Our Heroines - The women that inspire the PLMR team
Elin de Zoete - Margaret Thatcher:
“It might not be original and I certainly don’t share much of her politics, but for the ground that she broke for women and the steel that she showed throughout her leadership I have to say Margaret Thatcher. I met her in her later years of life and I’ll always remember what she said to me “people talk about ideas all the time these days…. but you just need to get things done dear.” Hear, hear Lady T.”
Niamh Mercer - Tarana Burke:
“Tarana is an American civil rights activist who started the “Me Too” movement in 2006 to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse and assault in society which was popularised in 2017. She is the Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equality and was listed as a Time Person of the Year 2017 for being a silence breaker She encourages us all to recognise our privileges and use them to serve others.”
Rebekah Paczek - Violette Szabo and Michaelina Paczek:
“A little off-piste and not political in terms of elected office, but admirable and gutsy in every sense and a genuine heroine – Violette Szabo. A Special Ops agent in the Second World War, she was young, feisty, headstrong and gutsy and sacrificed everything. She was tortured and murdered in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, the only concentration camp specifically set up for women in WW2.”
“My family owned a farm in the east of Poland, lands which had been given to Polish WW1 war heroes by General Pilsudski after the war against Russia in 1918. It was always disputed by the Soviets and indeed the native Ukranians who were effectively kicked out. When the Soviets began their land grab, the first destination was the disputed lands to the west (or East of Poland). There were four waves of deportations when they looked to ‘depolonise’ the region. My Great grandmother and the children were in the first wave which took place in -30 degrees temperatures at 2am. They were then carted off in cattle trucks where they travelled for about 3 weeks before walking/sledding for another couple of weeks to get to the Siberian forests where the gulags were. They were there for around 18 months to 2 years before Stalin joined the Allies and was forced to release all of the Poles in the Labour camps. They were then moved to the very inhospitable areas of the tundras in Kazakhstan and from there eventually across the Caspian Sea and into Persia and then a convoluted route to England.”
Elizabeth Moore - Vera Brittain:
Having studied literature and history my whole life, a big political influence for me was Vera Brittain. While not a politician, her writings that spoke up against some of the biggest issues of the time, including apartheid and nuclear weapons development, helped her to become a respected political campaigner. Through her first-hand and very personal experience of the war, and her subsequent dedication to promoting peace and equality, she was often asked to share a platform and speak with male colleagues, at a time where women were only just joining the political fray.
Rachel Womack - Barbara Castle:
“Think, think, think. It will hurt like hell at first but you’ll get used to it.” The equal pay act, child benefit payments straight to mums, pension reform, introduction of the breathalyser test and enshrining to law many of the most important trade union rights ( the right to belong to one, for a start) …The fact that these achievements only account for a small proportion of what Barbara Castle wanted to accomplish are a measure of her guts and determination. She was made it onto the shortlist of candidates after the women of Blackburn Labour threatened to stop working for the party unless her name was added (she said she won the contest on nerves and gin). Strong-minded, brave and apt to use all tools at her disposal in a field (and world) dominated by men, she made a huge mark on politics that we still feel to this day.”
Oliver Lane - Elizabeth I:
“Elizabeth I was perhaps the world’s first feminist, and arguably remains its greatest. She became Queen of England aged just 25 in turbulent times almost 500 years ago, when the country was fragmented and weak, and when a woman’s role was almost exclusively to be a mother (ideally of boys), a cook, a cleaner and a possession.
But she not only held sway and kept control of the monarchy for 45 years, overcoming legal questions about her right to the throne and various challenges, she defeated the Spanish, increased the country’s influence, and ushered in “The Golden Age”, laying the foundations for the world power that England, and Britain, was to come, all the while eschewing any need for a husband, including for political expediency – possibly because of the experience of her mother, Anne Boleyn, but also because she did not believe such an arrangement would help her.
She was smart and tough, manipulated her male advisers so they believed she was doing their bidding, and demonstrated to all that women could not just cope with power, but thrive – and she led the country better than any male monarch before or since.”
Hugo Forshaw - Lynne Featherstone:
“Where generations of male politicians had dithered, Lynne Featherstone succeeded in making gay marriage legal in the UK for the first time. As a Liberal Democrat junior minister in the Coalition Government she took it upon herself to almost single-handedly lead the push for equal marriage for gay couples – in spite of the intransigence of politicians in Government and Parliament – and end centuries of discrimination against loving LGBT couples. People often ask why it took until 2013 for marriage equality to become law in the UK; the answer is that we were waiting for the woman with the drive and determination to end this historic injustice once and for all.”
Alex Cassells - Margaret Thatcher:
“I admire Thatcher mostly for her ability and resolve to rise to the highest political office in the UK, at a time when female representation within Parliament was not close to what it is today. I also respect her ability to retain her dominance within this position for 11 years, which is an incredible amount of time for any Prime Minister. Love her or loathe her, she would carry out her agenda regardless of what anyone thought of her, which shows an amazing amount of resilience. Finally, I believe she is one of the most influential politicians of the last century. Whether you agree with her politics or not, it must be acknowledged the lasting effect that her premiership has had on the UK economy.”
Caroline Mayberry - Ellen Malcolm and Elizabeth Warren:
“I am inspired by women like Ellen Malcolm and Elizabeth Warren, who use their position in government to propel other women forward. Organisations like Emily’s List remove the excuse that women aren’t interested in politics or that there aren’t enough options!”
David Madden - Anne Madden:
“My political heroine is my mum. When I was growing up in 80s London she sought to inculcate in me the need to really learn about issues that impacted on our lives and to be politically aware. As an Irish immigrant raising a family and running a business singlehandedly after the death of my dad, she was passionate about engaging in the democratic process where she felt it was failing people. Our political views were somewhat different, but she always respected my opinion, so long as I could prove I had thought my position through. She inspired me to be both politically aware and politically thoughtful.”
Rachel Brandon - Guerrilla Girls:
“My heroines are the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of feminist, women artists formed in 1985 devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world. As a woman in the creative field, they are a huge inspiration for me and I enjoy the bold, brash and unapologetic messaging in their work.”
Neil Carmichael - Angela Merkel:
Often known across Germany as Mutti (Mummy in English), Merkel has been Federal Chancellor since 2005 and looks set to secure another term on office. Merkel was handpicked by the other originally underestimated but also, ultimately, a titan of modern German politics, Helmut Kohl, as his successor as leader of the CDU. Merkel, like Kohl, has the capacity to be highly strategic, visionary, politically astute and a natural unifier as demonstrated by her unflinching support for the European Union, willingness to take difficult decisions, robust defence of democratic values and willingness to occupy the “mitte” or centre ground of politics. Her legacy will be a strong, confident and internationally trusted Germany.
Patrick Cousens - Caroline Lucas:
“I have never been a Green Party voter, but Lucas’ highly eloquent championing of a range of good (and sometimes unpopular) causes has been one of the more nourishing elements of our public discourse over the last ten years. She consistently comes across as the most intelligent person in the room, and never lets her warm demeanour slip, even in the face of fervent criticism - which can sometimes descend into rudeness, especially from less intellectually gifted opponents. A true public servant a crucial voice in our democracy. “
Magda Lobodziec - Emmeline Pankhurst:
“Its got to be Emmeline Pankhurst! She started it all for us. Most passionate and determined campaigner ever! So inspiring. Go women go go!!!”
Emma Divers - Jennie Lee:
“Jennie Lee. She was the daughter of a miner, born in the pit village of Lochgelly in 1904 - when women didn’t have the vote. She went on to become the youngest MP in the commons aged 24, after beating Lord Scone in the 1929 by-election in North Lanarkshire (despite being too young to even vote herself). She was known for speaking her mind with eloquence and wit- with her maiden speech ignoring the convention of avoiding controversy by being a direct attack on Winston Churchill’s budget proposals – earning her praise from the man himself.
Today she’s mainly known as Nye Bevan’s wife, or for her role in founding the Open University, but for many in Scotland she’s remembered as one of the women who paved the way for Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and others – the young woman who travelled around Scotland by herself at a time when women were expected to be chaperoned, stood on platforms and addressed crowds of men before the Red Clydeside, and who championed the arts across the UK.”
Alex Hackett - Elizabeth Gurley Flynn:
“Elizabeth Gurley Flynn isn’t well known in this country, but in left-wing circles in the US she’s an icon. Founder of the ACLU and a pioneer of American socialism, Flynn campaigned on issues of women’s suffrage and reproductive rights years before they entered mainstream political discourse.
In the Second World War, she campaigned for equal pay for women who entered the workforce and for the creation of nurseries and childcare facilities for working mothers. Her activism was legendary, and despite multiple arrests without charge and harassment from the authorities, she never lost her spirit and her passion to create a better world.
She was a true revolutionary, who paved the way for many of those who came after her.”
Ursula Oliver - Malala Yousafzai:
“I’m sure she’ll be a popular choice, but mine is certainly Malala Yousafzai. I think she demonstrates incredible resilience, taking something in her life that is so horrifying and traumatic and rather than being silent, using that energy to fight for equal education. “
Lucy Somers - Audrey Hepburn:
“My heroine is one of the most British icons, Audrey Hepburn. After her successful acting career during the 1950’s and 1960’s, which she starred in major Hollywood films such as Roman Holiday (1956), The Nuns Story (1956) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s(1961. Hepburn, retired and served as ambassador for UNICEF. Her traumatic experiences of WW2 left her with the inspiration to help children, who were victims of war and starvation.”
Rebecca Tydeman - Margaret Atwood:
“A word after a word after a word is power”
“When physical voices fail, our written ones can become our greatest weapon. Atwood, a fierce advocate for worldwide freedom of expression, has long portrayed female characters as dominated by patriarchy in her novels to highlight women’s social oppression as a result of patriarchal ideology. Her works remain particularly relevant, with sales of the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale skyrocketing after the election of Donald Trump as president. Atwood’ works encourage women to conquer the political and social zeitgeist.”
Stefanie Lehmann - Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar:
“Gilbert and Gubar are rarely known outside the fields of literary and cultural theory, but stand as beacons of progress within academia for their 1979 text The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. In this compelling work, they were amongst the first literary theorists to critically examine the gender politics underlying both Victorian literature and twentieth-century literary criticism of it.
They famously examine the representation of Rochester’s wife, née Bertha Mason, in the literary classic Jane Eyre. Bertha is kept secretly locked in an attic apartment by her husband, which Gilbert and Gubar read as emblematic of the wider tendency of nineteenth-century writers to make their female characters either angelic or rebellious, in line with dominant patriarchal views of the time. Gilbert and Gubar’s work remains a milestone of literary history, and arguably paved the way for third-wave feminism in literature.”
Uche Graves - Baroness Doreen Lawrence of Clarendon, OBE:
“Doreen had an unconventional route into politics. Her son, Stephen Lawrence, was brutally murdered in 1993 and his killers walked free due to a bungling and corrupt investigation by the Metropolitan Police. Doreen became a tireless campaigner for social rights and secured far reaching reforms to the Police and judicial system, as well as a conviction for some of his murderers nearly two decades after her son’s death.
Baroness Lawrence founded the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to promote a positive community legacy in her son’s name. She has been selected to sit on panels in the Home Office and the Police Service, is a member of both the board of Liberty and a patron of hate crime charity Stop Hate UK.
She was recognised for her contribution to society with an OBE in 2003 and was made a life peer in 2013. At the London Olympics in 2012, she held the torch at the Opening Ceremony with Ban Ki Moon, Shami Chakrabarti and others. To my mind, she’s a modern-day heroine who’s genuinely pursued the interests of justice, rather than the self-serving interests seen in so many politicians.”
Mark Gerred - Louise Michel:
“A French anarchist and revolutionary who played an important role in the Paris Commune in 1871 as an ambulance woman treating those injured on the barricades. She was a strong advocate for the advancement of women’s rights and, In 1866, founded a feminist group called the Société pour la Revendication du Droit des Femmes. The group’s members would go on to play important roles in feminist activism within France.”