Wednesday was International Women’s Day and we decided this week we should tell you a bit about three women from our countries. International Women’s Day is marked each year on the 8th March and was first celebrated in N.Y.C. in 1911. The holiday is not observed in the US or UK.
The most bad-assed woman my Russia ever produced
Out of plenty of crazy women that Russia produced throughout its history, I would choose Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a beautiful but weird woman.
Born in 1989 in Siberia and also known as Nadya Tolokno, she is a truly outstanding personality. She comes from artistic circles, an opposition political activist, musician, and conceptual artist in the Voina (War) group. Alone and as a group member, she has been doing several notorious art performances.
To check out what kind of stuff she was doing: In 2008, at the age of 19, being in the eighth month of pregnancy, she staged a provocative public sex performance with her then-husband, Petr Verzilov, also a Voina group member, in a Moscow museum. Two other couples were doing the same. This story didn’t have much artistic value, in my mind, but the video went rival in Russia. The art event was called ‘Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear!’ The action’s formal purpose was a satiric reaction to the government’s plan to stimulate the birth rate in Russia.
In February 2012, Tolokno, being also a member of the Pussy Riot punk band, alongside other girls, set up probably her biggest show, Punk Prayer, at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour temple. Together with four other female members of Pussy Riot, she was dancing in the temple interiors. The biggest sin wasn’t the dancing itself, but the words of the song, ‘Holy Mother banish Putin!’ Right at this time Vladimir Putin was going into his third presidential term, instead of then-President Dmitry Medvedev.
On August 17, 2012, Nadya and two other group members were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ and jailed for two years in prison. That was a pure act of political repression, a sign of the times to come…
Two years later Tolokno was released and got back to her artistic notoriety and fierce criticism of Putin. She has several international human rights and art awards, for example, the Lennon Ono Grant for Peace, and some others.
In 2022 she had a meeting with the US State Secretary Antony Blinken. The meeting was to support freedom of expression in Russia. By this time, she had become a symbol of fighting for freedom and civil rights in my country.
I don’t think she is a great artist by herself, but Tolokno is a 100% brave and gifted personality who was courageous enough to stand up against Putin and paid a price for it.
She now, as far as I know, lives in the US, having being granted political refugee status. I think Nadya Tolokno is yet to create her biggest artistic performance. To make a long story short, out of a punk performer, she has grown to be a civilian rights activist on a national scale.
And yes, she is a true badass!
The most bad-assed woman Britain ever produced…
It would be easy to choose one of the better-known women like Florence Nightingale or Britain’s first woman Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but I’ve plumped for a lady who was years ahead of her time, and remained largely forgotten until 100 years after her death.
Mary Seacole, also known as Mother Seacole, was born over 200 years ago in Jamaica, but of Scottish and Creole descent.
She was taught to use traditional Jamaican medicines by her mother, and by all accounts, despite her tender years, she was a very good student, practising on her dolls, dogs and cats! Mary later wrote in her autobiography: “l was very young when I began to make use of the little knowledge I had acquired from watching my mother, upon great sufferer – my doll… and whatever disease was most prevalent in Kingston, be sure my poor doll soon contracted it.”
She travelled extensively, which was very unusual for an unaccompanied black woman back in the day, which culminated in her getting involved in the Crimean War between the Russian Empire and a coalition including Britain, which lasted from 1853-1856. She asked the British War Office if she could be sent to the area to assist in nursing the injured soldiers, knowing how brutal conditions were out there. She was refused, so she made her own way there independently, and at her own expense.
Her work and dedication became legendary, and at the time, Mary was more famous in Britain then Florence Nightingale; Mary’s work was much closer to the front line, which she visited many times at great personal peril.
After the war, she returned to Britain virtually penniless. But such was her bad-assedness, her huge army of admirers came to her aid, with a fund-raising gala attended by over 80,000 people. That same year, 1857, she published her autobiography “The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands.” It became an instant bestseller.
Astonishingly, following her death in 1881, she was simply forgotten. For over a century. You can read, elsewhere, all about how a group of nurses from the Caribbean visited her grave in London, and eventually, Mary not only had a statue unveiled in 2016, but was voted “The Greatest Black Briton.”
About bloody time…….
Image caption: Last known picture of Mary, taken in 1873.
America’s most bad-assed woman
In some ways Sergey and Rodger have it easier than me this week. I don’t know who they will choose but Sergey could go with Catherine the Great. Roger damn well had better pick Margaret Thatcher. She was so bad-assed that she once told Ronald Raegan “Don’t get wobbly kneed on me!” Argentina is still pissed. It’s only been within my lifetime that the USA could have had a female President. So I’ll need to reach a little deeper.
While America hasn’t yet had a female President, that doesn’t mean we don’t have several trail-blazing women. For example; Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Earhart are both household names in the US. I didn’t pick one of them because they both stand on the shoulders of women who came before. I wanted to find someone who was truly first.
My nominee is a woman named Sojourner Truth. She was born in 1827, yesterday by Roger & Sergey standards but my country was less than fifty years old back then. So yeah, she was an early trailblazer for equality – all kinds of equality. According to history.com “Sojourner Truth was an African American evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author who was born into slavery before escaping to freedom in 1826. After gaining her freedom, Truth preached about abolitionism and equal rights for all.”
While she was the first black woman to sue a white man in court and win, she was most famous for a speech she gave in 1851, “Aren’t I a Woman?”. It was only one of a number of moving, powerful speeches Truth gave.
I’ll not turn this into some lame history lesson (as is my want) but you can easily find out about more by clicking the links above. As an aside, Isabella Baumfree, who changed her name in 1843 to Sojourner Truth, was also honored by NASA when they named an early, pathfinding, Mars lander after her: The Sojourner Rover. And like several bad-assed women, later landers owe their success to a Sojourner.