For centuries women have had to tackle the myths surrounding motherhood. From the Madonna figure sacrificing everything for the child to the dutiful housewife juggling chores, mothers have always been expected to put themselves last.
But in 2019 it’s about time to bust open the myths and shine a light on a diverse range of trailblazing ladies. From the mothers working and raising families against the odds, to the record-breaking women who refused to stick to the status quo, this is a celebration of just some of the women who have created their own version of motherhood.
After all, there’s nothing more badass than being a mum.
Daphne Ceeney was one of Australia’s most dedicated and pioneering athletes. She was the first woman to compete in the Paralympic Games, winning a career total of 14 medals across swimming, table tennis, athletics, archery and fencing. Talk about multi-talented!
Growing up in the town of Harden-Murrumburrah, New South Wales, Daphne was 17 when she broke her back in a horse-riding accident and became paraplegic.
But not even this life-altering injury could dampen her enthusiasm for sport; during rehabilitation she set her sights on the Paralympic Games. At the time, sport for people with disabilities was dominated by men, but that didn’t stop Daphne. In 1960, she was the only Australian female athlete in the Paralympics in Rome, and she ended up winning six of Australia’s 10 medals. Daphne went on to compete in three Paralympics between 1960 and 1968.
On becoming pregnant with twins, Daphne applied the same fierce determination she’d shown on the sporting stage to her impending role as a mum. Once more she defied assumptions about what her body was capable of, spending six months in hospital in order to safely deliver her children.
Daphne Ceeney didn’t let anything deter her from her dreams of being an athlete or a mother. She will be remembered as a true trailblazer.
The powerful soul singer Aretha Franklin was just 12 when she became pregnant with her first son. She was a mother of two by the time she was 14.
While her talent as a musician was profound even as a child – at seven, she could replay a tune on a piano after hearing it once – Aretha’s early life, according to her sister Erma, was rough and led to a life of ‘silent suffering’.
Aretha was 19 when she married her first husband, Ted White, and when her first hit Won’t be Long charted in the Top 100. The young mother had her third son, Ted Jnr, with White. However, their marriage was short-lived due to White’s abusive behaviour. Her youngest son, Kecalf, was born in 1970 with her road manager, Ken Cunningham.
Despite her rough beginnings, Aretha achieved icon status. Her songs became anthems for women around the world fighting for respect, independence and recognition.
“We can all learn a little something from each other, so whatever people can take and be inspired by where my music is concerned is great,’ she told Time.
In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Aretha will be remembered as an unparalleled talent who inspired women around the world to demand R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Mum Shirl, born Colleen Shirley Perry, is remembered as a passionate and dedicated advocate for Aboriginal rights and welfare. She was a founding member of the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the Aboriginal Children’s Service and the Aboriginal Housing Company in Redfern.
Her lifelong career caring and fighting for her community began when her brother was imprisoned. She would visit him regularly, and when he was released she continued to visit, providing support for the other prisoners. When asked what her relation to a prisoner was, she would say, “I’m his mum” – and so she became ‘Mum Shirl’. She would provide guidance and support to prisoners who were unfamiliar with the legal system.
While money was tight, she always used what she had to care for others in her community. When parents were unable to care for their children, she found homes for them. She also helped reunite separated children with their parents. If she couldn’t find a home for a particular child she would take them in herself – it is estimated she raised 60 children. Mum Shirl shows just how limitless a mother’s love can be.
Wangari Muta Maathai
Kenyan environmental warrior Wangari Muta Maathai fought tirelessly for environmental conservation and the rights of women. In 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
After earning a scholarship to study in the United States, Wangari completed a Masters in Biological Science. She then pursued her Doctorate, first studying in Germany and later returning to Nairobi as an assistant lecturer. In 1971, as a mother of two, she became the first woman in east and central Africa to obtain a PhD from an African university.
In 1977, Wangari formed the grassroots organisation the Green Belt Movement, which worked towards bettering the lives of African women through land protection and community tree-planting initiatives. This movement resulted in the planting of over 30 million trees across Kenya and provided an estimated 30,000 women with new skills.
Wangari was a tireless advocate for women and the environment until her death in 2011. Wangari’s children continue her good work: her eldest daughter, Wanjira, is the Chairperson of the Green Belt Movement, and her son, Waweru, is a founding member of the Wangari Maathai Foundation.
This is an extract from Badass Mums illustrated by Sarah Firth (Affirm Press, $19.99), out now.