International Women’s Day: 5 women who have shaped the world of art and culture

Officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8th to recognize achievement’s women.

While this day serves to uphold the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world, recognize challenges, focus greater attention on women’s rights, it also raises awareness about gender inequality, and advocates for women’s rights and empowerment. 

Thanks to their boundless creativity and undeniable talents, women have left their mark on our cultural landscape. Let’s take a closer look at five female figures from the past and present, as well as their iconic works.

Elena Ferrante, L’amica geniale

Under this pseudonym, an unknown woman became one of the most famous and beloved Italian authors of the past decade. While the true identity of the author has been the subject of much speculation and debate, Ferrante’s novels have received numerous literary awards and have been translated into numerous languages.

Her most famous work, L’amica geniale follows two friends, Elena and Lila, in the heart of a working-class neighborhood in post-war Naples and is the first of Ferrante’s quadrilogy Neapolitan series.

Did you know? An eponymous TV series was created in 2018 by Saverio Costanzo and features mainly Neapolitan dialect.

Learn more about other Italian authors and novels in our dedicated piece.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Nanas

Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American artist known for her large-scale sculptures and installations. She was also a filmmaker, writer, and social activist, particularly on issues related to women.

Saint Phalle’s work often explored themes of feminism, gender, and sexuality. One of her most famous series of sculptures is the Nanas, large, colorful, and voluptuous female figures. The Nanas were created in response to the sexism and objectification of women in the art world, and they celebrate the power and beauty of the female form.

Les Nanas – Niki de Saint Phalle

Saint Phalle was also an advocate for women’s rights. She spoke out against gender inequality and worked to promote women’s empowerment. She was a founding member of the Women’s Caucus for Art and participated in the feminist art movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Saint Phalle’s work and activism helped to open up new possibilities for women in the arts, and she remains an important figure in the history of feminist art.

Check out our list of other artists who shaped art and culture in America.

Nena, 99 Luftballons

Born Gabriele Susanne Kerner, Nena is a German singer, songwriter, and actress who rose to international fame in the 1980s with her hit song 99 Luftballons.  

The song tells the story of 99 balloons being released into the sky, which are mistaken for UFOs by military forces. This misunderstanding leads to an escalation of tensions, and eventually, war breaks out. The song is widely regarded as a protest against the Cold War and the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Nena continued to release albums and singles, both in German and English. Her music blends pop, rock, and new wave influences, and she often sang about love, freedom, and social issues. In addition to her music career, Nena has also worked as an actress in films and TV shows, including the German crime series “Tatort”. She has also been a coach on the German version of “The Voice”.

Discover other iconic German-speaking singers in our article. 

Las chicas del cable, Gema R. Neira and Teresa Fernandez-Valés 

Known as “Cable Girls” in English, Las chicas del cable is a Spanish period drama that premiered in 2017, and is the first ever Spanish original series produced by Netflix. It was co-produced by three directors, including two women (Spanish-born Gema R. Neira and Teresa Fernandez-Valés) and acclaimed both internationally and on its home turf by audiences and critics alike, with praise for its strong performances, engaging storyline, and compelling historical setting.

The series, set in Madrid in the late 1920s and early 1930s, follows a group of four young women who work as switchboard operators for a telecommunications company. The show explores the personal and professional struggles of these women as they navigate love, friendships, and their roles in a changing society.

Las chicas del cable has been praised for its strong female characters, its exploration of feminist themes, and its historical accuracy.  

Here is a non-exhaustive list of other Spanish series you’re bound to love.

France Gall, Résiste

France Gall was a French singer who rose to fame in the 1960s and became one of the most popular French singers of her generation. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, France Gall continued to release hit songs and albums, and her popularity extended beyond France to other European countries.  

In addition to her music career, Gall also acted in films and on television, and she was known for her humanitarian work. She was particularly involved in the fight against AIDS and helped to raise awareness and funds for the cause.

One of France Gall’s most famous songs is Résiste, which is about resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. It is also a tribute to those who fought for equity and justice throughout history. Released at a time when women were fighting for equal rights, particularly in terms of access to education, salary, and social recognition, the anthem calls for individual resistance and questioning, and can simultaneously be considered feminist and revolutionary.

Want to know more about french songs and singers, don’t you? Check out our article on 5 French-speaking artists.

It goes without saying that these women, and so many others, have influenced culture throughout history and will continue to inspire generations to come.

Find these cultural extracts in the “Dessert” section shown at the end of each of our online language lessons, which features authentic extracts from films, series, songs and literature and aims to reveal the cultural richness and diversity of the language.

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