On some women I happen to find inspirational….

Eleanor Roosevelt

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent
Eleanor Roosevelt

I, like many others, think Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the premier inspirational women. She was an amazing lady, the first First Lady who actually did something with that role besides throw dinner parties. There are a plethora of things to admire about her, foremost amongst which is her appointment post-First Ladydom by Truman as the Chairperson on the United Nation’s Commission on Human Rights where she was instrumental in drafting the first ‘Magna Carta of human rights’ as she called it. This was a time, after her husband was dead, she could have rightly chosen to just retire quietly and go about her business but she didn’t.

Like all humans and public figures alike, she is complex, she refused to run for any sort of an office and was an avid opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). I always find this curious and often can’t reconcile this with what else I know about her, but then I never had a conversation with her and I didn’t grow up in the turn of the 20th century.

Amazingly, and perhaps apocryphally, she considered herself ‘ugly’ and was very shy. If you read about Eleanor a common theme is that she felt less than in many ways (for instance her son reported she never ran for public office, despite many offers to do so, because she was frightened) and was horrified when she discovered that her husband was having a long-term affair saying ‘The bottom dropped out of my own particular world’

Yet despite this or maybe perhaps because of this, she still pursued many self-less endeavours for no (apparent) sense of self-aggrandizement. I find this laudable, instead of wallowing in self-pity or ennui Mrs. Roosevelt tried, in her own way, to make the world a better place.

Dolly reopening the Smokies

It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.

Dolly Parton

Like her music, penchant for plastic surgery or not, the woman is a tough lady. Growing up in Sevierville, Tennessee in close to absolute poverty, Dolly Parton began to sing. Lots of girls of her generation began to sing (Tammy Wynette,etc) but Dolly at a young age insisted on having the rights to the songs she wrote, then she went on to invest her money wisely.

Dolly is a philanthropist, she gives back to Tennessee from opening her theme-park Dollywood which amongst other things gave jobs to many people in impoverished Sevier county to her advocation of Education and efforts to help save the Bald Eagle. She hasn’t just taken the money and run; she has given back to a community that means something go her.

What I find stupendous about Dolly though, in addition to her philanthropy and business acumen, is that she has created her own image, an image that in fact allows her to be completely private. Her husband runs an asphalt business in Nashville and has never been photographed as her husband, she wears so much make up and wigs that she can merely take them off and walk out into the world and no one knows who she is. That is smart.

Mary Anne Handel

I will not allow you to compromise my dignity by continuing to allow you to yell at me
Mary Anne Handel

Most of you won’t know Mary Anne Handel, she was a genetics professor at the University of Tennessee when I was an undergraduate. She is one of the most dignified woman I ever met. Later in my life I was a laboratory technician on the same floor as Prof. Handel’s lab. She often took the time to come and talk to me and she always treated me with dignity and respect (which wasn’t necessarily a given when you were a lab tech).

A close friend of mine worked for her and recounted a conversation to me when someone was a bit heated over a scientific discussion with Mary Ann. Her response (quote above) is one of THE most appropriate responses to being yelled at, ever. This dignity, confidence and calmness is what I will always aspire to.

Alabama Whitman

And sometimes Clarence asks me what I would have done if he had died…I tell him of how I would want to die, but that the anguish and the want of death would fade like the stars at dawn, and that things would be much as they are now. Perhaps. Except maybe I wouldn’t have named our son Elvis.

Alabama Whitman

Although not a real woman but a prostitute played by Patricia Arquette in True Romance (1993), Alabama was one of the first ladies in any film that I had seen that was tough.

In the film, through some sort of the usual complications seen in films, Ms. Whitman is being beat-up by a gangster (thug) who is trying to get her to tell him where her boyfriend hid the (stolen) cocaine. In this violent scene, Alabama (unlike many female film characters pre-1990s) fights back! She fights back even though she is loosing and crying and you are convinced she is going to give-up, but she doesn’t she fights back and (barely) wins. Then she puts on her unsensible shoes, make up to cover the bruises and goes about fighting the gangsters in the best way she can. Tough – perseverance – you gotta admire that.

Alabama Whitman

and driving her man off into the sunset, priceless.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain used to be an academic, but now is trying to figure out what's next. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain and Instagram @sylviaellenmclain
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6 Responses to On some women I happen to find inspirational….

  1. Betty Craig says:

    Great article, Sylvia. T hanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Agreed, great post!

  3. Excellent choices! I’m so glad I saw your post. I love these characters and I love that you chose women who were strong but flawed! And also exciting. Perfect!

  4. ricardipus says:

    Although not weighty, and certainly not in the league of your most excellently worded description of her, I heard this quotation the other day and thought it excellent. Among her other qualities, Eleanor Roosevelt could certainly turn a phrase:

    The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!

  5. Hey, this is a great article. Lovely choices I must say! I am so happy I read this one!

  6. DC says:

    the fight scene in true romance was one of the first i ever saw in which there were no punches pulled because she was a woman (with a very young james gandolfini aka tony soprano) – another comparison is the hysterically funny (in my mind) Mr & Mrs Smith

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