More “Difficult Women”

Photo by Giacomo Ferroni on Unsplash

I recently read Karen Karbo’s book In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons from 29 Women who Dared to Break the Rules. It brought to mind lots of British adjectives: jolly, bracing, a romp, a dashed good time. The compact hagiographies of the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, J.K. Rowling, Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler, Helen Gurley Brown, Eva Peron, and Hillary Clinton are vivacious and fun, compulsive as an ice cream cone. I lapped it up, right to the hollow center.

In Praise of Difficult Women implies that to be “difficult” is to be a teeny bit eccentric while still embracing heterosexuality and conventional beauty. (And being White.) If a woman falls into those categories anything from racism to consorting with Nazis to heroin addiction is framed as winsome contrariness as opposed to, you know, racism, et cetera, et cetera.

I get that it is easier to sell a book about difficult women if they are famous and photogenic (bonus points for being alive and having a massive fan base to whom they will promote the book) but rehashing familiar names and tropes is a waste.

Women have plenty of straight, white, fashionable, beautiful, wealthy “role models”. What we need is to hear about women who don’t tick those boxes and still rock/ed this unjust world. Women who take real risks, not just with their media image.

The one profile in Difficult Women that shines is that of Josephine Baker singer, dancer, WWII hero, and Civil Rights activist. Her story was new to me, exciting; it engaged with race, risk-taking and social justice. Why can’t we have more of that? Like, a whole book?

Not having a book deal, I can’t offer that. But I can write what the hell I want, on my own schedule. While jogging (plus a bit of Googling) I came up with an alternative list of difficult women.

My criteria? They had/have to do more than be pretty and willful. They’re all beautiful, in the way that women who care passionately about some larger cause are. They are definitely willful. But they use/d that willfulness for more than personal gain.

As time permits, I will be writing a short biography of each of these women and posting it here. Stay tuned.

  1. Alice Walker
  2. Angela Davis
  3. Anita Hill
  4. Audre Lorde
  5. Dolores Huerta
  6. Emma Goldman
  7. Emma Gonzalez
  8. Lauryn Hill
  9. Lena Horne
  10. Maria Moreno
  11. Margaret Mead
  12. Margaret Sanger
  13. Missy Elliott
  14. Nina Simone
  15. Patti Smith
  16. Serena Williams
  17. Shirley Chisholm
  18. Valerie Solanis
  19. Zora Neal Hurston

This list is, of course, incomplete, and slanted towards my fields of interest: writing, music and social justice.

If you know of a difficult woman who should be on the list, tell me!