The depth and breadth of Iconic Femininity is perfectly illustrated by the letter A. Audre Lorde and Audrey Hepburn lived impressive lives and both became icons what it is to be a woman. Neither were women with which to trifle.
As a youth in the Netherlands in World War II Audrey Hepburn developed strength of character through hunger she faced and the French Resistance she supported and for which she occasionally ran messages as a courier. She donated money earned in secret dance performances to the resistance. Some of her lithe stature may have been due to malnourishment during the German occupation of the Netherlands.
Her iconic grace was probably due to her upper-crust political and blue-blooded noble lineage and the associated behavior expected of girls of such standing. Her mother, Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, was of Dutch descent, and her father, Joseph Victor Anthony Hepburn-Ruston, was born in Úzice, Bohemia, as a descendant of English and Austrian ancestry.
Givenchy’s muse, Audrey Hepburn is best known for her extensive acting career with many starring roles including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Roman Holiday but also won a Tony for Ondine on Broadway. After marrying Jose Ferrar , and later Andre Dotti, and having two children, she focused on humanitarian work with UNICEF as an ambassador, hosted a television documentary that highlighted her love of gardening, and she even had a tulip named after her, the Hepburn. She died at her home in Switzerland, at age 63, in 1993 from cancer.
Hepburn whose lithe, frail, frame projected a nymph-like maiden image, was anything but frail. Her passion and vitality, her spunk, if you will, was one of the iconic elements that helped to create her iconic image as part of Hollywood’s Golden Age. But she was created as a star when information about personal lives was carefully managed and staged. She exemplified one of the last larger than life, and carefully guarded, individuals.
Audre and Audrey
Audre Lorde lived at the same time as Audrey Hepburn but exemplified a new feminine archetype, perhaps based in part in old stereotypes, that has become more and more common in the information age. Secrets contributed to almost no part of Audre’s status as a public figure.
Audre Lorde came to typify something that did not really yet exist other than in her own exploration of race, place of origin, sex, gender, sexuality, in-groups, and out-groups, in the Western World. I find her to be one of the first proponents and teachers of intersectionality.
Well known in feminist, poetry, and intellectual circles by the last two decades of her life, she learned, taught, traveled and wrote in an ever larger spiral of influence throughout her life. Though she died young, in her late 50s, in the 1990s, her influence on contemporary society continues to resound and amplify.
Her parents were from the Caribbean and she grew up in Harlem in NYC. Her dark skin color distanced her from her light-skinned mother who valued her own “Spanish” appearance. Her parents were always involved in work. She also worked hard, got an education, earned a graduate degree, wrote poetry, and lived a provocative life uttering provocative thoughts with provocative words. She embraced the role of outsider by the time she was a teenager. By the time she was in her 30s she was publishing, speaking, traveling, and showing the world that complex identities define us, should never be allowed to divide us, and that we all need to educate ourselves so we can move forward together to a world of equality and beautiful difference.
These two women were so different, but were born within a few years of each other, lived through the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, dying in the early 1990s, at young age from cancers, but how different the iconic natures of the women they became. It seems as though they lived in different eras, on different worlds, but both lived in the U.S. much of their lives, traveled extensively, lived global lives, and worked as best they each knew how in careers they chose and threw what weight they had behind social justice.
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