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, Susie Dent reveals why primatologist Dr Jane Goodall is her ultimate feminist icon.
The enduring image I will keep of Jane Goodall is of her emotional goodbye to a chimp she had rescued and nurtured, on the day of the animal’s release. The two stand in a long, loving, wordless embrace that is also staggeringly human. The footage is from just a few years ago, but this is a woman I have followed and marvelled at for as long as I can remember.
I doubt Goodall would ever call herself a feminist, but her unwavering drive to follow her passion in a field populated almost entirely by men surely meets the truest definition of the term. That passion began as a child during the Second World War, when she longed for escape and to live amongst wild animals (she also wanted to marry Tarzan, but soon realised he’d married the wrong Jane). But the response to her ambition was always the same - she wasn’t a man, and so could never live out a man’s dreams.
Undeterred, she contacted a renowned anthropologist to ask if she could come and talk to him “about animals”. Incredibly, Dr Louis Leakley took a punt on this young woman with an ‘uncluttered mind’, and sent her to Tanzania to record in minute detail the behaviour of chimpanzees. She, and we, never looked back.
Goodall, often pictured bare-legged and shimmying up trees in order to observe her subjects, persistently and patiently defied the media’s stereotype of ‘beauty and the beast’. She simply turned the volume down and concentrated on what mattered. Not only is she the world’s foremost expert in her field, she has become a fiercely eloquent advocate for the environment – never more so than now, when it sits precariously in the most dangerous of hands. Above all, Jane Goodall continues to teach us that, as humans, we are no more entitled to our glorious planet than the chimps she so lovingly protects.
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