Badass Women: Sylvia Plath

I couldn’t talk about badass women without mentioning a poet who has profoundly influenced my life. Sylvia Plath’s work has offered comfort in my struggles with mental illness and provided a literary inspiration to emulate. Her poetry is gorgeous and raw, and her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar remains one of literature’s most honest depictions of depression and womanhood. Plath died of suicide at age 30, and it breaks my heart to know that she never learned how far her words reached and how deeply they resonated. Here is her biography, and here is her poem, Mad Girl’s Love Song, one of my favorites.

Plath wrote, in The Bell Jar, of a quite universal problem of ambition and apprehension:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

I wrote a spoken word poem inspired by Plath’s fig tree, and I performed it recently at a local coffee shop, calming my nerves by fingering my gold “I am, I am, I am” necklace.

(Read the poem here.)

From the bottom of my heart: Thank you, Sylvia Plath!

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Badass Women: Nellie Bly

I’m a journalist, and so, by law, I am required to feature Nellie Bly as part of my Women’s History Month series. Bly is a personal role model of mine—she’s a journalistic trailblazer who exposed the rampant abuse of contemporary mental asylums and raced around the world in eighty days. Her life is both fascinating and inspiring, and her work is truly ground-breaking. Read about her iconic “Ten Days at the Mad-House” here.

Thank you, Nellie Bly!

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Badass Women: Stephanie St. Clair

As part of my Women’s History Month Badass Women series, I’m highlighting super cool women we don’t often see in history books. One such woman, who is particularly badass considering she challenged well-known mobsters of the time for her piece of the New York numbers racket scene, is Stephanie St. Clair.

St. Clair used profits from her illegal numbers racket to improve her Harlem community. She advocated for voting rights and spoke out against police brutality, taking out newspaper ads and funding community projects. Her life story is a fascinating one, and it’s well worth reading in its entirety: here’s a great Rejected Princesses post about St. Clair.

Thank you, Stephanie St. Clair!

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Badass Women: Nancy Wake

Today’s Women History Month tribute is dedicated to World War II spy Nancy Wake.

Wake worked as a freelance journalist before becoming a courier and escort for Allied soldiers and refugees. She was trained by the British Special Operations Executive and saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers.

“I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”

Learn more about this incredible woman here.

Thank you, Nancy Wake!

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Badass Women: Wangari Maathai

As part of my Women’s History Month Badass Women series, I’d like to spotlight an awesome under-recognized African woman: Wangari Maathai.

Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to “sustainable development, democracy and peace” after years of activism, including starting the Green Belt Movement (GBM), which aims to reduce poverty and conserve the environment through tree planting. Maathai’s work is credited for women’s empowerment in the area—girls collected firewood while boys went to school, and the disappearance of forests only exacerbated the problem.

Her entire biography is well worth a read. Here is her official Green Belt Movement biography, and here is a tribute posted after her 2011 death that explains the connection between environmental conservation and women’s empowerment in more depth.

Thank you, Wangari Maathai!

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Badass Women: Clara Schumann

To celebrate Women’s History Month, I’m highlighting awesome women journalists, politicians, warriors, artists, activists, and pioneers from history. Today’s post honors Clara Schumann, an accomplished and prolific Romantic composer.

Reading about Schumann, I was struck by this passage her husband once wrote in his diary:

“Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.”

Read more about Clara Schumann here.

Thank you, Clara Schumann!

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