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Sisters are doin’ it for Themselves

In 1985, inspired by suffragettes, Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin sang ‘Sisters are doin’ it for themselves’.

Pre social media, this feminist anthem seemed to galvanise a generation, with the song being featured in ‘First Wives Club’ and ‘Legally Blonde 2’ as well as cover versions being produced by the Spice Girls and Kylie Minogue.  Promoting female empowerment and equality, the song remains as relevant today as it did when it was written. 


March is designated ‘Women’s History Month’ and in 2024 it especially recognises women who work to eliminate bias and discrimination across society.  Unsurprisingly, Isobel springs to mind.  Defying societal expectations and challenging the constraints placed on women in the early 20th century, she has surely earned her place in the roster of females who have changed our world for the better.

Throughout history, the contributions of women have often been overshadowed or overlooked, yet perhaps this perceived invisibility and/or the underestimation which so often comes with it, has become the driving force encouraging women to break the mould of the ‘fairer sex’.

 Isobel Wylie Hutchison explored the Arctic showing that a life of adventure was not only possible as a woman but should be positively encouraged

Isobel was born in 1889 and lived a long and exceptional life until 1982.  During that time, she broke many biological gender norms, proving herself across countries and disciplines and challenging expectations at every turn.  Though her catalyst was personal, her achievements have gone on to inspire both men and women alike.


In an age when it was believed women weren’t suited for science or writing, Isobel excelled in both.  As a trained botanist and accomplished author, she showed that women were just as capable as men of intellectual rigor.  Additionally, with her exploration of the Arctic and other harsh environments, she showed that a life of adventure was not only possible as a woman but should be positively encouraged.  Indeed, she thrived in male dominated fields with such tenacity and grace, that she earned the respect of those around her and became validated as a peer through awards such as the Mungo Park Medal.

Elsie Ingles. Isobel Wylie Hutchison. Mary Slessor. Muriel Spark.

During Isobel’s lifetime, many other Scottish women were also challenging the status quo.  Mary Slessor (1848-1915) was an Aberdonian who made significant contributions to the betterment of Nigerian’s women’s rights.  Like Isobel, Mary understood the importance of communication, learning local languages and adapting to African customs to make positive change.  Where men of the time were there to conquer, Mary was there to teach and to learn – themes which feature large in Isobel’s life too.


Elsie Inglis (1864-1917) was a trailblazing Scottish Doctor and Surgeon who founded the first Women’s hospitals during WW1.   Isobel and her sister volunteered to support the war efforts at home and it’s likely they would have known of the suffragist and campaigner for women and children’s health.  As with Isobel, Elsie refused to adapt to female stereotypes and her first-hand experiences put her in a unique position to encourage other women to break through self-doubt.  She told her own story, which became a powerful rallying cry for others to study medicine and break into the ‘man’s world’.


Sharing Isobel’s love of poetry and storytelling, Muriel Spark (1918-2006) an iconic author, wrote ‘The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie’, exploring themes of female independence and the complexities of mentorship.  Muriel used writing to change thinking, open discussions and ultimately plant seeds of change.  Her books (like Isobel’s) reflect the society she lived in, yet advocate alternative possibilities.  No pseudonyms needed.


It takes courage for women to fight for equity, diversity and inclusion when established forces aim to misinterpret, exploit or discredit them, but in these pursuits Mary, Elsie, Muriel and Isobel were fearless.  Their stories serve as a beacon, reminding us that the pursuit of knowledge knows no biological gender boundaries.


Women’s history month is not just a time for reflection; it’s a call to action, acknowledging the challenges that persist and calling future generations to ask why.  “Here’s to strong women.  May we know them.  May we be them.  May we raise them.” Unknown.







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The North Star Explorer

Learn more about Isobel’s passion for the natural world, her experience of travelling to remote places and her encounters expressed through art and creative writing.

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