My feminist icon: Deborah Frances-White reveals who inspires her

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Stylist is running its first ever feminist advent calendar in 2018, with a remarkable woman revealing who her feminist icon is every day until 25 December. Here, Deborah Frances-White reveals why Emilia Lanier is her ultimate feminist icon.

Emilia Lanier was a glamorous Elizabethan poet, business woman and court It Girl, and she is my favourite historical guilty feminist.

She had an affair with Shakespeare’s boss - the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Hunsdon, and loved being in the celeb-filled court. When she had the temerity to get pregnant, she wasn’t invited to the Queen’s parties anymore and was ‘let go’ from her gig as mistress.

She married an Italian rock star of the time, called Alphonso Lanier. He played the recorder but that was basically the electric guitar back then. He went about spending all her money, so she started various businesses and sued any man who got in her way - and always won. She argued for herself in court and referred to herself as an ‘oratrix’, which is what I want to title my next show. 

Her biggest triumph was that she was the first professional female poet published in England. She wrote a funny feminist polemic of a poem called Salve Rex Judeoreum, in which she argues it was Adam, not Eve as always taught in the church, who was responsible for our eviction from the Garden of Eden. Either way, she argued: ‘you men killed Jesus. All the women tried to stop it’. (I’m paraphrasing but I promise this is the gist). She published this at a time when being the wrong religion was one of the leading causes of death.

Shakespeare’s Globe produced a play about her this year with three amazing black women sharing the lead role - acknowledging that her family were probably of North African descent. It was like going to feminist church. It’s lucky The Globe has no roof because it would have come right off. When it comes back next year, do whatever you can to be in the audience. Then drink to Emilia and her iconic audacity, wit and triumph over every patriarchal adversity. 

Remarkable Women Awards 2019

philosophy are the official partner of Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards 2018 and, for every day in December, Stylist is asking a remarkable woman to tell us who her feminist icon is, and why. You can see more inspiring and remarkable women here.

The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White is out now in hardback, published by Virago priced £14.99 

Images: Getty

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