32 nations, 32 remarkable women – how many of them do you recognize?
Our favourite part of the World Cup? A chance to get acquainted with 32 distinct subcultures of fans, their music, their chants, their headgears and their passions (an international smorgasbord of good looking men also helps).
But in all that celebration of manhood, the women from these countries are often forgotten. So My Big Red Bag thought it would take this opportunity to do a showcase on some of the most interesting women from every one of the 32 nations that qualified for this World Cup. Every day for the next 4 days, we will highlight 8 remarkable women. How many of these do you know?
While a lot of the world thinks of gorgeous supermodels Adriana Lima and Gisele Bundchen when thinking of Brazilian women, we thought that now would be as good a time as any to revisit the woman some call the greatest Jewish writer since Kafka- Clarice Lispector. The first thing you need to know about Clarice Lispector is that this is not a pseudonym, even if it sounds like the kind of name a dame in a Humphrey Bogart movie would have. The second thing you need to know is that she was a noted recluse, with mordant wit, gorgeous and mysterious in the ways of a noir woman, and that she wrote slim novels that some describe as Borgesque and others as trash. She has gone through a bit of a resurgence these last few years, thanks to a beautifully written biography by Benjamin Moser and can be seen everywhere in her home country including on commemorative postage stamps. Penguin UK has reissued translations of 5 of her best-reviewed books (we love the covers), and you would do well to begin with Near to The Wild Heart, a post-modernist description of the inner life of a young woman.
Frida Kahlo is not just our favourite Mexican woman, but may be one of our favourite women and favourite artists, period. That iconic unibrow, her distinct style, her tempestuous affairs with other impassioned artists such as Diego Riviera and Josephine Baker, and her lifelong battle with the after-effects of an accident that left her in crushing pain – would all make her an interesting study anyway. But perhaps even more fascinating is her art- those vibrant surreal canvases- often self portraits- with their suggestions of Mexican mythology and an animalistic fervour. Nearly every bookish young girl of a particular age goes through a Frida Kahlo phase- identifying with her passions and her pain- and there’s a good reason for that. In her ability to transcend her time, her refusal to bow down to standards of feminine beauty, and in her fierce independence and sexual freedom, she was a true feminist.
The daughter of a Cameroonian UN Ambassador, Suzanne Engo has been a prominent face in Africa’s fight against AIDS. In 2008 she attempted to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic in her continent AND lose 100 pounds by running 858 miles from New York to Chicago, speaking in cities along the way about some of the charities of her choice. Her journey was turned into a documentary for MTV called I Love Africa, and featured in news across the world. She also chairs the New York Aids Film Festivals, runs a movie PR business called Girl Behind the Camera and among other philanthropic initiatives, lobbies to get African actors and talent representation in the mainstream. Suzanne is also very much a Page 3 fixture with her impeccable style and support for vegan causes. Truly a woman that Cameroon can be proud of!
Croatia has had a fractious history for the last 100 years as it attempted to retain its autonomy under the SFR Yugoslavia. The representative Croatian woman we’ve chosen for you is Savka Dabčević-Kučar- Croatia’s 5th “Prime Minister”. Opinion on Dabčević-Kučar is divided- as is the overall world opinion on Croatia’s tryst with communism under the leadership of Tito. She first gained prominence as a protege of Tito, but later had differences with himas one of the key instigators of the Croatian Spring, a student revolution demanding complete autonomy for Croatia.Over time though, she became more moderate in her beliefs attempting a comeback in politics as one of the leaders of the moderate middle. This was not to be unfortunately and her party failed to form a Government, with Savka retiring from public life till her death in 2009.
The land of Pablo Neruda, Roberto Bolano & Isabel Allende is also home to Gabriela Mistral a.k.a.Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, the first Latin American, male or female, to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Celebrated for her “lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world”, Mistral published her first collection of poems after the death of a young lover. She continued to write poetry while training for the teaching profession, and went on to become an acclaimed educator, journalist, diplomat and feminist. Above all, Mistral was a profound humanist and a passionate advocate for children’s rights – no wonder her death was mourned by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.
The birth country of feminist Germaine Greer has given the world some of the most gifted athletes of all time, both male and female (Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Margaret Court, Bethy Cuthbert, Shirley Strickland…the list is endless). Standing tall amongst this august group is Dawn Fraser, champion swimmer and former politician. In 1962, Fraser became the first woman to swim 100 metres freestyle in less than a minute, a record that would endure for another 11 years. She is also the first of only three swimmers in Olympic history to win individual gold medals for the same event at three successive Olympics (from 1956 to 1964). But Fraser won the hearts of fans for her famous Larrikin spirit – she never hesitated to stand up to authority, even if there was an Olympic medal at stake! Fraser went on to pursue a successful career in politics and is now associated with several charities. No wonder that she was voted as Australia’s “Athlete of the Century” in 1998 and declared a National Living Treasure.
Most renowned for its royal bodies (most notably Isabella of Castile, who sponsored Christopher Columbus’ voyages ) & Penelope Cruz, Spain is also home to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the country’s first ever number one ranked tennis player in the world, male or female – a feat she achieved in 1995. Nicknamed the Barcelona Bumblebee for her relentless tenacity, Sanchez Vicario won 14 Grand Slam titles (singles, doubles and mixed doubles) and is the most decorated Olympian in Spanish history (with 2 silver and 2 bronze medals). Tennis aficionados find it difficult to forget the then 17 year old Spaniard’s victory in the 1989 French Open finals against world number 1 Steffi Graf, becoming the youngest player to win the singles crown (Monica Seles broke her record the next year). No wonder that Madrid’s Caja Magica has a show court named in honour of the bubbly Spaniard!
Heard of Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” Zelle MacLeod? Possibly not. But you’ve surely heard of Mata Hari, one of the most enigmatic spies of the first World War 1. There are so many theories, and counter theories, about her life that it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. Possibly the only undisputed fact about her life is her happy and pampered childhood and the sudden u-turn her life took at the age of 15, with her father’s desertion of the family after sudden bankruptcy and her mother’s death. The rest is legendary speculation – about her sensuality and eroticism, her voracious sexual appetite and numerous lovers amongst the elite of Paris, her spying for the Germans that led to the death of thousands of French soldiers and her insouciance as she was executed by a firing squad at the age of 41. Spy or not, she definitely captured the imagination of writers, film makers and her native land – there is a statue and “Mata Hari Room” in her home town of Leeuwarde.
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