Valentines, Galentines, Palentines…whatever consonant you put in front of it, we don’t need much of an excuse to celebrate love. Whether it’s a romantic love or a platonic one, there isn’t always enough of it in the world, or when there is, it’s squeezed into certain times of the year, packaged in commercialism that takes away the true meaning of affection.
Away from all the expensive cards and chocolates, we wanted to take a moment to think about the people in life that inspire us to be the women we are. From family members to teachers and people who we know are out there in need of a friend, five strong women (and me) reflect on their special Galentine with a letter…
To The Woman Who…Laid The Foundations Of Compassion
The last time I saw you I sat and stroked your hand: fragile, grooved with veins and age. You didn't know me anymore. Lost in the mist. But I knew you - my grandmother who sent airletters, gave awful presents and couldn't cook. You loved stories, a gift you passed down the generations. Because of this my childhood was enchanted, where magic and wonderment still existed - and I grew up knowing I could become anything I imagined myself to be. When the walls of my childhood came crumbling down, it was your daughter - and my imagination - which kept me safe.
What's strange is that when I think I of you, which is surprisingly often given how little I actually knew you, I think of the you I didn't know; long before the mist, before even me. Your grandmother was in the Black Sash, my mother would tell me. A woman's organisation which campaigned against the erosion of human rights in South Africa. You couldn't hold public meetings, so you would protest against apartheid individually. Black sash draped around you mourning the death of democracy. I'd read about this later, how though you were largely protected by your racial privilege - you were still vilified by many. Once you stood silently protesting in Cape Town when a man spat at you, and then a passing woman came and wiped your face. Women can change the world as much as men.
You used to say "Do the next good thing", mum would tell me. I wonder what you'd make of our world now, you who have seen the devastation that is borne from polarisation. In Northern Ireland we've had no government for two years and people still fight for rights: a raped woman cannot have an abortion the way women in the rest of the UK can, same sex couples here are the only ones on these islands who can't get married. As Brexit looms we hurtle towards more division, more barriers - the threat of eradicating the important work of so many for so long... and I feel helpless.
You taught my mother and she taught me the ability to think beyond ourselves, to see "others" as people and to imagine a better world. I got involved in politics to be part of the solution, not the problem - and as I try to hold onto my hope, I think with gratitude and pride of you and all the women who came before us, making it that much easier to do the next good thing. And how our job now is to do the same for those who will follow us.
Kate Nicholl, Alliance Party Councillor for Balmoral, South Belfast
To The Woman Who …I’m Forbidden To LoveMy love for you is unconditional love. The Fantasy of celebrate Black love still inspires me daily in hope, thirst and desire for you.
This Nigerian Queen fell in love with her first Queen. In fact your Gender was irrelevant , I fell in love with you, your mind, body and soul.
I fought against my internalised homophobia daily, because I been taught
Loving you was a crime punishable by 14 years imprisonment with a first class ticket to hell.
I love God, and wanted to love you the Corinthian 13 way but I was taught that God won't love me loving you.
My Queen, My Woman, My Love,
You see I wanted to be better for you.
Wanted to fight inequalities faced by disadvantaged and marginalised communities daily just for you.
So it could be safe to love you. But my Future could never be with you, Cause you never knew how I felt about you. So I just have to love you in my mind, where it is safe for both of us. Till I make this world a better place for the both of us.
Marvina Newton, CEO Of Angel of Youths, a Leeds based charity that supports disadvantaged youths to incite positive social change
To The Woman Who… Inspired Me To Embrace My Womanhood Through Art:
You gave me the best education of all – you opened my eyes to the power of women. I will carry your teachings with me forever; they nourish my creative process.
You always said:
Do not let anyone silence you. Learn how to speak out – not necessarily with words, but with actions. Make them listen. Be creative with it.
Learn from the women around you – ask them questions, ask them about their struggles, their survival; build a support network of women and keep them around you. They are ripe with knowledge. They will elevate you. Trying and failing is an obligation and, thanks to this, you will lead a rich life. You will learn to build yourself up again. It will never be an easy process.
I strive to reflect these values in the works I create, to capture the vitality, strength and resistance of my subjects.
Thank you for helping me get to this point. I am part of your immense and colourful legacy.
Love always, Kiri Megan.
Kiri Megan, Artist and Painter of the natural form
To The Woman Who…Made Me A Mother
Dear Amber, my beautiful daughter. I wanted to write this ‘galentines’ letter to you because you, more than anyone has made me become the woman I am today.
You have challenged my body, my mind and soul more than they have ever been challenged before. I have been torn, tugged... hugged and loved by you.
You have made me have to step up and really take responsibility for both you and me.
Thank you for making me realise, love and appreciate everything my own wonderful mother has done for and given to me.
Thank you for teaching me patience and unconditional love. Thank you for giving me laughter from the bottom of my belly and tears of joy. Thank you for inspiring me to write and be the best version of myself that I could possibly be. You give me a purpose and I want to be great so that you are proud of and inspired by me.
Ruby Wood, Singer from Submotion Orchestra
To The Woman Who… Inspires My Career
There are so many people I could write my Galentines love letter to…sisters Solange & Beyonce, June Eric Oderie, Lorde, Lizzo, Hayley Williams…there are so many women across the arts that I deeply admire, but as a writer, my Galentines crush in 2019 has to be Elaine Welteroth.
Elaine…I may not know you personally, but let’s get this out of the way: You. Are. Killing. It. With your work at Teen Vogue, you brought social awareness and representation to a generation of influential young people, helping them prove to the world that you are never too young to make a difference, and creating an area of journalism that tackles the hard issues alongside lighter content, proving that it is possible to be a fierce injustice-fighting feminist AND a fashion-conscious young person, and neither negates the power of the other. Now an author in your own right, your upcoming book about being a black woman trying to break the glass ceiling of the media industry is sure to be as much of an inspiration to me as your Instagram feed – nobody rocks a colourful outfit like you. If ever I need a reminder of why I do what I do, you’re my lady to look to.
Jenessa Williams, Journalist & Second Store Columnist
To The Women Who… We Stand Alongside
(trigger warning: sexual assault)
You told me you were nervous before you left that night. You were unsure about whether or not you actually wanted to do it. Like most people that night you had a couple of drinks – “loosen up” you thought to yourself. The party started off fun by the sound of it. But fast forward a couple of hours and he had followed you upstairs on your way to the toilet. And that’s where he decided he wasn’t going to wait for you to “stop being frigid”, “if you wanted to be with him and not someone else, then what did it matter?” – he said. You told him no as he put his hand up your skirt and grabbed your boob so hard it left a mark. You told him to “fuck off” when he put your hand down his trousers. After what felt like forever of him begging you for a blowjob, you “gave in”. He wasn’t listening. What could you do, push him down the stairs? Unlikely.
I know that you blame yourself for agreeing earlier in the week. But he shouldn’t have been pressuring you. He shouldn’t have made you feel bad about what you were willing or not willing to do with your body. I know you think you should have pushed him off or said no louder but he should have listened the first time. He should have spoken to you about your boundaries beforehand and on that night. He shouldn’t have used force or coercion. It doesn’t matter that you were planning on having sex with him one day. In that moment you weren’t willing and he didn’t respect you.
Guys like him, they think that they are entitled to your body. They’re not. They don’t listen to the word no, because they prioritise their pleasure over yours. They have been raised to “win you over”. They don’t understand sexual respect. Guys like him are a part of a wider system that positions women as lesser than men. A system that silences women. Disempowers them. A system that dares not speak of sexual pleasure for women. A system that sells women sexy underwear and then punishes them for wearing it.
You are worthy of sexual respect.
You are deserving of sexual pleasure.
I hear your stories.
And I will advocate for you.
Lauren Smith, PhD Candidate and Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, investigating the influence of how people make and communicate their willingness or unwillingness to have sex in the context of drug-taking.