Sally Hall: 2014 was great for feminism - let’s make this year even better

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January is a month for sweeping out the old ways and ushering in the new.

But there’s one thing I’m planning to carry forward from last year.

As the days grow longer, I will strut forward into spring with a new sashay in my step.

Because 2014 was the year I discovered Mae West – and I reckon life may never be the same again.

There were lots of notable milestones for feminism over the past 12 months.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head for having the temerity to venture out to school, became the youngest winner of the Nobel peace prize – sending out the message to girls everywhere that they have the power to change the world.

The GirlGuiding UK campaign, Girls Matter, lobbied the Government for meaningful change in key areas of girls’ lives.

And there was also widespread reclamation of the F word – Beyonce standing in front of a ‘Feminist’ banner at the VMAs, Harriet Harman sporting a ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’ T-shirt in the House of Commons, Emma Watson’s trailblazing speech to the UN in New York as part of the He for She campaign.

But what personally blew me away more than anything else was seeing Mae West for the first time, in the 1933 film I’m No Angel.

It was a pretty surreal experience. We were camping in the Swaledale valley and watched the movie on an iPad inside the tent, Mae West’s witty one-liners almost drowned out by the bleating of sheep.

For me, that only enhanced the experience. Here was a woman who took on the might of the Hollywood studios single-handedly and succeeded in carving out a career as a screenwriter, producer and actor, retaining full control of everything she released at a time when women had only just won the vote.

A woman whose confidence oozed from the screen in buckets, she knew how sexy she was, just because she knew how sexy she was.

Mae’s characters are no angels. She played women with real desires and real self-respect, making their way in the world using their wits.

When she sways across the room in Klondike Annie (The 1935 film I treated myself to next), her body simply shouts ‘look at me’.

It’s not a body that fulfils current cultural ideas of feminine perfection. There’s hips, and a matronly bust, and maybe even a double chin perched above that Marabou-feathered robe.

But no-one cares, least of all Mae West. She continues to strut over to the drinks cabinet with a confidence that defies criticism.

I remember a few years ago there was a movement among young Republican Christians in America that involved asking one simple question whenever life presented an opportunity or dilemma: ‘What would Jesus do?’

So for 2015 I’m asking myself a similar question.

Only this time, it’s not the Big Man himself I’m looking to for inspiration. It’s Mae.

Since I first encountered her, I’ve been boning up (she’d have made that sound very saucy) on the ‘Come up and see me’ star – and now I’m even more in awe.

My favourite anecdote is this - when Mae took up with an African-American boxer, William Jones, the management of her apartment building wouldn’t let him ‘come up and see her’ because he was black. So she solved the problem by buying the building, and lifting the ban.

As great a year as 2014 may have been for feminism, nothing can beat the awesomeness of this act.

Long Mae her influence live on.

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