The first famous person I truly idolized was burlesque performer, vintage model, and lifestyle coach Veronica Varlow. I was obsessed with her blog, the Danger Diary, throughout high school, I transcribed all her posts down by hand in my journal, and I actually wrote my college admissions essay about her. I noted in my introductory post that the name of my own blog is partially a homage to how VeVa would sign off her entries with the words “Love and Danger.” The post of hers that first got me addicted was “Circle of Seven: When You Need Your Own Badass Gang of Inspiration.”
Since then, Varlow has been one of many other people who have made me realize the danger of putting heroes on a pedestal. But lately I’ve been wanting a badass gang of inspiration for 2017, so here we are.
The basic idea of the Circle of Seven is that you pick six people–“Me plus three plus three”–as inspiration for some goal. Of course, my goal this year and probably every year to come is to write. But today, I want to focus on another goal I have for 2017:
This is supposed to be both a fun motivational exercise and a reminder to myself that, while no one is perfect, there are many badass, creative resistance fighters to learn from. In the end, I couldn’t limit my picks to just six, so I decided to make it seven and form a Girl Gang of Eight:
Girl Gang of Eight for 2017: RESIST.
Artemisia Gentileschi. I’ve been fascinated by Gentileschi ever since taking AP Art History in high school. The story of her victimization by not just her rapist, but then by rape culture and the victim-blaming courts that failed to bring justice is infuriating and sadly all too familiar even today. But she was the essence of taking your broken heart and making it into art: she wasn’t just the most accomplished female Baroque painter of her time, but the most accomplished Baroque painter, period, and one who challenged the patriarchy at that. And I’m glad that she’s receiving her due.
Ida B. Wells. Investigative journalist who wrote brave exposes against lynching despite the dangers to her own life, suffragist who fought for the rights of women of color despite the racism of the white suffrage movement, all-around champion of justice who fought against the twin evils of racism and sexism with her pen. One of the all-time greats.
Noor Inayat Khan. This woman needs to be more well-known. She was many things: an actual princess of mixed Indian ancestry living in the British Empire, a children’s book writer, and a harpist who also gave her life spying against the Nazis. Seriously, a harpist did that. That’s like Joanna Newsom going on the front lines to fight ISIS. I think the most heartbreaking and awe-inspiring part of her story is that she wasn’t even expected to do a good job as a spy, because she was shy, awkward, clumsy, and a pacifist whose Sufi faith actually prohibited lying–and yet, she became a war hero. Wow.
Sophie Scholl. I first read about Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose in middle school, and to this day, I am astonished that two young college students, barely more than children, gave their lives defying the Nazi regime.
Carrie Fisher. She didn’t fight Nazis or the KKK, but she was a woman who spoke out against sexism and ageism in Hollywood and who helped to destigmatize mental illness. She wasn’t afraid to be her bold, unapologetic, hilarious self until the end, and I will always be in awe of her for it. I was surprised to see her the face of so many Women’s March posters, but very happy. Rest well, General.
Janelle Monae. Brilliant musician, actress, businesswoman, and incredible activist and feminist. Seriously, this woman. I love the slogan of her record company, Wondaland Records: “We come in peace, but we mean business.”
Constance Wu. Another underrated celebrity feminist, I find Wu inspiring not just because of her talent but because Asian-American women often aren’t expected to speak their minds against sexism and racism. But she has, and boldly, and I want to learn from that.
My hope is that I can learn from all these women this year and every year after that, and have the courage to speak truth, to resist fascism and patriarchal and racial oppression and all other kinds of injustice, and to use art to do it.