It’s been quite a 12 months for women, so Comment asked three of its writers who would be their Woman of the Year.
By Sophie Wroblewski
I never thought I would vouch for Ariana Grande to be a Woman of the Year, but, following the Manchester Arena terror attack, I now consider her an inspiration.
At 5’3”, Grande is not a towering figure, but on stage at One Love Manchester, her presence was overwhelming, a beacon of hope and resilience.
Grande has always had a passion for activism. Aged ten she co-founded a youth singing group, and in recent years she has performed at charity concerts and supported the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it was her response to the awful terrorist attack at her Manchester concert in May last year, at which 22 of her fans were killed and 500 injured, that cemented my admiration.
Grande sent a message: terror will not win out
She could have backed out of the public eye and grieved privately. Instead, she visited victims in hospital and organised a benefit concert, just two weeks after the tragic incident. Proceeds went to the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund which raised £20 million for those affected. Grande did not ask or intend to be a public figure against terrorism, but she handled her newfound position with poise and ease.
It is inspirational to see such courage in the wake of tragedy. Though it affected her as well, she carried on for her fans. The display of unity sent a message: terror will not win out. She shut down critics and showed herself to be an admirable young woman who is truly worthy of role model and Woman of the Year status.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
By Clara Gaspar
Last year, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published ‘Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions’.
Despite being only 63 double-spaced pages, it manages to grasp the heart of contemporary gender politics. She writes that the most important lesson to teach our daughters is simply, “I matter. I matter equally.”
This captures Adiche’s concise, witty and honest attitude towards social and gender equality. Adichie’s brilliance stems from her refusal to see the self and cultures as separate entities. As a Nigerian woman, Adichie knows all too well that to make this mistake propagates negative stereotypes and cultural misunderstanding. We are all multi-faceted beings; we cannot be reduced to a ‘single story’.
And she certainly lives her life by this premise. I can’t think of a woman as fiercely talented in as many different spheres as Adichie. Her achievements are copious. Adichie won the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2008. Not only is her written voice profound (her novels have all received wide critical acclaim), but Adichie is one of today’s most compelling speakers. She is also a fashion lover and a mother.
Adichie’s feminism is simple, accessible, and incredibly powerful
Her message of a simple but unconditional gender equality is filtering into the mainstream. Adichie’s TED talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ was featured in Beyonce’s hit ‘Flawless’. Its title is printed on Dior t-shirts. She is the face of No7 makeup. The most impressive part of these achievements? They are all compatible with Adichie’s status as a feminist. She welcomes popular culture’s embrace of her ideas: “The goal of feminism is to make itself redundant, and to get there it needs to be a mass movement.“
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses the word feminism as we all should. Fearlessly, and without the concern of criticism. Her message is absolute and unpretentious: “A feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it.“ It is simple, accessible, and, for that reason, incredibly powerful.
By Tessa Counsell
Meryl Streep is a heavyweight.
With more Academy Award nominations than any other actor, no one denies her capabilities. Her career has opened doors. From her role as spokesperson for the National Woman’s History Museum, her support of the 2015 Equal Rights Amendment, or her decision to bring Ai-jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations, as her guest to the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, Streep shines a light on the issues that matter.
Streep reminds of the need for empathy
Her message is one of inclusivity. Shattering about as many glass ceilings as is possible, Streep remains as prolific in Hollywood as she ever did – despite being a 68-year-old woman. It’s not as if her route to success has been a smooth one. Recounting being told at 27 that she was ‘too ugly’ for King Kong, Streep reminds us of the power of self-belief. For Viola Davis, Streep makes her ‘feel that what I have in me — my body, my face, my age — is enough.’
In 2017, once again, Meryl made her mark. Whilst accepting another Golden Globe Award, Streep’s criticism of Trump’s insensitive impersonation of a disabled reporter was an impassioned moment in television history. It was, too, an important reminder: a reminder of the need for freedom, for sensitivity and, most importantly, for empathy.
She implores her audience to walk in others’ shoes (exactly as she does when she acts). This behest could hardly be more relevant. Topical stuff for a world that is currently unveiling historically entrenched inequality, racism, and abuse.
Illustration: Katie Butler.