Lessons to learn from Leading Ladies

By Charlie Smith-Knight


International Women’s Day is here on March 8th to celebrate women across the globe but what does it mean to be a woman? Quite the contentious question these days. The dictionary definition is ‘an adult female human being’. Very concise. But arguably a little simplistic; we’re daughters, sisters, mums, aunts, grandmas. We have a combination of careers, homes and children and, dare I say it, hopes and dreams. Life can be busier than the ticket line for a Taylor Swift concert. And finding a work and home life balance can be like juggling swords: pay too much attention to one and the other is going to serve you a painful reminder of its existence. But strong women have been successfully adulting since the dawn of time and debatably for things that were afforded to our male counterparts without contention. So, what life lessons can we learn from the leading ladies that led the way?

Learn to fight for yourself like

Isabel de Olvera

De Olvera was a woman of mixed heritage living in the 16th century. De Olvera wanted to join an expedition to New Spain but due to her social position needed protection from forced marriage or slavery. As unbelievable as it seems to an audience in 2023, de Olvera had to petition a mayor to provide her with written permission to travel as a free woman, who could not be claimed as the property of a man. After an 8 month legal process, de Olvera won the right to be a free woman. It would have been seen as a ballsy move from a woman of her ethnic background at the time, for what we consider a basic right of freedom. But like a heroic precursor to a L’Oreal advert, she knew she was worth it.

Learn to stick up for others like

Gloria Steinem

The American journalist and activist has been highlighting injustices towards women since the 1960’s. Notably, Steinem worked undercover as a bunny at the Playboy Club in New York. Steinem’s resulting article showcased the exploitative conditions female employees were subjected to and the borderline illegal sexual demands placed on them. Although the assignment had a negative impact on Steinem’s career in the short term, it forced Hugh Hefner to revise the working conditions in his clubs and positively improved the lives of women who were being taken advantage of. Steinem has also championed women’s rights to abortion, highlighted the issue of female genital mutilation and in 2013, shared her support for transgender people. Like a modern-day suffragette, Steinem has been standing on the front line and taking hits better than a pro boxer for literally decades. If you’re having a bad day, you know she’s the sort of friend who’ll tell the waiter that you ordered a Bloody Mary not a Virgin Mary.

Learn to perserve like

Queen Elizabeth II

You knew she had to be here. Personally, I’m no royalist but you have to admire the staying power of a person who has done the same job for 70 years- even if it seems like Anne Robinson has been around endlessly, it’s an achievement few live up to. In a world where most people change jobs every 5 years, England’s longest reigning sovereign provided a constant in a changing world. Despite the scandals and evolving social climate, our Liz weathered the storms with dignity and grace and was an expert in the unspoken response. Providing a masterclass in poise, Queen Elizabeth II taught us all how to persevere. It’s still slightly unbelievable that she was not immortal, forever leading us forward like a beautiful figurehead on the front of a ship. But here we are, and what we can take from Her Majesty’s example is that sometimes the only response is to hold your head up and keep moving forward. Like a shark, just keep swimming.

Learn to live your authentic life like


If you’re not familiar with Grotbags (*cough* shame on you *cough*), she’s a vividly green witch dressed in a bin bag who lives in Gloomy Fortress. And let’s be honest, we’ve all spent time there. Although Grotbags is the curve ball on this list, she makes the cut for-quite simply-being herself. For not bowing to the peer pressure and social convention of needing to look or act a certain way in order to be considered acceptable. Grotbags could be loud and mean and her eyebrows were definitely sisters not twins but she was living her authentic life before anyone coined the phrase. The anti-Kardashian who wouldn’t know a filter if it robbed her broomstick, Grotbags served attitude and an individual look unapologetically. Sometimes, just be more Grotbags.

Learn to overcome adversity like

Frida Kahlo

Although she’s probably most famous for her eyebrows, Frida Kahlo should be lauded for her ability to rise above adversity. In 1925, aged 18, Kahlo was involved in a bus accident that saw her impaled on a handrail through her pelvis. Kahlo suffered injuries to her spine, uterus, leg, foot and collarbone. Confined to bed rest for months, Kahlo began to paint. The rest, as they say is history. Where some people might crawl into a pillow fort and cry endlessly whilst listening to Celine Dion on repeat, Kahlo turned her forced repose into a successful career that has made one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century. And that’s according to the Tate Modern, not just me, so you know it holds some weight. Kahlo lived in pain until her death and even attended one of her own exhibitions on a stretcher but left a legacy more beautiful than a supermodel’s offspring. Kahlo has to be the *chef’s kiss* of comebacks and endurance.

It’s not always easy being a woman, or even just human sometimes. None of us are dictionary definitions and why would you want to be? We should celebrate our chaotic existence, acknowledge our achievements, learn from our sisters and be proud to be female.

Life can be tough. Nevertheless, she persisted.