Canon for my daughter

As a feminist, I know that making canons is not necessarily a good thing. However, we also cannot do without them. We need to teach our children, we need works by smarter people than us (at least in fields we do not know much about) to do so – and we need examples to make it all appealing. With selection, inevitably, there will be some form of canonization, and I do not care much for where we are right now. Moreover, the importance of female role models for girls cannot be underestimated in my view. Today, I read an article on Jocelyn Bell Burnell. She discovered the first pulsar when she was 24, but received no credit whatsoever. Her thesis supervisor got the Nobel Prize. He did not refuse, he did not make a public statement about the discovery being his pupil’s, no, he took it. Bell Burnell did not make the canon of Great Scientists.

Hers is a name I want my daughter to learn and to remember. Jocelyn Bell Burnell. I want her to know that women have done and still do amazing things, but that they are too easily overlooked or forgotten. And that we need to make extra effort to make sure that at least we, my daughter and I, know about them. So I am building us an alternative canon, of people and their works, as an addition to all the white men my daughter will learn about in school. I also want her to learn about Dutch women who did well, not just the Americans; not just the white folks, not just the heterosexuals.

It is not ideal, but it is better than nothing. I will build it here, simply, as a list. I will expand it and it will grow until there are so many role models on there my daughter won’t know where to begin. It’ll be ecclectic, it’ll be messy, it’ll keep needing work.* It’ll be fine.

That is a promise to you, my wonderful, funny and smart T.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half of a yellow sun
Margaret Atwood – A handmaid’s tale
Djuna Barnes – Nightwood
Naima El Bezaz – De verstotene
Najoua Bijjir – El weswes
Renate Dorrestein – Een hart van steen
Elke Geurts – De weg naar zee
Esther Gerritsen – Superduif
Hella Haasse – Kleren maken de vrouw
Margaret Laurence – The fire-dwellers
Doeschka Meijsing – 100% chemie
Margriet de Moor – De verdronkene
Toni Morrison – Beloved
Connie Palmen – De vriendschap
Ali Smith – The accidental
Sarah Waters – Tipping the velvet
Betje Wolff & Aagje Deken – De historie van mejuffrouw Sara Burgerhart

Jocely Bell Burnell – Astronomer – discovered the first pulsar
Karina van Dalen-Oskam – Professor Computational Literary Studies
Maria Montessori – Physician and educator
Lillian Lee – Professor Computer Science – gave one of the awesomest keynotes I ever saw @ NAACL
Helen Parkhurst – Educator, creator of Dalton Schools
Maria Popova – Journalist and editor of
Gloria Wekker – Professor emeritus Gender studies – published White Innocence
Sally Wyatt – Professor Digital Cultures in Development and leader of

The Hours – not made by women, but well done; it’s about women and who they are
Sense and Sensibility (1995) – Emma Thompson turns out to be the only person who can translate Austen’s wit to the screen

* The whole list as yet consists of people (and works that were made) in North-America or Europe. This is not okay. But it would also be a problem if I misread/misinterpret works or accomplishments of people from cultural backgrounds far from my own; I want to avoid cultural appropriation. I am not yet sure how I will solve this.


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