08 March 2018 | Suzie Ryan
(in fact, we’re 51% women, 49% male at the time of going to press). Gender equality is a topic important to all of us, not only the women of our office, and so we thought we'd ask everyone this International Women's Day for one woman – dead or alive, fictional or real – whom they find inspiring. The only rule? It can't be your mum.
Here are some of our favourite answers, from the sublime to the serious.
Born in 1815, Augusta Ada Lovelace was the sole child of Lord Byron’s brief and tempestuous marriage to his wife, Annabella. Her mother believed that in order for Ada to avoid inheriting her father’s moods and romantic ideals, she should study subjects based in reason and logic. From just four years old, she was tutored in maths and science, rare for a woman in 19th-century England.
“In such a male-dominated industry, I think it’s wonderful that the first computer programmer was a woman.”
- Chris Wilcox, Head of Technology at Matter of Form
Ada went on to strike up a friendship with Charles Babbage, the renowned mathematician. When he began devising a new project, the “Analytical Engine”, she served as its key interpreter. She wrote how the machine could be programmed with a code to calculate Bernoulli numbers, which some consider to be the first algorithm to be carried out by a machine and thus the first computer program. Read more about her fascinating history here.
“Lovelace is an unusual example of a woman for her time because she was not only allowed to learn mathematics, but encouraged to learn mathematics. She shows what women can do when given a chance.”
- Valerie Aurora, The Ada Initiative, a nonprofit organisation that arranges conferences and training programs to elevate women working in maths and science.
The collective works of Charlotte, Emily and Ann Brontë are bursting with feminist ideas about women’s roles in society. Originally penning Jane Eyre secretly, under the male pseudonym Currer Bell, Charlotte's novel is particularly memorable for its forward-thinking quotes about womanhood and the heroine's fiery spirit.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will!" - Jane Eyre
Selected by Cheryl Goh, Designer at Matter of Form
An enduring icon of feminism and rebellion, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s iconic image is often referenced in popular contemporary culture. As an artist known for highlighting questions around feminism, sexuality, race, beauty and identity, we’re not sure how she’d feel about the fact that Mattel have this week announced a Barbie doll in her image, in the name of International Women’s Day, with certain details somewhat lacking accuracy. Her distinct eyebrows have been made more subtle, there’s no sign of her disability and her proportions are pretty unrealistic. Still – a step in the right direction?
COO of Facebook, best-selling author and founder of the Lean In Foundation, Sheryl Sandberg is known for her pioneering attitude towards women in the workplace. Recognising that many women struggle with making their voices heard in male-dominated environments, she has paved the way with her book, Lean In, which is full of advice on how women can combat gender bias and take charge of their careers. Not one to shy away from admitting her own failings and self-doubt, she's relatable, honest and human.
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice."You must be," said the Cheshire Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Alice, despite being a whimsical work of fiction, can serve as a reminder to all of us to try and hold on to some of the more fantastical elements of the imagination we all held as children. We probably wouldn't recommend adopting her cavalier attitude to ingesting unidentified substances found lurking around rabbit holes, though.
A London-born writer and intellectual who advocated for women's equality, Mary Wollstonecraft's opinions and themes were truly revolutionary during her lifetime: 1759 - 1797. In her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she wrote that educational reform, offering women the same opportunities as men, would be the key to their happiness and fulfilment. She also wrote Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, which was a radical, pioneering work in the celebration of female sexuality.
Empress Wu Zetian (624-705AD) – China's only female Emperor – ruled for 50 years and presided over a period of great stability and prosperity. History books have been ruthless about her, describing her as having "a heart like a serpent and a nature like that of a wolf ... she is hated by gods and men alike".
Some historians now admit that her cruelty was no worse than those of male emperors at the time. She has simply been the victim of double standards, reinforced by the sexism of the Confucian beliefs followed by official Chinese historians over the centuries.
"She was badass for her era. She rose up to rule china from a concubine; she was the only woman empress who wore the official imperial emperor robe; and she opened up the world to women, allowing them to travel on their own."
Benazir Bhutto was a Pakistani politician, serving as Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990, and again from 1993 to 1996. She was assassinated in December 2007.
"She was by no means perfect, however she was trying to modernise the country and keep government secular at a time when martial law had only just ended, and the country became more religiously conservative. So, the fact that a woman – in a country where they were barely second class citizens – had the gall and the tenacity to become prime minister twice is seriously impressive. The amount of mud slinging that she so coolly dealt with was incredible and it's a shame we never got to see her future potential."
Words by Suzie Ryan, illustrations by Cheryl Goh