Who are the women who inspire us? From those around us, to public figures, artists, politicians, activists, to fictional characters, we draw resources, ideas, and momentum from these role models.
Drawing inspiration from the women around us
Do we take enough time to think about these women who create in us the desire to change or to continue our efforts? The ones we admire, in their leadership, benevolence, intelligence, creativity, or conviction? They can provoke in us the determination to change the world, as they can push us to learn to receive compliments: there is no small inspiration, only a feeling that sets us in motion.
Many inspiring women exist, yet we don’t have as much access to these sources of enthusiasm as we might. Indeed, female role models have tended for centuries to be invisibilized, whether in the realm of culture, the media, or simply in the diverse representations of what a woman can be in fiction.
Thus, a study by the Hubertine Auclert Center (2014) warns that “out of the 13,192 occurrences of real women’s and men’s names identified in all [French school] textbooks, there are 6.1% women against 93.9% male names,” that “among the texts studied in literature, only 5% are written by female authors.” Artists, when they are mentioned, are often mentioned in their capacity as lovers or muses and not in relation to their own work.
In the media, while the gap between male and female speakers is narrowing (59% and 41%), women continue to get less speaking time (35%).
This inequality extends to the social recognition of greatness. For example, only 12% of the streets, green spaces and facilities in Paris are named after women, compared to 66% for men, and the Pantheon is home to only six women, admitted late among its 80 guests.
The Matrimoine initiative and the Days that have accompanied it every year since 2015 propose to put the spotlight back on the women we have been deprived of until now, and who can instill in us a creative spark. The word Matrimoine comes from the French word for cultural/historical heritage, “patrimoine” – that in its wording only includes men (pater)- but not only, as it highlights overwhelmingly male-created works and ideas.
We can only thank these historians who, through their research and work, allow women and men of today to reclaim a common history, to discover new historical figures and to dive into works that have been hitherto invisible.Donne moi des Elles, Caroline Lesire & Alexandra Ughetto
Because inspiration is a phenomenon of creation. We adopt and make ours someone’s choice, gesture, word, which touches us to make something new, to build a way that is our own. It is a way to find a positive impulse, which freshens up our habits. Indeed, if we naturally respond to outrage, deciding to protest because we feel in our heart some denouncer’s anger, it takes more effort to act in favor of something. We need to be amazed by someone and decide to contribute to the construction effort.
Training to nurture hope
Again, it’s not (necessarily) about deciding to build a huge project, but about relearning to marvel at the goodness, humility and creativity of the people around us, to remind ourselves of the ordinariness of good. We are so informed of the tragic events that take place around the world, that we forget that humans behave decently and even honorably most of the time. Let’s look around us, and delight in the niceties of everyday life.
This paradigm shift – building for rather than against – is actually one more resource. We can be outraged at some issues, while being filled with wonder from the big and the small altruistic gestures.
I think what we owe ourselves is to celebrate life and replace fear and despair with fearlessness and joy.Vandana Shiva
Deciding to get involved through the inspiration of others’ actions means choosing to nurture hope. This is beneficial to the cause for which we are committed. Thus, the will to build an ideal allows a clearer and more tangible objective than the opposition to a current reality. It is easier to conceive what we want – and therefore to make the changes necessary for it to occur – than to imagine negatively: “we don’t want that”. Then what ?
The commitment in favor of also goes further: indeed, one does not stop until they have achieved what they hoped for, whereas when one commits against something, an improvement can already be considered as a reason to stop protesting.
Faced with the lack of representation of women, for example, it is no longer enough to denounce the contents that do not depict them sufficiently. It is necessary to create and promote those who do, and participate in the world we wish to see. We need imaginable and cheerful perspectives. Being committed in favor also requires learning to applaud the positive, and to rejoice in it. Devoting energy to the recognition of progress, of oneself, of others, of the project one carries – however modestly personal – or of the cause one defends is a way of shaping one’s perception of the world and desire to engage.
Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think of it as just passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen, but I’m not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of true hope, which requires action and commitment.Jane Goodall
Getting involved to shine the light of others
There are already many initiatives, both collective and personal, that are based on the movement forward. Whether they are projects for the reconstruction of social links, for the alleviation of suffering and isolation, agricultural techniques, new ways of living together, alternative consumption, sharing, ways of being, life paths, the men and women who are carrying out these projects are giving life to hope. All that remains is to be inspired by them, to create change in our lives at our own level. We can be inspired by these proposals, whether they change the way we live, radically, or just one aspect of our thinking, our consumption, our way of relating to others. It is simply a matter of allowing the enthusiasm of some to fuel the hope of others.
What inspires us most of all is to empathize with a person, to create a connection from one heart to another. Despite our sometimes very different experiences, we have a capacity to be touched by the emotions felt by others. We put ourselves in their place, in suffering or in joy. This identification is what allows inspiration, the perception of people different from us as a model of what we aspire to become.
For example, in Donne moi des Elles, Mai Hua, a French artist and documentary filmmaker of Vietnamese origin and director of the film Les Rivières, talks about how she is inspired by people whose lives are very different from hers, such as Maya Angelou, an American poet, author, memoirist and civil rights activist born in the 1930s. Their lives and their worlds are different, but an emotion, a word creates a link between these two women, and Mai Hua is inspired by them to rise.
Let’s focus on the positive. We can take advantage of the awareness that we can do something for and not just against to share our sources of inspiration, public or personal. We can offer a book that has touched us, or pass on ideas that have nourished us. We can remember to shine the light on the inspiring women around us, by valuing their qualities, actions and words, or by consciously deciding to create space for them to shine, whether in a formal context (the choice of guests at a conference) or an informal one (a conversation). Let’s choose to highlight the people around us to lift us up together.