I’ve thought about this. And oh heavens. There are loads.
Family: For a start, my mum who left school at 16, came to the UK from East Germany – where she met my dad – with barely a word of English and now earns more than most of my friends with degrees. Also my cousin Miriam who did a Biochemistry PhD in half the usual time.
Politicians: Foreign politics has quite a number, from Aung San Suu Kyi to Condi Rice (I detest most of the latter’s opinions but her achievements are undeniable). The UK list needs to be lots bigger than it is. If I – with an A Level and half a degree in politics for actual flying fuck’s sake – am struggling to name names, that is Not A Good Thing. If the whole Labour party was like Stella Creasy it’d make up for Blair.
Academia: Judith Butler. Author of Gender Trouble and saviour of my largely repetitious and useless degree. Also Meg Barker, author of Rewriting the Rules, and psychologist Dr Petra Boyton, currently the Telegraph’s agony aunt.
Media: The likes of Zoe Williams, Lucy Mangan, Marina Hyde and Kirsty Wark inspired me to become a journalist. For which more fool them, but still. Emily Maitlis made the BBC London news (“stabbing, hospital closure, shooting”) sunnier, which more than merits her rise to presenting Newsnight. And historically, people often forget Rachel Beer was the first female newspaper editor, back in 1891.
Singers: Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Edith Piaf, Judy Collins, Hope Sandoval, Beth Orton, Ani DiFranco, Kim Deal, Kirsty MacColl, Melissa Auf Der Maur, Throwing Muses, Siouxsie Sioux, Kate Bush, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Karen O, Justine Frischmann, Neneh Cherry, Ladyhawke/Pip Brown, all the riot-grrl bands. What the hell, everyone from Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin to Shakespeare’s Sister and Alisha’s Attic. I could go on and on… Also, the great portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz who did a lot of work for Rolling Stone back in the day.
Thesps: Loads from the 90s golden years of Brit cinema and telly: Saskia Reeves, Marianne Jean Baptiste, Katrin Cartlidge, Charlotte Coleman (both gone too soon), Saffron Burrows, Daniela Nardini, Anna Chancellor, Shirley Henderson. Ditto a lot of 90s comedians.
Authors and screenwriters: Growing up, Malorie Blackman (really good 90s YA fiction author) stood out as my favourite. Two great modern YA authors are Rae Earl, author of My Mad Fat Diary (who I can just about claim to know personally) and Nicola Morgan. I don’t have many standout favourite adult authors, being generally led by plots and themes rather than writers, but Stella Duffy is a good strong voice and I adore everyone involved in Mslexia, the magazine for women writers. Fay Weldon’s Big Women was my intro to modern feminism. In screenwriting there’s Kay Mellor (Band of Gold), Maureen Chadwick (co-founder of Shed Productions) and Julie Rutterford (worked on Brookside in its heyday and has since created a couple of big TV dramas).
And of course, H., the only woman I’ve ever loved in a “If you were thus inclined I would jump your bones and then read you bits out of the Sunday papers over croissants” way. She wasn’t, least of all towards me, and frankly nor is she very ‘inspiring’ with the benefit of lovely hindsight, but for the bad sixth-form poetry produced in her name she merits a mention (and if you have a problem with this a la Lord Tebbit, kindly toddle off please, thanking you).
NB: This is an overwhelmingly middle-class white list because I am those things, and grew up in the 90s when close to literally the entire public sphere was. I am as pro this changing as any decent human being – which incidentally, I think is best achieved by recruiting talented people from underrepresented groups at influential levels, as opposed to clueless writers creating token characters, or blog posts about intersectionalism and underrepresentation written by white cis middle-class undergraduates, which achieve next-to-nowt…
[Edited to add: My friend Lotte has written a brilliant list of her own choices over at her blog. Go read it!]