It’s International Women’s Day, an all-too-brief window of time during which we celebrate the achievements of women and attempt to focus at least some of our energy on the fight for gender equality. HOWEVER, in what seems to be a depressing clash of schedules, today much of the world is currently using said energy to get extremely wound up about a woman who refuses to keep quiet and now everyone’s too red-faced and tired from all the shouting to even think about all the International Women’s Day stuff. Fingers crossed for next year.
Never to be defeated, I am now going to hit you with a bunch of letter excerpts in which women are front and centre and men are not, a move which usually results in some moaning from the kind of people I was just talking about and proves how much we still need International Women’s Day. So, if you’re feeling sensitive or threatened, I’d skip this one.
Also, do not miss: Later today, at 7pm (GMT), Letters Live are releasing a short compilation of letter readings from over the years, in honour of International Women’s Day. All you need to do is hit this link, sit tight, and enjoy.
There was a night last year when I suddenly realised I despised men quite much (tho’ at a nothing-can-be-done-about-it-so-better-forget-it level). I’d had to call a doctor to my old Ma and he and I were alone with her in the still of the night—and as she vomited, and also had to be supported onto a commode and then cleaned up, he moved across the room and gazed absently out of the window while I did the holding and supporting and mopping up—and it occurred to me that all over the world at that moment there were women actually doing things to sick people, while men issued advice and prescriptions, and from time to time gave a nice tidy injection. Of course there are men who choose to be nurses, bless them, and of course there are women who are brutal to sick people; but on the whole it is true that women have to take on the job of caring once it involves touching sick bodies, while most men would be appalled at the idea of doing it.
Diana Athill | Letter to Edward Field, 31 Oct 1989 | Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend
I can imagine myself blurbing a book in which Brian Aldiss, predictably, sneers at my work, because then I could preen myself on my magnanimity. But I cannot imagine myself blurbing a book, the first of the series, which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room. That would not be magnanimity, but foolishness. Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here.
Ursula Le Guin | Letter to John Radziewicz, 1987 | Letters of Note: Vol. 2
I want you to have faith and hear yourself when you’re just barely holding it together. I want you to be able to talk to friends about their gray areas and be open about your own without judgment. You will succeed and fail in equal measure. Both experiences are worthwhile. They will both define you. The truth is, the minute I surrendered to the flow of the mess of life, everything came together magnificently: my longing for art, my skill as an actor, and my capacities as a friend and mother.
The beauty of being a woman today is in savoring the minutiae of life, all the moments that add up to you. The joy you’ll find in being in your body, in sexuality and sensuality, in service, in art, in mothering. You have to get out of your own way and write your own story—and not be forced into the narrative that you think will give you the easiest path to success or the most likes. I want you to live in the space that’s your own, your own delicious mess. The story comes from within you.
Laura Dern | Letter to her daughter, Jaya, 2017 | Letters of Note: Mothers
Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual.
Kill every woman in the United Kingdom.
Give women the vote.
Bertha Brewster | Letter to Daily Telegraph, Feb 1913 | Letters of Note: Vol. 2
As we know, women have to break down many barriers on the road to success. One of those barriers is the way we are constantly reminded we are not men, as if it is a flaw. People call me one of the “world’s greatest female athletes”. Do they say LeBron is one of the world’s best male athletes? Is Tiger? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female. We should never let this go unchallenged. We should always be judged by our achievements, not by our gender.
Serena Williams | Letter to all women, Aug 2016 | Porter magazine
Huzzah for the Truth Teller! Women in this country have been over-celebrated for too long. Just last night there was a story on my local news about a “missing girl,” and they must have dedicated seven or eight minutes to “where she was last seen” and “how she might have been abducted by a close family friend,” and I thought, “What is this, the News for Chicks?” Then there was some story about Hillary Clinton flying to some country because she’s secretary of state. Why do we keep talking about these dumdums? We are a society that constantly celebrates no one but women and it must stop! I want to hear what the men of the world have been up to. What fun new guns have they invented? What are they raping these days? What’s Michael Bay’s next film going to be?
Tina Fey | Letter to a troll, 2009 | Bossypants
Today women are making extraordinary contributions in areas of fundamental interest to our organization. There are several women astronauts. The earliest footprints — 3.6 million years old — made by a member of the human family have been found in a volcanic ash flow in Tanzania by Mary Leakey. Trailblazing studies of the behavior of primates in the wild have been performed by dozens of young women, each spending years with a different primate species. Jane Goodall’s studies of the chimpanzee are the best known of the investigations which illuminate human origins. The undersea depth record is held by Sylvia Earle. The solar wind was first measured in situ by Marcia Neugebauer, using the Mariner 2 spacecraft. The first active volcanoes beyond the Earth were discovered on the Jovian moon Io by Linda Morabito, using the Voyager 1 spacecraft. These examples of modern exploration and discovery could be multiplied a hundredfold. They are of true historical significance. If membership in The Explorers Club is restricted to men, the loss will be ours; we will only be depriving ourselves.
Carl Sagan | Letter to The Explorers Club, 1981
I regret having to step away because I love Alessandro Carloni so much and think he is an incredibly creative director. But I can only do what feels right during these difficult times of transition and collective consciousness raising.
I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women’s bodies whether they like it or not is not going to change overnight. Or in a year. But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out — like me — do not take this sort of a stand then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter’s generation.
Emma Thompson | Letter of resignation to SkyDance Animation, 2019