Why The 20th Century Wasn’t Long Enough For Women

At the beginning of this year, the people of the UK were encouraged to vote for the one individual they considered to be the most iconic being of the 20th century.

Screened on BBC 2, various exemplars were pitted against one another in categories that ranged from leaders to explorers, scientists to entertainers, as well as activists, sports stars and artists.

What was interesting (but possibly unsurprising) was that the final did not include one single female.

In contention for the winning position during the final episode of Icon Of The 20th Century were Dr. Martin Luther King, Alan Turing, Nelson Mandela, Ernest Shackleton, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali and Pablo Picasso.

So, with distinguished names such as Margaret Thatcher, Marie Curie and Emmeline Pankhurst having formerly been in the running, what can be said of the outcome?

“The 20th century largely was the history of men, told by men.” Claire Balding

It can be argued that you are unable to become an icon unless you have the limelight. There is no denying that many women made substantial and monumental impacts within the 20th century – so perhaps if the 20th century had been longer then the outcome would have been vastly different.

Women are only now starting to be recognised in their own right, finding their voices, making a stand and being heard. We, as women, were not blessed with as much of a profile or presence for the majority of the 20th century, but if we were to relook at the list of icons in 50 years’ time, it could be a very different story.

Alan Turing went on to win the title of ‘Ultimate Icon’ at the climax of the overall contest. If you are unfamiliar with his work he is credited as deciphering the Enigma Machine and aiding an allied victory in World War II. He was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts which were considered to be grossly indecent during this era and his struggles with sexuality and the ill-repute it brought about eventually led to his suicide 2 years later.

"While he was punished for being different, his work celebrated diversity. Under the circumstances, that makes him truly iconic." Chris Packham

What is particularly potent about the final of this competition is – despite the lack of women - there were a total of three black men and one gay man within the ultimate line-up and that itself is proof of how far humanity has come within the last century, and that diversity and acceptance is changing the world.

An oak tree can sometimes take 30 years to create one single acorn – perhaps some things really do need time and patience to come to fruition.