This year for International Women's Day, the brilliant women at Jute celebrated by honoring women doing creative, powerful work in the world. We hope it inspires you to #beboldforchange.
JULIE BOSACK HONORS SARA NAJAFI
Since the Revolution in 1979, women in Iran have been prohibited from singing in solo performances for the general public. In defiance of censorship and cultural, religious and legal taboos, a young composer named Sara Najafi organized a concert for female solo singers. You can watch her story in No Land's Song.
Julie’s personal connection: Music and singing has always been a source of expression and connection to humanity for me, something I completely take for granted. Today I want to honor Sara, and all the women fighting to give voice and expression to those in suppression.
KRISTI KOEBKE HONORS NAOMI SHIHAB
Naomi Shihab Nye is a Palestinian-American award-winning poet, author and teacher. After 9/11, she was an active voice for Arab-Americans, speaking out against both terrorism and prejudice. The lack of understanding between Americans and Arabs led her to collect poems she had written which dealt with the Middle East and her experiences as an Arab-American. Sixteen years later, we need her voice and others like hers more than ever.
Kristi’s connection: As a poet, Naomi seems to extract gold from the ordinary. She was also born a Midwesterner, and I relate fiercely to her need to make sense of the world, counteract hate and illuminate the good sides of humanity through poetry. She inspires me to do the same.
In her words: “I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime…Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.” Here’s one of my favorite poems, “Famous”.
SYLVIA WILLISTON LINDMAN HONORS M.F.K. FISHER
Our appreciation for the sensuousness of food and wine owes everything to M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992). At a time when canned-soup casseroles, gelatin salads and cakes from a mix represented sophistication and liberation from the burdens of cooking, Fisher was extolling the simple carnal pleasures of oysters and sweetbreads. One of her best-known books, The Gastronomical Me (1943), chronicles how eating and drinking well are a celebration of the senses.
On the anniversary of that book, Slate published this reflection: “We are all hungry, she tells us, but we must remember to make choices, not drift to whatever is at hand. Our hunger unites us; our choices, in restaurants and in life, make us individuals.” Fisher was certainly an individual.
Sylvia’s connection: One of my best friends was a cooking teacher and gourmet who embraced the taste, mouth feel and presentation of food as among the highest and most constant of our physical pleasures. I learned a lot from her, and I hope my own table at least sometimes reflects Fisher’s lesson that cooking and serving food are acts of love.
SHANNON CARLSON HONORS GWEN IFILL
Gwen Ifill was a true pioneer—with a fierce intellect and an unwavering dedication—she was a tenacious defender of a strong and free press. She was the first black woman to moderate a national political talk show on television, as well as the first to moderate a vice presidential debate. She broke down many doors, shattered ceilings and showed anyone who doubted her what tough really is. In an interview for the Archive of American Television, she gave powerful advice for any dedicated communicator: "I really want to keep my mind open to all possibilities. If I make up my mind in advance what I believe about something ... I stop listening. We all stop listening once you've made up your mind … I want to be curious."
Shannon's personal connection: As a writer and communicator, as well as a former journalist, the things Gwen Ifill achieved for all women make my cheeks burn with pride. She was a role model for me and so many others. Lost to us far too soon, she passed away in 2016 after a prolonged cancer fight, but left a legacy for many young girls to follow—one of the power of openness, fairness and fearlessness. May we all revel in the right to question.
BROOKE PARROTT HONORS PHINDILE SITHOLE-SPONG
Phindile is a South African woman who was born with HIV, and found out that she was HIV positive when she was 19. She is the founder and CEO of Rebranding HIV, a consultancy group that helps companies do HIV-education outreach with their employees. Despite almost 20% of the country carrying the virus, there is still a deep stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, and Phindile is on a mission to tackle the surrounding taboos by living openly with the virus and sharing her experiences with others. She maintains that South Africa will not be able to address the rise of the HIV until they can speak freely about it. She says, “That is how we will reduce new HIV infections because then the HIV-positive people will not feel a need to hide it. They will use protection, they will be more aware of themselves, and they will be more confident.” In 2014, Phindile was featured as one of TIME Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders.
Brooke’s personal connection: My father was born and raised in South Africa, and I spent much of my life going there to visit family. When I was a teenager, I went to an incredible photography exhibit in Cape Town that displayed photos of people living with HIV/AIDS. I funneled that inspiration into action, later starting a group at music school called Student Musicians Against AIDS that put on music events to raise money for non-profits in Ghana and South Africa. Women like Phindile inspire us to be more open and honest, and to always use our platform (whatever that may be) to do good in the world and help others.
MARIA GUERRIERO HONORS POLY STYRENE
Poly Styrene was a British musician, singer-songwriter, and extremely influential frontwoman for hallmark British punk rock band X-Ray Spex. Fiercely feminist in her lyrics and her persona, Poly was destined for an artistic life of non-conformity. Born in 1957, she grew up in a London suburb with her single mother.
"Poly and her band injected a much-needed burst of colour and fun into a punk scene that was increasingly nihilistic and destructive. Although not lacking the necessary anger and energy to make it on the scene. X-ray Spex never took themselves too seriously, and soon distinguished themselves by their difference to the rest. Poly herself wasn’t the archetypal pop princess. This unconventionally pretty youth with short hair, tooth-braces and a war-helmet perched cockily on her head was the tank-girl-rebel long before the angry grunge queens of the present day."
She wrote the punk pop song "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!" The lyrics combine a depiction of contemporary capitalist materialism as a brand of servitude with a "feminist rallying cry". Styrene later described it as "a call for liberation. It was saying: 'Bondage—forget it! I'm not going to be bound by the laws of consumerism or bound by my own senses.' It has that line in it: 'Chain smoke, chain gang, I consume you all': you are tied to these activities for someone else's profit."
I believe that the start of the iconic, expressive look and sound of frontwoman icons such as Kim Gordon, Karen O., Beth Ditto, and Peaches started in history as Poly Styrene. In a world where women are still, at times, forced to package themselves in a certain look or dress, an icon such as Poly Styrene has helped us dress and act fierce. She's the original "misfit superstar".
BRANDI KATHERINE HERRERA HONORS GEORGIA O'KEEFFE
Born November 15, 1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Died March 6th, 1986 (almost 100 years later) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Ms. O'Keeffe, who was often referred to as the "mother of American modernism," had a different way of doing and seeing things from the very beginning:
"I grew up pretty much as everyone else grows up, and one day found myself saying — I can’t live where I want to — I can’t go where I want to — I can’t do what I want to — I can’t even say what I want to. School and things that painters have taught me even keep me from painting as I want to. I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to … I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught."
Brandi's connection: I admire her for many of the same reasons as I do the other people I look up to: because I respect how she thought and how she created, how she saw the world and moved through it, and how she chose to carry out her days as an artist. But what I love most about Ms. O'Keeffe, is her fierce determination and individuality. Not only to blaze new trails as a woman making art in the early 20th century, but to stand by that path and defend her own artistic choices, despite critics attempts to control and overgeneralize her work for being what they called "overtly sexualized" and erotic.
CATHERINE HAROLD HONORS PEMA CHÖDRÖN
When her second marriage dissolved in devastating fashion, Deirdre Blomfield-Brown funneled her heartbreak into a search for something true. It took a while. But one day she climbed into a friend’s pickup and found a magazine open on the seat. It displayed an article with a surprising message: If she embraced her feelings without judgment, they could teach her how to find peace.
Pursuing that truth led Deirdre to study with some of the most insightful Buddhist teachers of our time. She began as an ordinary woman searching for a way to ease her suffering. And she became Pema Chödrön, beloved spiritual teacher, leading millions of people around the world to find compassion for themselves and others.
Catherine’s connection: I stumbled upon one of Pema Chödrön’s books in the mid-90s and felt an immediate healing begin somewhere deep inside of me. I’ve since read most all of Pema’s books, like millions of other ordinary people seeking peace and compassion.