Feature: Portrait – Hedy Lamarr


Many will have heard of Hedy Lamarr – she was considered the most beautiful woman of film, had one of the most controversial film roles of the 30s and she was reportedly the inspiration for Anne Hathaway’s version of Catwoman. Not as many will have heard of the other side of this remarkable woman – the inventor and mathematician. She and her colleague George Antheil laid the ground work for frequency-hopping spread spectrum, which is the basis for the spread-spectrum communications technology we use pretty much daily in the form of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Lamarr was born Hedwig Kiesler to Jewish parents in Vienna on the 9th of November 1914. In the late 1920s she was discovered as an actress by German producer Max Reinhardt. After her theater training in Berlin she returned to Vienna and started working in the film industry. It was there she met and married military arms merchant Friedrich Mandl. A very controlling husband, Mandl took Hedy along to business meetings and keeping her more or less locked up at their castle home Schloss Schwarzenau, where according to Lamarr herself both Hitler and Mussolini attended parties. These business meetings and conferences introduced Lamarr to the idea of applied science, and was the start of her scientific interest. What she overheard during those meetings would spur her scientific efforts at the start of the second world war.

Finding her situation unbearable, she eventually escaped to Paris where she met talent scout Louis B. Mayer. On his insistence she changed her name to Hedy Lamarr and on her arrival in Hollywood in 1938 Mayer promoted her as the world’s most beautiful woman. This was the start of a Hollywood career that would span two decades and 25 films.

When World War II began, Lamarr wanted to use her scientific interest and the information she overheard during Mandl’s business meetings to thwart the plans of Nazi Germany. She began investigating ways to bypass jamming and detection of radio controlled torpedos. After several years of working by herself she brought in avant-garde composer George Antheil to the project, and together they devised an invention which hopped between 88 frequencies. The U.S. Military were not interested – they thought Hedy would do more for he war effort by promoting war bonds – and the invention was forgotten for twenty years. Then, during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, it was used by U.S. ships to during the blockade.

It wasn’t until 1997, however, that Lamarr was recognized for her research when the Electronic Frontier Foundation honored her with a special ‘Pioneer Award’ and she became the first woman to receive the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. A year later, Wi-LAN Inc. acquired 49% of the patent for an undisclosed sum and thanks to that we now have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology, among other things.

In 2014, Lamarr and Antheil were inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame.

Feature: Portrait – Murasaki Shikibu

First out in my series of women who should be more known is Lady Murasaki Shikibu – author of the earliest known modern novel, Genji Monogatari, or The Tale of Genji.


The Tale of Genji is not an unknown work by any stretch of the imagination – it is considered a Japanese classic and a very important work – but here in the western world few have heard of it and I think it is well worth noting that the first modern novelist in recorded history was a woman. The novel itself is divided into three parts, consisting of 54 chapters in total, and it curiously ends in mid-sentence (scholars have debated if the ending is actually the intended one or if there may be parts missing). Many different versions of the book exists, some with small differences and later editions with extra chapters written by other authors, but the original has unfortunately been lost to time.

Lady Murasaki was an author and poet born somewhere around the year 973 AD in Japan and in the early 11th century she entered the service of Empress Shōshi as a lady-in-waiting. Her true identity remains uncertain. There exists no portraits of her and no literary descriptions, and the name Murasaki comes from one of the major characters in her novel. It is believed she may have been Fujiwara Takako – a lady-in-waiting mentioned in a court diary in 1007, but no one knows for sure. She died somewhere between 1014 and 1025.

Besides The tale of Genji, she is attributed authorship of The Diary of Lady Murasaki – a diary written in three distinctly different parts and Poetic Memoirs, a collection of 128 poems.


Commentary: #HeForShe

Emma Watson is in the hot seat for her views on gender inequality.

Dear Reader, if you’ve been living under a rock – or perhaps under a bridge – you might have missed Emma’s gender equality speech in the UN this past Saturday. If so, I’ve included it here for your convenience. Please take the thirteen minutes to watch this if you haven’t seen it:

Now, before I comment on the speech itself, let me talk a bit about my own position in this matter.

Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of strong, varied – sometimes stereotypical – role models: everything from politically active and outspoken women, real ‘man’s man’ working men, successful business leaders, self-sacrificing house wives, artists and musicians, bikers, gay florists, sailors, dedicated teachers, farmers and entrepreneurs – native Swedes as well as immigrants from a wide variety of countries. Most of the women around me were far from the soft spoken, demure, submissive stereotype (naturally – few women belong to that stereotype). As such, I’ve never really felt the gender stereotypes to be as powerful and cemented in as they obviously are in the world. Almost every company I’ve been employed by have had equal salaries and a fair amount of women in at least lower to middle management. Part of it is growing up in the capital of one of the most gender equal countries in the world, I’m sure – part of it is being raised in a family of strong, outspoken, confident women. Even so, I’ve been surrounded by the objectification of women and the idea of gender stereotypes, as well as gender prejudice. It’s hard not to, in modern society.

To me, gender equality has always been a given, yet I have been loathe to call myself a feminist.

As Emma mentions in her speech, the word has lost a lot of its meaning to many people, and has been infected by the male-bashing, man-hating side of the issue. There are many, many different types of feminism out there today and many of them can’t agree with one another. Some are of the ‘men are scum’-type of opinion, some deny any biological differences between the genders, some want to preserve gender stereotypes but create equal opportunity, some want to eliminate gender altogether, some want forced equality on all levels, some want freedom of choice – and everything in between. At this point, the statement ‘I’m a feminist’ is just not enough – depending on who you speak to, they will assume very different things about you.

Our various societies and cultures still have a very long way to go before we reach anything resembling true gender equality. Some cultures and nations are a lot closer to it than others, like my own native Sweden. But even those countries have a long way to go. And gender inequality doesn’t just affect women. However, if you speak out about the negative effects on men you become an instant target. Men are the privileged ones, after all. Shining a light on their problems is just diverting from the real issue, and – according to some – just another way of oppressing women. I couldn’t disagree more. The fact that men also suffer under gender inequality does not in any way diminish or invalidate the struggles of women! On the contrary – it adds to the problem and it needs to be discussed. By everyone.

Much like Emma Watson, I’m speaking from a point of privilege – does that make us less qualified?

Emma Watson has gotten some critique for just that – her privilege. Some have seen a petite, prettied-up young wealthy white woman speak in a quivering voice and felt that this somehow diminishes her message. They see a woman ‘appealing to men’ and fitting into a stereotype that they are fighting against. To me, they couldn’t be more wrong.

The fight against gender inequality needs all of us.

A privileged rich young woman speaking out in this way, to this crowd, will likely have a greater impact than if it had been a child bride from some third world country up there on the podium. People listen to, and respond to, those within their own group first and foremost. I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t have been as affected by the speech had it been a young oppressed African girl recently escaped from a slave-like marriage. Not because I do not value her experience, but because I cannot identify as much with her. This is not due to prejudice or arrogance – it is only natural to listen more closely to the group you identify with the most. It is basic survival and human interaction 101: you need a cohesive group to accomplish anything, and the opinions of those closest to you mean the most.

Like attracts like.

Yes, we need oppressed women of color speaking out against gender prejudice – but this does not mean that we don’t need people like Emma Watson. Gender equality is not about separation, segregation or an ‘us against them’-mentality. It’s about inclusion. We need good role models speaking out from all walks of life – all genders, all social standings, all occupations, all cultures.

We need Everyone.