Redbrick Editors come together to celebrate their section’s unsung heroines
Bow Down: Women in Art
‘Women have been expressing themselves since the beginning of time, yet most of us struggle to name even one female artist from before the 20th century’. These are the first words of each episode of the ‘Bow Down: Women in Art,’ podcast founded and presented by Jennifer Higgie, editor at Frieze Magazine. Higgie invites artists, writers, curators and historians to nominate a significant female artist forgotten from the past, whom we should all appreciate today.
The nominees vary from Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentieschi to Surrealist photographer and writer Claude Cahun. The acknowledgement of these artists through conversation delves into their struggles and the relevance of those struggles today.
Female artists now have a political agency, but it is still far from equal to that of male artists. Liliane Lijn nominates Stella Snead, an exceptional artist who went practically unnoticed. Lijn makes the excellent point that today, women are in the majority in art schools, so something structurally must be happening for female solo exhibitionsists to be in such a minority. The podcast discusses this history to inform and excite, as the time must come when the art of tomorrow is that of both men and women in equal measure and the ‘mass amnesia’ of female artists’ genius is eradicated.
The story of Madame Kim Bok-dong is one of senseless tragedy, yet it is one that few people have heard of. She was one of many ‘comfort women,’ it is estimated up to 410,000, who were stolen from their homes in Japanese-occupied countries during the Second World War and forced into sex slavery – many of these women were just children at the time, with Bok-dong being only 14 years old. She was raped and beaten multiple times every day until, aged 21, she was able to reunite with her family, who were completely unaware of the abuse she suffered. At 60 years old, she was ready to speak up about her experiences, campaigning for a formal apology from the Japanese government who still refuse to confront the issue, and supporting fellow wartime rape victims. She fought for justice until the day she died on January 28th 2019, but despite this she never received such an apology. To the Japanese government, it seems that they are almost in the clear, as few comfort women remain alive today as a physical reminder of the country’s dark past – but we have a duty to pass on their story, in the hopes that one day Bok-dong, and all other victims alike, receive the recognition they deserve.
Within our current social sphere of divisive politics, world poverty and the threat of a climate catastrophe, it can be difficult to seek positivity. We need journalism that doesn’t censor the negative content, but also reminds us that there is much to remain hopeful for. Designer, author and illustrator Emily Coxhead has achieved this with her creation of The Happy Newspaper, a quarterly paper that prints only positive news stories.
Launching in 2015, the paper has now expanded to include online content, merchandise, and Emily’s own book entitled ‘Make Someone Happy’. This uses techniques such as journaling and colouring to provide an outlet for creativity and self-reflection. Emily’s work often encourages reaching out to other people, whether this be through sharing news stories and handmade gifts, or simply investing more time in one another. This serves as an important reminder that whatever difficulties we may be facing, we don’t have to face them alone.
Emily has proven that journalism need not be fuelled by clickbait, advertising and negative speculation, which is particularly important given the recent criticism being directed towards the British Press. Her hard work and creativity have resulted in not only some amazing products, but also a new way of looking at the world.
Many of the women on these pages have done incredible things, however it is important to also commend the women who work not to be extraordinary, but to bring a sprinkle of positivity to everyday life. Emily Clarkson is an author and journalist, having written two powerful books about her life. Turns out she is also Jeremy Clarkson’s daughter, and I somehow managed to follow her for years without realising this. My initial attraction to her came from the discovery of her Instagram page. In her Instagram ‘bio’ she describes herself as a ‘Professional oversharer. Writer. Runner(ish). Pretty passionate. Usually bloated.’ Rather than having an Instagram full of polished photos, Clarkson presents her humorous takes on everyday life. Common posts include her impulse decisions, including that of training for a marathon, her IBS struggles, and videos of her dancing around her garden in her underwear. Every aspect of her Instagram has a positive spin on it and the highlight of it all is her weekly Friday Instagram stories, where people send in what they have achieved that week and a community comes alive with celebrating those around them. I find myself grinning as I watch Clarkson dance around her kitchen, celebrating someone she doesn’t know finally leave a toxic job or relationship. It is such a positive atmosphere in a social media world which is set on tearing other people down.
In an industry dominated by men recognised for their flourishes and zany creativity, many women get lost in the hubbub of the food world. Not least, the unpretentious, diligent women, who are hidden even behind the handful of famous female chefs that do exist. These are the women at home, the mothers, the grandmothers, the aunts and the sisters, who receive very little public recognition.
The position in which women have found themselves in our post-war society has required them to become both domestic goddesses and working women. Whilst holding down a job, they determinedly accommodate their family’s needs, sometimes catering for several dietary requirements. They receive no pay, nor breaks for illness. Some may see this as an outdated conformation to gender roles, but women are admirable in rising to the challenge, and many find pride in harmonising their roles.
Products which aid them in maintaining this difficult balance are popular and show women to be a major driver of the food industry. Women are responsible for the rise in convenience cooking, fuelling a market for ready meals and pre-chopped vegetables.
These unsung heroines deserve recognition for their humbling roles as the backbone of the home kitchen, and for teaching many of us how to cook for ourselves.
The Castlevania franchise is one of the most storied and important series in the gaming landscape. Stretching as far back as 1986, the series has undergone many changes. One of its stalwarts is on the game’s infamous musical front in composer Michiru Yamane.
Yamane studied music in college in Japan and would join 1988 to collaborate with numerous other members of the Konami Kukeiha Club, a team responsible for the sound and musical composition of Konami’s video games. Her work became recognised by the studio in Castlevania: Bloodlines in 1994, where she was given the opportunity to become the principal composer, delivering a classy, gothic score brimming with darkness.
She would continue leading the flagship series by composing for arguably the best entry in the series, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Tracks such as Metamorphosis, Dance of Illusions and Dance of Pales display a full breadth of creepiness combined with beautiful orchestral arrangements.
Yamane continued to score more and more entries in the series until her departure from the studio in 2008 to pursue her own freelance career with music composed for fighting game Skullgirls and another metroidvania-style game in the Bloodstained series. With over 40 Konami games under her belt, Michiru Yamane is a stalwart of video game composition and a truly important piece of Konami history.
When asked about female travellers, my mind leapt to the bikini-clad women posing in front of waterfalls. Whilst I remain jealous of these women, there is another who should be more prominent in our minds.
History remembers Amelia Earhart as the pilot who mysteriously disappeared, not as the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean via plane. Despite having set the women’s altitude record at 14,000 feet in the same month as gaining her pilot’s license, it was considered that such a flight was too dangerous for a woman to conduct herself. She was a passenger, a humiliating experience likened to being ‘baggage.’ Amelia used this experience to determine her own achievements. She became the first woman to complete the trip as a pilot, and the first person to fly over both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
She demanded to be treated equally in marriage, writing that she would not be held to a ‘medieval code of faithfulness.’ Her concern for her rights extended into a concern for other women. She became the first president of the Ninety-Nines, established in 1929 by 99 female pilots to inspire and support female pilots.
Earhart is an inspiration for women everywhere. She is not a figure whom I knew a great deal about before writing this piece, but she has done more than I can express.
Scrolling through @annstreetstudio, Jamie Beck’s Instagram, her self-portraiture is distinctly individual, from portraits of her holding her baby clad in linen against sepia-toned backdrops, to still life portraits of carefully balanced fruit. Despite bringing classical influences, such as the poses of Botticelli and the moodiness of Caravaggio, into the 21st century, her photographs are anything but behind the times. Instead, Jamie has made a name for herself through her cutting-edge style of photography, creating the cinemagraph with her husband, Kevin Burg, a still photo in which a minor and repeated movement occurs. This movement is isolated within the photo and has been used by brands such as Armani and Chanel to cleverly draw the eye to a specific part of the photo. Whilst being innovative and commissioned as a photographer in her own right, Jamie Beck’s photography is commendable as she openly displays a celebration of both the romantic and feminine, and more importantly the female body. Throughout her pregnancy she has shared nude self-portraits which celebrate motherhood and classical representations of the female body, complete with rolls and curves. These redefine our typical conceptions of an ‘influencer,’ elevating the natural female body to something that is romanticised and free from commercialism, instead being timeless.
French writer-director Coralie Fargeat has flown under the radar of many for nearly 20 years, but more than deserves a place alongside such directors as Greta Gerwig and Kathryn Bigelow. To date she has directed two short films and one feature. Her first short, 2003’s Le Telegramme, is beautifully simple – it follows two wartime mothers waiting for the news of their sons’ deaths. Fargeat starts as she means to go on, bringing forth discussion of gender dynamics and roles.
It all culminates, however, with Fargeat’s feature debut: 2017’s Revenge. A horrifically brutal yet blazingly feminist rape-revenge thriller, it stands as one of my personal favourite movies of the past decade. It carries a ton of thrills, and never shies away from the brutality of the initial assault, nor indeed from that of the revenge that Jen takes on her captors. Revenge is truly an unshakeable sensory experience that transcends everything we thought we knew about revenge films, and although Fargeat currently has no upcoming projects, I for one will be first in line for whatever she does next.
Last year I sat down to watch The Great Hack hoping I might understand what Cambridge Analytica meant for modern democracy. I had heard of the scandal circulating through snappy headlines and 140-character tweets, which did not tell the whole story. These tweets and headlines were drawn from the reporting of Carole Cadwalladr. Without Cadwalladr’s investigative reporting which earned her The Orwell Prize for political journalism in 2018, we would likely know little of what she termed ‘the right wing fake news ecosystem.’ This complex web linked Leave.EU and Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, alongside notable figures such as Nigel Farage and Aaron Banks. In The Great Hack, Cadwalladr sets out how Cambridge Analytica harvested the millions of Facebook user’s data to create targeted political adverts. Cadwalladr’s discovery culminated in plummeting stock prices for Facebook and Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of Congress. Yet, more important than these era- defining moments is the awareness raised around privacy rights, and the desperate need to regulate Silicon Valley and tech giants more broadly. Cadwalladr is truly an unsung hero. Without her work we can only wonder what might have happened if tech companies uneasy alliance with populist political campaigns had gone undetected.
Helena Gualinga is an 18-year-old activist from an indigenous community in Pastaza, Ecuador. Gualinga has spoken out about the reality of climate change in indigenous communities who live off the land and have a strong connection to their environment. Since she was a child, Gualinga has participated in strikes and protests against oil companies and industries which threaten the Amazon environment. A lot of attention is paid to young activists from Europe and North America, but communities like Gualinga’s are most at risk from the disastrous effects of climate change. Gualinga spoke last year at a Climate Summit in Madrid about the importance of protecting indigenous communities from the oil industry, and how communities like her own are important to the protection of the Amazon rainforest and ecosystem.
Gualinga has helped to lead a climate campaign called ‘Polluters Out’, a movement dedicated to stopping the fossil fuel industry. I think Gualinga and young people from rural and indigenous communities are incredibly important in the climate change fight, as they see first hand the impact of climate change and care deeply about the wellbeing of their home environments. I am in awe of brave young people like Gualinga, who stand up for themselves and their homes, especially in a climate where so many world leaders refuse to acknowledge the importance of their cause.
Football is unequivocally the nation’s favourite sport and, for too long, an overwhelmingly male one. Naturally then, Chelsea Women’s coach Emma Hayes is far from a household name, despite leading one of England’s top sides since 2012.
However, that could all change very soon, as Hayes is a driving force behind the campaign to appoint the first female coach of a professional men’s football club in England. Her impressive tenure at Chelsea, which includes five major trophies to date (including one last Sunday), alongside her shrewd, informative analysis of the game in the national media, have certainly done no harm to the public image of female bosses.
Hayes is determined not just to broaden opportunities for women in football, but to enhance women’s football itself. Granted, her call for female players to use smaller goals and pitches than their male equivalents has received criticism, with many believing this would paradoxically undermine the women’s game. Nevertheless, radical suggestions like this reveal Hayes’ selfless commitment to improving gender equality in her sport, since she is willing to risk her own reputation to make a potentially meaningful impact. And besides, with the diving, expletive-laden rants at referrees and absurd ticket prices in mind, do female footballers really want to be exactly like the men?
Emily Eavis is the co-mastermind behind the musical paradise that graces Worthy Farm every year – Glastonbury. Alongside her father, Emily is responsible for booking the acts that light up the stages year after year. Think Adele and Beyoncé; that was all down to Mrs Eavis herself. Under her guidance, Glastonbury enacted a strict no plastic policy in 2019 to make the festival more eco-friendly. This set a precedent for other festivals that now aim to achieve a similar goal of sustainability. Emily is also a flagbearer for gender equality. With recent uproar over the lack of female representation at music festivals and award shows, Emily believes that there should be a 50/50 split of male and female performers, especially at Glastonbury. After admitting that the festival has been male dominated in the past, Emily told Radio 1 Newsbeat that, ‘Unless you consciously change and really address it, then it will stay the same […] It’s a challenge […] but the acts are there.’ Emily Eavis is an example to all festival organisers and is someone that the coordinators of other festival giants, such as Reading and Leeds, should aspire to be in the future.
Claire Elise Boucher, known professionally as Grimes, is an award winning artist and producer whose behind-the-scenes efforts are widely unacknowledged. For those unfamiliar with her, Grimes has been described as an artist by Tastemakers Magazine as ‘the alien love-child of Aphex Twin and ABBA,’ a description that I think, whilst at first difficult to imagine, is quite accurate. Boucher has produced all of her own music, a total of five studio albums, two EPs and 11 singles since her 2010 debut, as well as working alongside other prolific artists/producers such as Bleachers.
Boucher has also dabbled in directing; in October 2016 she revealed seven music videos that she had created with her brother. Four of them were for her own songs, whilst the remaining three were for the artist HANA. She also directed the music video for ‘Venus Fly,’ a visual so complex that it required its own professional Bubbleologist.
She has also spoken up politically, showing support for Hilary Clinton, matching donations for up to $10,000 for the Council on American-Islam relations following Trump’s travel ban in 2017, and trying out a shift in awareness of global warming. ‘People don’t care about it, because we’re being guilted,’ she told Pitchfork. ‘I want to make it beautiful.’
While most music fans will likely know her for her masterful pair of electronic albums Varmints and the recent follow up Fibs, Anna Meredith has become a name revered not only in the field of music but also a notable figure in the film industry, after recently receiving universal acclaim for her soundtrack of Bo Burnham’s 2018 film Eighth Grade.
Before any of these achievements, Meredith became renowned for her work sound-tracking the proms, her first production being 2008’s proms. Since then, Meredith has received a multitude of awards, including an MBE in 2017, and has worked with organisations such as the National Youth Orchestra and an opera project with artist Philip Ridley. Since then, Meredith has focused her work on sound-tracking once again, this time providing the music for Paul Rudd’s 2019 series Living With Yourself. Meanwhile, Meredith’s studio albums have continued to receive acclaim and she has toured with the likes of James Blake. She is scheduled to play alongside industry legends Bjork and Spiritualized at Bluedot Festival 2020, showing that Anna Meredith shows no signs of stopping as one of the modern industry’s most forward thinking, far reaching musicians.
As author of one of the most famous books of all time, Anne Frank may not be an ‘unsung heroine’ but she is not always given the recognition as a journalist which is due to her. Many people prefer to see her as just a young girl who wrote a private diary. Indeed, when she began keeping her diary, Frank had intended to never share it with anyone. In March 1944, however, Frank heard Gerrit Bolkestein, Minister for Education, Arts and Sciences in the Dutch government-in-exile, on the radio. He announced his intention to create a public record of the life of the Dutch people under Nazi oppression, including people’s diaries. Frank, who wrote of her dream to become a journalist in an entry in April 1944, began to prepare her own diary for publication. She created pseudonyms for the people in her life, edited what she had written, and created copies. Though the Franks were betrayed and Frank herself did not survive the war, her journalistic intentions for her diary would eventually be realised through the efforts of Miep Gies, Otto Frank, Annie Romein-Verschoor, and Jan Romein. Frank’s diary is not just a record of the experience of a young, innocent victim of the Nazis in hiding, it is also the achievement of a young journalist using the limited tools at her disposal to report the story of her times.
For International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate a woman who created one of the most important TV shows of our time, Rachel Bloom, the creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The show follows Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) as she tries to find happiness and true love while struggling with mental illness.
To say that this critically acclaimed show started some much-needed conversations would be an understatement. It challenges the viewer’s expectations at every turn, pushing boundaries and proudly tackling feminist issues head-on. Bloom shies away from nothing, no subject is too taboo. Sexism and double standards? Let’s talk about it! Worried you’ll die unhappy and alone? Let’s talk about it! Scared of therapy? Let’s talk about it!
Bloom, a proud feminist, knows the responsibility that comes with a huge audience. The whole concept of the show is to challenge the word ‘crazy,’ especially when it’s used against women. It challenges beauty standards, no matter what your size, you deserve a happily ever after. The show takes tropes and smashes them to pieces. And it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors; all the women in the show have their own unique personalities, goals and story arcs. They are a supportive sisterhood anyone would kill to have.
Whether women are funny is a constant debate that unfortunately never ceases to stop dominating Twitter threads and YouTube comment sections. However, I’d argue that there are plenty of examples of women excelling at written comedy on our television screens from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag to Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum. One brilliant example of these exceptional women is Lisa McGee. She is a Northern Irish writer who has produced numerous plays and shows but has recently struck gold with the sitcom Derry Girls.
The stories of Irish women have regularly been told in a traumatic light. Whilst McGee’s series recognises the turbulence of growing up as a woman amongst The Troubles, Derry Girls never fails to bring a smile. The series captures the poignant mundanity of a girl’s teenage years in which everything is ordinary yet feels so important. McGee excels at putting boys to the background of the series and focusing it on the girls’ love for one another instead. Another example of McGee’s skills as a writer is her ability to ease any non-Irish viewer into the dialect of Derry in the early 1990s. Endlessly funny yet surprisingly sentimental, Derry Girls is a gem in television comedy and I appreciate McGee for gifting the show to us.
When it comes to representation in the fashion industry, even in 2020, many people are still shouting to be heard. One of the key minority groups doing so is those with disabilities. At 3ft 5 inches, disabled rights activist Sinéad Burke has spoken out as a ‘little person’ in a big world, where things are not designed to meet her needs. One of the biggest culprits, and the focus of her activism is the fashion industry. Despite the expansion of the adaptive fashion market, it is reported that 75% of disabled people believe the industry doesn’t meet their needs. This is something that Burke is fighting to change, having publicly accosted fashion moguls such as Anna Wintour about the lack of accessible clothing in high fashion. In 2019, she was the first little person to be invited to the Met Gala and to appear on the cover of Vogue. Her story inspires me because, as a blogger myself, I believe everyone should be able to share the same passions and express their individual style. Tackling the representation problem from the top down, she is gaining support from some of the biggest names in fashion. Sinéad Burke may be a ‘little person’, but she is certainly making a big impact.
As the topic of my dissertation is Islamic feminism in Iran I knew I wanted to highlight the incredible work of an Iranian woman activist, of which there are many. I chose Mahnaz Afkhami after much deliberation as the breadth of her activism is incredibly impressive. Now living in exile in the US, Afkhami was the first woman to hold the position of Minister of Women’s Affairs in Iran.
As well as this, she has founded and headed several non-governmental organisations focusing on advocating women’s rights. What stands out to me about the Iranian women I have been researching for my dissertation is their sheer determination to fight for their basic rights. Iran has had a tumultuous history and I would argue that women have suffered the most because of this. I feel like it would be easy for people’s spirit to be broken. However, even after being exiled, Afkhami continues to fight for the rights of Muslim women. I think it’s incredibly important to highlight the work of feminists outside of our Western bubble as they often get overlooked. In socially conservative societies such as Iran, the work of feminists is fraught with many difficulties which makes what women (and men!) like Afkhami have achieved for other women even more admirable.
An amazing part of sport is the fact that you don’t have to play it to enjoy it. You can participate through the extensive discourse that has only grown in the age of social media, with discussion and debate forming an incredible part of the worldwide sporting community. This discourse is open to anyone, of course, but is often shaped by those professionally employed to do so – journalists. Vikki Orvice was one such journalist, and in 1995 became the first woman to join a tabloid as a football correspondent when she joined The Sun.
The football world has historically been (and still occasionally remains) unkind to non-white males, and Orvice contended with many naysayers and bigots on her rise to her status as a respected sports journalist. She later became The Sun’s athletics correspondent in 2002, and covered the Olympics, World Cups and Wimbledon up until her untimely passing last year.
Orvice was also a founding board member of Women in Football, a network of professionals working in the football industry. Her appointment was undoubtedly a landmark in the quest for parity between the genders in sports reporting, but there is still a way to go and changes needed in the industry establishment before this is achieved. One thing that will not change, however, is Vikki Orvice’s status as an inspirational figure to aspiring female writers.
If you think of women in radio, it’s very easy to turn straight to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and immediately the name Jane Garvey.
As well as a presenter, she campaigns and speaks out on feminist issues, especially equal pay. One thing Garvey always discusses is that while we see pay disparity in presenters, it is even worse behind the scenes with producers, which is why my unsung heroine of radio is Kim Greengrass, a producer for The Archers.
You may think of The Archers as a relic of radio and something you’d never listen to. I confess, I’m not regularly tuned in to find out the fates of the rural community. But yet The Archers fascinates me in the way it provides social commentary and shows how rural communities exist in this world.
The role of Producer means that Kim works on the script alongside writers from the inception of the stories, to editing, to then recording the scenes.
The Archers is one of the fastest produced dramas due to it being a daily programme so the pressure to finish recording on time is immense. Yet, Kim is calm and collected throughout. She and her small team work to deliver the show to millions across the UK every day.