Talkin’ ’bout a revolution..
February 1, 2012
I keep wondering lately, where have all our heroines gone?
As a child growing up in the 1980s, it felt like there was an air of hope for girls and women. There were ‘girls can do anything’ ad campaigns. Teachers were careful to include all kinds of career choices for all of their students, even if they secretly expected us to follow gendered pathways. I could see women driving the big machinery in the rural area where I lived; and my sister was a whirlwind of inspirational and controversial ideas. While the world was not perfect, it felt as if it would continue to improve for girls and women.
I grew up carrying passionate visions of what women could achieve, and great plans for my life and career. Yet I now live in a world where there is a heavy bias towards boys’ success in schools and a focus on their expectations in life. There is no acknowledgement that we may be educating girls very well, or reward or praise for our high achieving girls.
After this disappointing realisation; a late night conversation with friends led laughingly to a place where we pondered the appeal of two iconic poster boys – Che Guevara and Bob Marley. I was a little startled when we found that there were no equivalent women who are so instantly recognisable and famous – barring perhaps the virgin Mary.
So where are our heroines? We don’t all aspire to immaculate conception.. While I had a mother who could organise an army, a feisty sister who was passionate about education, and that remarkable woman who drove the pea harvester each giving me different pictures of what I could become; not everyone is so lucky. We need our poster girls and women on t-shirts, on the sides of buildings, on pavements where we are waiting to cross the street to remind us of our vision, to remind us that we are smart, free, independent and belong to ourselves.
The need for heroines whose acts are remembered and retold, who we can dream of emulating, is recognised in Revolutionary Women: A book of stencils – edited by queen of the neighbourhood (a feminist collective) and published by PM press. Revolutionary Women contains fascinating biographies of well and lesser known women whose power, courage and spirit shine like a good deed in this world of ours. From Harriet Tubman to Phoolan Devi, queen of the neighbourhood recognises communists, trade unionists, freedom fighters, abortionists and environmentalists – all women and all “instrumental in exposing the flaws and injustices in our current paradigms and forcing humankind to question our assumptions about how things stand” (p.9).
The book is enthralling in part because so much of the information is new. We don’t hear much about revolutionary women, they don’t become pin ups like Che or inspire books, songs and festivals like Te Whiti. Queen of the neighbourhood seeks to redress this imbalance by providing a stencil image to accompany each woman’s biography. Readers are encouraged to transform the book into a street-level resource, to cut and paint and reclaim public space with a slick revolutionary aesthetic.
Both the stencils and prose in Revolutionary Women are clear, crisp and economical. Careful research and an engaging balance of facts, dates and vignettes make it a rare delight for readers of subversive politics.
If you are woman, a feminist, an adventurer, or just need a bit of hope that individuals can change the world then read it and get busy with your spray can!
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get a copy of Revolutionary Women: A Book of Stencils.