The top ten girl power moments of the last century

Friday, June 15, 2018

Over the past few weeks we have been celebrating the achievements of women in the run up to our West Women of the Year awards later this month.

The event will be a chance for our top 100 women of the west – as nominated by you – to revel in their successes.

These women come from all walks of life, with an array of different skills and interests.

They are the community leaders, entrepreneurs, charity spokespeople, creatives, inventors and celebrities of the South West.

As the ceremony draws ever closer (taking place on April 12 at the Passenger Shed) we have decided to take a look back at some of Britain’s top ‘girl power’ moments of the last century.

While these achievements were chosen by us and their place on a top ten list is purely opinion, we’re sure you’ll agree that they were truly stand-out moments for women of the UK.

Carol Ann Duffy becomes first female Poet Laureate

Carol Ann Duffy

Since the 80s, Duffy’s work has been penetrating the literary mainstream with its distinct character and voice. Many know Duffy from GCSE textbooks, with her collection – Standing Female Nude – gracing many a classroom.

Despite being an OBE, CBE, DBE and T S Eliot Prize recipient, arguably her greatest professional achievement is her appointment as Poet Laureate in 2009.

Not only is Duffy the first woman to hold the position. She is also the first Scot and the first LGBT person to be honoured with the role.

Helen Sharman becomes first British person in space

Helen Sharman

Helen’s journey to astronaut sounds like something from a film. After applying for the role, she was selected for the mission live on TV – beating more than 12,000 other applicants.

Her background as a chemistry graduate helped her to become not only the first British woman in space but the first British person in space.

She entered space at the age of 27, also becoming the first female to visit the Mir space station.

Orla Doherty adventures hundreds of metres beneath the oceans of Antarctica

The Blue Planet series has done a lot to raise awareness of human’s negative effect on the ocean. And while David Attenborough is undoubtedly the first person people associate with the series, there are plenty of incredible people who made the documentary possible.

One of those people is Orla Doherty who travelled 1000 metres underwater in search of discovery. Her trip to Antarctica was arguably her most adventurous when her submarine sprung a leak 500m deep.

Thankfully the experience didn’t put her off deep sea exploration.

She later said of her travels with the show: “It’s changed the way I look at our planet. When I embarked on this project I thought I knew what to expect but my whole perception of the world – not just underwater – has flipped.

“We have only seen a fraction of what goes on down there.”

J K Rowling introduces magic to millions

She’s the muggle who managed to enchant the world with her storytelling but rewind just over 20 years ago and very few knew her name.

At the time of writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone, the first novel in the now legendary series, Rowling was a struggling single mum.

She is now worth more than £650 million, making her richer than the Queen, with her books selling more than 450 million copies across the world.

Lubaina Himid wins Turner Prize

Lubaina Himid

Last year the Turner Prize dropped its upper age limit of 50. The same year Lubaina Himid became not only the first woman of colour to win the prestigious accolade but also became its oldest recipient.

In recent years, the shortlist for the prize has thrown up a lot of bizarre works with many people outside of tightknit artistic circles merely shrugging the nominations as ‘wacky modern art’. In stark contrast to this Himid’s work is a lot more serious with an importance on highlighting black creativity.

Angela Berners-Wilson is the first woman to be ordained as a priest

While the fact that Berners-Wilson was the first woman to be ordained is largely due to her name being alphabetically at the top of a list of 32 women entering the priesthood, her achievement – along with that of her 31 peers – is not to be snubbed at.

Made a deaconess in 1979, she had been with the church for more than 40 years, serving the people of London, Bristol and Bath. In 1987, the first year the Church of England ordained women to the diaconate, she became a deacon. In the spring of 1994 she finally became a priest.

Dame Judi Dench cast as ‘M’ in the James Bond franchise

When it comes to challenging gender stereotypes the James Bond franchise is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. As an ultra-masculine womanising super spy, Bond is certainly not in touch with his feminine side.

However the decision to cast Judi Dench as the head of MI6 – M – was definitely one that flipped public perceptions of the character and gender roles in the film series.

M had been portrayed by a man since the early 60s until Dench took up the role in the mid 90s.

Her interpretation of the role has been met with positivity, with the character not ignoring the fact that she is female. One of M’s first interactions with Bond in GoldenEye is to call him a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’ and ‘a relic of the Cold War’.

Mary Leakey discovers first skull of our ape ancestors

Throughout her life, Leakey’s achievements extended far beyond the discovery she is remembered for – ie the first fossilised Proconsul skull.

During her career Leakey also discovered fifteen new species of animal, named a new genus, unearthed a Zinjanthropus skull in Tanzania and found the Laetoli footprints – hominin tracks that are around 3.7 million years old.

In later life she became director of exhibitions at Olduvai Gorge – the place of her original discoveries.

Fanny Cradock inspires a generation to step up their cooking game

Before Fanny, cooking shows were often seen as stuffy, pretentious and serious affairs with a (male) chef showing off his skills in the kitchen.

But when Fanny stormed onto our screens in a layer of thick make up and a full glass of wine, she certainly shook up the perception of TV cooking.

While there were a smattering of TV cooks before her, Fanny is considered one of the first cooking personalities.

Her brash and slightly chaotic persona was strangely endearing and helped a lot of people gain confidence in their own kitchen.

Spice Girls spread girl power across the globe

No ‘girl power’ list would be complete without the women who brought the phrase to the forefront of every impressionable 90s girl’s mind.

The Spice Girls burst onto our radios and televisions in 1994, by 1996 they dominated the globe.

Their album of that year, Spice, still remains the number one best-selling album by a girl group racking up 31 million sales and going six times platinum.

While the five members have all gone their separate ways – each achieving their own successes – their songs, as well as rumours of their reunion, continue to send excitement across the world.

And let us not forget their incredible Spice World film from 1997 which took more than $100 million at the box office. In the words of Ginger Spice -‘now that’s girl power!’

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