Five women who’ve inspired in October

1: Hillary Clinton

Next month a new US president will be elected and whichever candidate wins the implications for women are immense. Perhaps it is a good thing though that an ill informed misogynist is running for office because it lead to Hillary Clinton standing up and making a powerful argument for women’s right to control their bodies and therefore determine their own futures. I have never heard a politician deliver such a woman centric speech on so prominent a platform before.

2: Michelle Obama

Mind you, while we’re on the US, I’m holding out for Michelle Obama as POTUS after Clinton. What can I say – just watch her. Amazing.

3. Vicky Foxcroft

I was also struck this month by another first. During a debate timed to coincide with Baby Loss Awareness Week, Vicky Foxcroft MP chose to tell her personal story of loss in the House of Commons. It was a heartbreaking, courageous and powerful statement that brought women’s experience right into the heart of UK government. It raised awareness of the rarely spoken of taboo of baby death. MPs want to reduce stillbirths and infant deaths by 20% by 2020. Vicky Foxcroft’s bravery helped put this issue into the headlines.

4. Peggy Orenstein

Another taboo I saw addressed head on this month was women’s experience of sex. I saw Peggy Orenstein talking about her newly published research ‘Girls & Sex‘. Orenstein interviewed 70 women aged between 15 and 20 and what she found was at once shocking and sadly commonplace – that women routinely are not served in sex. Young women’s pleasure is of secondary importance – the expectation is that men are serviced – with the goal of male ejaculation paramount. A striking talk, I plan to read the book and will write more on that later. But one thought in particular hit me – the concept of virginity. Of how it is accepted that you have achieved sexual maturity when you ‘lose’ your virginity. A status you lose through male penetration. A lesbian respondent in Orenstein’s research when asked when she considered she had lost her virginity responded: the first time I orgasmed with someone else. How much better is that definition?

5. The 1 in 8 UK women who will contract breast cancer in their lifetime 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Last year I criticised Marks and Spencer for their frothy flippant Show Your Strap campaign. This year they’ve done better with their Let’s Get Moving campaign – giving practical steps to work on cancer prevention. Better for many reasons – not sexualised and in fact offering some help, albeit while raising the profile of their range of mastectomy bras and sportswear. So much of October is pinkwashing, with brands jumping on the bandwagon – pink breast cancer hair-straighteners anyone? As if breast cancer is a sexier, more marketable cancer than others. It’s a difficult one – the breast cancer charities are focused on secondary and need funds. And brands getting involved in Breast Cancer Awareness Month do raise funds. But the real experience of secondary breast cancer – which is incurable – gets less airtime, the research gets less funding and often the women get second rate care. And so my final awesome woman in October is everywoman. Especially all the women that have shared their stories using the hashtag  #breastcancerrealitycheck to bravely show the reality of breast cancer. And ensure that we don’t just focus on prevention of primary. But also on funding research into secondary breast cancer to improve how we treat it and to stop women dying from it.

 

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