board, where "protection" in this case meant protecting Aboriginal people from themselves—separating families and dictating employment, residence, and education for Aboriginal people.