My Inspirational Woman of the Week

Self care is important, especially when one is involved in the social justice world. Statistics can be overwhelming, research for articles can be depressing, following the news can be discouraging, and to top it off you somehow get stuck watching a Holocaust movie.

There is no one way to kick these blues, and what may work for one may not work for another. When I find myself becoming despondent, I look to the past. As a student of history, I love stories of women who beat the odds, stand up in the face of opposition, and fight nail and tooth for what they believe. These women re-inspire me and remind me why I work for change.

Let me introduce you to Virginia Cowles.

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Cowles was born into a wealthy family in 1912. She was privately educated, a debutant, and a socialite. Feeling stifled by the role she was forced to play, Cowles threw off the conventions of her class and moved to New York to become a reporter. She soon became bored with the trivial fashion and love assignments she was given, and so quit her post and set off to travel the world.

She submitted articles of her travels to the Hearst papers. She used her social connections to interview high status politicians, including the Italian minister for propaganda. Yet she wanted more. She persuaded a Hearst editor to send her to Spain to cover the civil war.

Cowles was determined to get the story from both sides. Female journalists were already under great suspicion for being spies, and traveling between the lines exposed Cowles to even greater danger. She was abandoned in Loyalist trenches by a sexist scientist during a mortar attack. She was held captive for three days in a Republican camp by a Soviet general. Still, Cowles jumped at every opportunity to go to the front.

Spain eventually became too dangerous, and Cowles returned to England for a summer, then immediately left for Germany. She attended and reported on Nazi rallies and meetings with Hitler. Europe was on the brink of war and Cowles was determined to cover it. She flew to Czechoslovakia the day before the borders closed. Trains were stopped, phone wires cut, and the American Embassy left a gas mask for her on her bed.

Soon, Cowles and two friends left to cover the Germans crossing the Czech border. They were intercepted in Oberplan by Gestapo, denounced as spies, and sentenced to death by firing squad at dawn. Right before dawn, an official from the Reich came and released them. Bold as brass, Cowles demanded not only an apology from the Gestapo, but also enough gasoline to return to Prague.

Virginia Cowles covered the entire Second World War, reporting from Germany, France, Russia, and Finland. She wrote for the Daily Telegraph, Chicago Sun, and Sunday Times, as well as Hearst Papers. Female correspondences were few, and all had to work harder, be more resourceful, and go farther than the men to prove themselves.

And Cowles did it all in heels.

(For more on female correspondents of WWII, I highly suggest The Women Who Wrote the War by Nancy Caldwell Sorel.)

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We Need More Xena!

I’m a big superhero fan. I love the Avengers, Superman, and I’m not ashamed to say, have spent hours reading the X-Men comic books. In high school I had an obsession with Wolverine and when the Iron Man movies first started coming out, man, did I love Robert Downey Jr!

When it comes to the Marvel/ DC Comics world, all my favorites are, and always have been, males. And it’s not because they’re really good looking, but because the female superheroes you have to choose from…well, they kinda suck. Sticking just to TV and movies, all you have to choose from are voluptuous leather clad ladies (Catwoman, Black Widow, Pheonix, Kitty) whose main purpose is to support a male character. Whether she is there as a love interest or to be some sort of catalyst for a male character to change, she isn’t really portrayed as a hero. And if she is in a role that doesn’t cast her as a sex object or love interest (Storm), she gets minimal screen time and usually dies.

Hollywood, it seems, is currently big into bringing back old characters, shows, and revamping old movies. So I say, for the new generation of girls who don’t know her, let’s bring back the best female superhero ever:

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Xena: Warrior Princess!! Arguably the most badass woman ever to appear on television. Like, ever. Period. Let me tell you why.

She could kick ass. She could take down one man, she could take down a whole army of men. You need a arrogant male god killed? Done. Need an insane revengeful sorceress taken out? Done. Xena did what previously only males had done–be the most fierce warrior hero in the land.

She didn’t always go it alone though, she had a sidekick who was, yup, you guessed it, another awesome woman! Gabrielle was not only a talented bard, but a historian, and eventually became an Amazon. She helped Xena stay on the positive path and fight for the greater good.

And guess what, the show wasn’t about Xena falling in love! Yeah, at times she did, but then she’d leave them after a few episodes and go back to fighting the bad guys. Because *gasp* Xena’s life didn’t revolve around a man. She was such a strong character in her own right, that even the fan fiction that has been written about her rarely involves a love story with a man.

Xena: Warrior Princess is also one of the only shows where (to me at least) the skimpy outfits aren’t there to hypersexualize the characters. Instead, they reinforce a positive body image. Let’s face it, Xena is buff! She doesn’t fit at all to the Barbie standard, and instead of trying to stuff herself into a warrior corset, she just let’s her body do it’s thing. And practically, it’s far easier walk up a man’s body, do a back flip, and kick him in the face on the way down when you’re not restricted by a leather body suit, right?

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And there’s more! Xena and Gabrielle are smart! Guess who taught Hippocrates about medicine? Xena did. Guess who gave Homer his best writing tips? Gabrielle did. And really, it’d be hard to amass a huge army if you weren’t smart and a great leader, which, oh yeah, Xena did as well.

Xena fits into almost every theory of feminism. She is simply amazing. Which is why, during this period of lame duck female characters, we need to bring back Xena.

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