Here are 10 women who have more than lived up to the dictionary definition of ‘gutsy’…
When Hillary Rodham Clinton was a little girl, she had a scrapbook. I know, who didn’t? But instead of stickers or pictures of toys, hers was full of women. She would scour the newspapers looking for them: women making headlines, women doing unexpected things. Women she wanted to be like. How does a child come up with that? She read in Life magazine that it was a hobby of the pilot Amelia Earhart and, of course, wanted an empowering scrapbook of her own.
Now, in The Book Of Gutsy Women, co-authored with her daughter Chelsea, she has expanded on her childhood hobby, guiding us through the women who have shaped and inspired them, from LGBTQ+ activist Edie Windsor to Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.
But why gutsy? “We went through a million different titles and kept coming back to it,” Hillary tells Stylist. “We thought, ‘OK, who are we writing about?’ And it was gutsy women. There is a sense of consistency, persistence and perseverance to the word. It’s somebody who doesn’t just do one great thing.”
And before you ask, yes, they thought about ‘nasty women’. “When Trump used that [term] against me, he was using it in a demeaning, insulting way,” says Hillary, “and a lot of women seized on it. They wanted to appropriate it. So, they said, ‘I’m not going to let him say that, so I’m going to be a nasty woman. But, really, what we want to be are gutsy women.”
Here, from over 100 inspiring women listed in the book, we’ve selected 10 we think you should know about.
THE FIRST AMERICAN WOMAN IN SPACE
As a girl, Hillary wrote to Nasa asking to be in the space programme and was told they didn’t recruit women. Sally Ride persisted and got in. But despite her extraordinary scientific skills and respect among colleagues, all the press wanted to know was how much make-up she would be packing in her bag.
In 1983, Ride became the first American woman to visit space and, even after her death in 2012, she continued to break barriers by having her lesbian partner of 27 years write her obituary. She has a naval ship and an impact site on the moon named after her.
Margaret Bourke-White was an early inspiration for Hillary, who once dreamed of being a journalist. “Nothing attracts me like a closed door,” Bourke-White once said. “I cannot let my camera rest until I have pried it open.” She was the first foreign photographer to gain unlimited access to the Soviet Union in 1930.
She was there when the Nazis invaded in 1941, taking the only photographs of the attack, and she photographed the horrors of Nazi Germany and the liberation of concentration camps. Unsurprisingly, she was known to her colleagues at Life magazine as ‘Maggie the Indestructible’.
In 1972, Ela Bhatt founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India, an organisation that now has over a million members. Offering small loans and classes in literacy and business, the association helped women earn while continuing their education.
As a result, Bhatt – known as ‘the gentle revolutionary’ – has provided employment for thousands of women in India and helped shift traditional attitudes about gender roles. Hillary calls her, “one of the 20th century’s most effective political and labour organisers… Ela is a living affirmation of the importance of women’s rights.”
ACTIVIST AND STORYTELLER
As a child, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh moved from Jordan to the US, but was the victim of Islamophobia following 9/11. To counter this, she started an online magazine, MuslimGirl, in 2009. “It began as a way for millennial Muslim girls to connect, and evolved into a platform to defiantly carve out space for ourselves in the middle of post-9/11 anti-Islam hatred,” she says. In 2018, the site logged 1.7 million hits. In March 2017, she launched an annual Muslim Women’s Day.
DR GAO YAOJIE
GYNAECOLOGIST AND CAMPAIGNER
In 1996, Dr Gao Yaojie discovered that women had contracted Aids after having blood transfusions from a government blood bank in China. The government ignored Dr Gao’s warning, and she risked her life by spreading the word (she currently lives in exile in New York). Finally, the country was forced to ban unlicensed blood collection centres. In a 2009 speech in China, Hillary said of Dr Gao, “Change really does come from individual decisions… where someone stands up like Dr Gao and says, ‘No, I am not going to be quiet’.”
SOR JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ
PIONEER FOR WOMEN’S EDUCATION
As a girl born in Mexico in the 17th century, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was denied a place at college – though she tried to get in dressed as a man. She faced backlash for demanding education but continued to study, joining a convent to avoid the confines of marriage. She later became famous for her intellect. In The Book Of Gutsy Women, Chelsea writes, “With her love of truth and knowledge, Sor Juana was hundreds of years ahead of her time… she is a reminder of a woman who believed her intelligence was something to be cultivated, valued and admired, never downplayed or apologised for.”
In the 1960s, Virginia Johnson won a scholarship to The Washington School of Ballet, only to be told she would never work as a professional ballerina. Johnson was one of the very few black ballerinas of the time, and this assessment was based on racism, not lack of talent. She went on to become a founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where she is now artistic director, and founded the magazine Pointe in 2000 to help foster a community among dancers. Chelsea says, “[She] paved the way for a generation of dancers whose talent the world might otherwise have missed out on.”
FOUNDER OF THE GREEN BELT MOVEMENT, KENYA
Thanks to Maathai, millions of trees were planted in Kenya to fight environmental degradation and poverty. She was a professor at the University of Nairobi – the first woman to hold the position – when she became concerned about deforestation. She began recruiting friends and family to plant trees, and the Green Belt Movement grew to encompass protecting disability, minority and women’s rights and democracy. In 1992, the Kenyan government targeted her for assassination and, in 2004, she became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She died seven years later.
When Hillary visited Belfast in 1995, Joyce McCartan was one of the activists she met with. After her teenage Catholic son was shot dead by a Protestant gunman, McCartan created a space to unite women affected by the Troubles, a decades-long period of violence between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. The kitchen table conversations she had with women helped them realise they had more in common than not, and played an important role in the peace process. McCarten said, “It takes women to bring men to their senses.” McCartan died just a year after she met Hillary.
Mount Everest had been scaled just once before Junko Tabei first tried in 1970 and never by a group of women. But the Japanese climber and her all-female team forged a women to reach the top of Everest on 16 May 1975. She didn’t stop there. By the time she died aged 77, Tabei had climbed the highest peaks in 76 countries.
The Book Of Gutsy Women by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton (£25, Simon & Schuster) is out now.
Photography: Getty Images, Rex Features
Hannah Keegan is the features writer at Stylist magazine.
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