Niamh McCabe celebrates all things International Women’s Day within her two worlds – fictional and non-fictional…
When my mother dearest turned fifty, I thanked her for two things. Firstly, I thanked her for bringing me up with such compassion, love and humbleness. I also thanked her for giving me the time and space to explore the other world I have always lived in – the world of books, poetry, and literature.
My parents allowed me to have the opportunity to grow up in a house full of great female artists that I could aspire to. Whether that be Aretha Franklin, Agatha Christie or Jane Austen, they were always within reach and waiting for me to bask in their knowledge or listen to their empowerment.
This is also how I will be spending my day on International Women’s Day, admiring women from different walks of life, with different stories to tell. Yet, I have a confession, some of the women who gave me this guidance and inspiration were between the pages of my most beloved novels. Behold, my top seven female characters in novels who have guided me through my worst, best and everything in between…
My most treasured literary heroine is Jo March. You cannot comprehend how much Jo meant to me, as a timid, plain girl who had an eccentric way about her and a burning desire to be the greatest writer alive. A true muse in my life, Jo March was what I built my career upon. She was witty, well-versed and not afraid to truly be herself in a time where that was quite possibly impossible. She was able to stand up to men who tried to put her down, resisted the status quo, and braved authenticity in a superficial world.
Her lust for adventure and creativity is something I hold dear to my heart, and wish everyday that it will soon be me.
Jo March is someone that I inspire to be, and someone that I have always looked up to. She was an ally to me in my darkest of days, when I felt knocked down with writing rejection, writer’s block and criticism, I turned to Jo. You may not understand this, but I feel bonds with fictional characters, it was a gift I learned at a very young age. You could call it silly or childish but I call it safe and inspiring.
Therefore, I turn to Jo, I read the pages of Little Women over and over again, garnering Jo’s advice on knockbacks, setbacks and learning to fight back. Her strength and selfishness sometimes come at the same time, and both are equally inspiring to me, as sometimes you have to be both strong and selfish.
I will forever hold you dear to my heart, Jo March.
I would not be as much as a bra-burning feminist if it was not for Vivian Carter in Moxie by Jennifer Mathiu. Moxie was a game-changer in my life. I was so immersed in the book that I was unable to put it down. That was probably the first time in my life that I sat and read a book in one sitting. Usually, I have to move about to keep my concentration, however, it was different with Moxie. It was everything I wanted in a book, everything I needed to know about female empowerment.
Vivian Carter became my spirit animal. Her and I became one. We both endeavored on separate journeys of female empowerment together. She taught me to be more inclusive, creative and bold, no matter how quiet or timid you felt. Without her, and her teachings, I truly believe that I would be less outspoken, and brave.
When I felt less as a woman, distraught as a woman and powerless as a woman, I turned to Vivian, and we went through the trials and tribulations of female empowerment together. Not everyone can turn to a fictional character for support, so I decided to become Vivian Carter to help women, like Vivian helped me.
Midori Kobyashi, the second love interest in my favourite novel, Norwegian Wood. With so many words, Haruki Murakami was able to bring such a diverse and freeing character to life, for many women like me to look up to.
Midori is liberating, inspiring, and the epiphany that sets me free from everything and anything. I was able to build on myself, learning to love my predictable and exciting side. Growing up, I pushed down the eccentric side of me, thinking people would find me weird or annoying. But, Midori gave me the strength to be totally and unequivocally me. She is the young role model that women my age need.
I will eternally push Norwegian Wood onto every person I cross paths with, for the storyline and the writing of course, but also so they can experience a character like Midori. I fell in love with her imperfections and flaws because that is what made her, but I could not understand why I struggled to love my own.
Midori is completely shameless, open about all things love, friendship and sexuality. Her individuality is a need, not a want, and that really makes her a true model in today’s society.
Thank you Midori, you made me realise that my dreams were revolutionary, not egotistical.
One of the best written characters in modern day literature, Kim Sunja from Pachinko is a gift to have read and known. Her exploration of love and bravery is something I cannot escape, and her story is intertwined with mine whether I like it or not.
Sunja was a character I was able to connect with on the basis of survival. I read this novel at my lowest point, searching for a way to move on and survive my struggles. Sunja sat with me as I cried, and I followed her on her treacherous boat journey to a new, foreign land. As I was getting back to some normality, Sunja was pushed into a country that did not want her.
Sunja taught me survival skills, how to move on and keep going without looking back. Her bravery, confidence and honesty are something I am still trying to learn today. Reading Pachinko was the escape that I needed, and will forever treasure.
Getting to read this book again when I am hopefully a mother, will be a turning point in my life. I cannot explain it, but if you are able to read Pachinko, you will understand this.
Kim Sunja is a light in my life, and I am completely in awe of her. I manifest that I will have just a tiny bit of her personality as I grow and mature as a person.
Ophelia; the most complex of characters to ever step foot in Shakespeare’s world. A true feminist hero that perfectly describes the duality of femininity in Shakespeare’s works. I remember sitting in English class, learning all about Ophelia and arguing on her behalf.
Usually, I look up to book characters, and strive to have their personality in mine. However, it was different with Ophelia, I wanted to be her saving angel. Ophelia really brought out my older sister’s instincts, I just wanted to protect her from everything bad.
I could write a whole dissertation about how misunderstood Ophelia is. Shakespeare wanted us to look at Ophelia innocently, and to admire her childlike qualities, so that when her downfall began, we would follow with the times and subject her to misery and disgust. However, she simply did what she could to survive an unfair world. Hamlet was the one who was insane, he wanted to poison us with misinformation about poor Ophelia. He drove her to the end, and then gaslit us into feeling bad for him.
Yet, we can credit Ophelia as a damsel in distress, but she was a mere survivor, paving the way for the women behind her. Ophelia would have thrived in the modern world, given the opportunity, and for that, I can only live life with her in my mind.
My oldest friend out of the bunch. Confident, brave, loyal, all things that I looked up to when I was younger. Ginny spoke to me more than Hermione and Luna, I felt such a strong bond towards her. Ginny was the older sister that I always needed. A constant shining light to everyone around her, ready to do anything she could for her friends, such a healthy role model for young girls to look up to.
From sitting reading these books with my Dad every night, to finally being able to read them myself, I found myself being immersed in the tomboy spirit of Ginny.
Ginny, also, reminds me a lot of my little sister. A formidable force in the Quidditch world, Ginny would have been a professional athlete in the modern day world, and we know she would have fought for equality in sports, like my sister does.
If it wasn’t for Ginny Weasley, I truly think I would have moved away from reading books. She was the one character that kept me going, and made me realise the true magic of books at such a young age.
I’ve always said, I have two paths in life; I will either be Donna Sheridan or Bridget Jones.
Bridget Jones has contributed to my dream of being a journalist; Bridget is by far my most realistic character. I have a really strong connection towards her, and she is by my side as I get ready to throw myself into the adult world.
Bridget is a woman that I look up to and have admired, just for how realistic and alike she is to me. Realism is a really important aspect to me when reading novels. I want to feel a connection with the characters. With Bridget Jones, it was natural and fluid.
Through my first year of University, I really looked to the novel when I was at my lowest points. It made me realise that this was what I wanted to do with my life, and for that, I am forever grateful.
On this glorious day of female empowerment and appreciation, I cannot only thank the beautiful women bestowed upon me in these novels, but the women who I cherish in my first world, the real world. Albeit, they are not as unconventional and diverse as the characters, but they have shaped me into the woman that I am today.
My not-so-little sisters, without them I would have no purpose, their jest, bravery and charisma is truly admirable, and I hope they feel the same way about me.
My soulmates – my flatmates – the two people in this world who know me the most, you are my greatest inspirations.
My longest friend – your candor, diligence and brain are something many would go to battle for, including myself. I will always be grateful that you asked me to be your best friend seventeen years ago, I will forever be your greatest admirer!
Dearest Twin – a true light in my darkness, a constant inspiration in my life and creativity. I hope you know how I appreciate you in my life, thank you for being my rock. Your bravery and kindness is a true gift, you will be a force to be reckoned with!
The three girls who have carried me through the last two years of my life with such individuality, generosity and maturity, eternally indebted to our friendship.
My Granny, an angel who forever made me feel like I belonged in a place where I felt distant, a strong-willed woman who loved.
My adored grandma who is the most courageous person to ever walk this earth, a woman of grace, beauty and strength, who single handedly brought up my closest friend – my mother dearest.
My guiding light, my mum – the person that I most want to be in life. You will never find a person purer than my mum. Her achievements are forever recognised, not only a zealous career woman, but a warm-hearted person who many people depend on and cherish. We are forever thankful for you, Mum.
International Women’s Day is a time to recognise and appreciate the women around you, their struggles, their accomplishments, and their dreams in a tough world. But, today is the day we also acknowledge the millions of women that still struggle today, who still do not have the basic right of equality. Whether it be the United States of America, where women do not have access to abortions, or rights to what they can do with their own body, or the Central African Republic, where 61% of women between the ages of fourteen and twenty were or have been subjected to an early and forced marriage before turning eighteen. Or, recently, in Iran, where it was reported that over 400 female students had been poisoned at school, simply for wanting an education.
Take this day to celebrate, appreciate and recognise women. Maybe take a page out of my book, bake boob cupcakes, play an all-female playlist, and delve into my world of feminist literature.