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Social justice

Our first heroes

If you volunteer you have to be pretty dedicated. Juggling work or study and running a social life is a lot when you're also volunteering a couple days a week. But people volunteer because they believe in a cause so much they want to stick it out.

This doesn’t occur in a vacuum. We’ve been motivated by role models along the way. Our heroes are sourced from anywhere and everywhere, from the exceptional to the everyday, real to 2-Dimensional, purposeful warriors to the accidental. Here is a taste of the heroes that first inspired us.

Lisa Simpson, by Olivia McLardie

Lisa became my hero in the Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy episode. Mortified to discover her talking Malibu Stacy doll is embellished with sexist phrases like "thinking too much gives you wrinkles" and "let’s buy makeup so the boys will like us", she takes action against brand executives. Her anger at the toy company fuels her to track down the doll’s creator, and make her own empowered doll to counteract Stacy’s messages. Pretty good for an 8 year old.

I liked this episode because Lisa espoused how I felt about pop culture growing up in the so called post-feminist 1990s. Female characters, when they did make appearances in otherwise male dominated casts, were reduced to their sexuality, nauseatingly nice, and stupid, much like Stacy herself. I liked Lisa because I understood her motivation; underneath all her actions and anger was the absolute heartbreak of losing one of her only role models and desperately searching for a replacement.

Lisa is of course a cartoon character. But she is also a famous figure worldwide, whose stories are broadcast to millions. In the midst of her desperate search for a role model, like for so many others, she became my role model too. I learnt the Saxophone at school because of her. I took on her pragmatic dating advice when she was with Nelson. Because I respected her intelligence, I listened to her political beliefs. She used her anguish at injustice to fuel her activism.

In arguably the series' most touching moment, Lisa’s favourite teacher Mr Bergstrom hands her the note she should read when she feels most alone; "You are Lisa Simpson". Her opinions can sometimes isolate her, and she feels lost in a town not as open-minded as she is. Yet here she is reminded that the only person she needs to believe in, even in times of great uncertainty, is herself. We are all enough as we are.

Hermione Granger, by Skye Davey

Like most of my generation, I was raised with the characters from Harry Potter. I remember my Dad reading the books to me every night before bed as clearly as can I remember dressing up in a Witch’s hat and cape for the premier of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I loved everything about J.K.’s fantastical world. She inspired me to believe in the magic of Hogwarts and gave me my first hero, Hermione Granger.

Hermione was the first female character I knew who wasn’t portrayed as a romantic interest for one of the main characters. She was kind, caring and a loyal friend but she wasn’t defined by her relationship with Harry or Ron. As an empowered character she was smart, brave and wasn’t afraid to take risks when it came to protecting her friends.

With the launch of SPEW (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare) in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hermione inspired me to look around and become more socially aware. I’d always wanted to help others but she showed me that you can always lend your voice to someone in need, no matter your age.

When I began reading teen fiction, Hermione’s independence became more meaningful than ever. It became popular for most female characters to be vulnerable, naive and delicate (I’m looking at you Twilight era). Hermione’s ongoing resilience and perseverance through the darker arcs of the series showed me and a bunch of other young girls how important it is to stay strong when things get tough, fight back and keep moving forward.   

I was gobsmacked to hear about the backlash when black woman Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermione in the UK production of The Cursed Child. The fact that people were so outraged that Hermione might not be white really demonstrates how important it is - for the sake of young people everywhere - that more people of colour are cast in these huge roles.

Florence Nightingale, by Rosie O’Neil Donnellon.

I first heard about Florence Nightingale when I was six years old. Growing up in London, I’d just started Year One when we began learning about the famous Brits in history. Most of the info didn’t stick but after one lesson that focused on “The Lady with the Lamp”, we were all sent home from school with a colouring-in picture of Florence Nightingale. I loved my picture so much that I made sure to colour in the picture perfectly and hang it on my wall by my bed.

Of course at six years old I didn’t really know much about Florence Nightingale beyond the fact that she was famous for caring for wounded soldiers and carrying a lamp around with her. That didn’t stop me from finding her super cool and inspiring though. From what I’d learnt about Florence I grew up wanting to be a nurse like her. It wasn’t until I was a lot older that I realised blood made me queasy and that there was more to the lady of the £10 note than I’d first realised.

While she’s best known for laying the foundations of modern nursing, Florence was also an accomplished writer, praised statistician, suspected mystic and one hell of a social rights advocate. In her lifetime she actively worked to improve healthcare in Britain, decriminalise prostitution, encourage female participation in the workforce and expanding the women’s rights movement as well as campaigning against hunger in India. And all of this during the 19th century.

As I’ve grown up and come to appreciate the scale of her achievements and the role she filled in society, I feel very grateful that I unknowingly picked a hero who would continue to inspire me into my adult life.