First of all, a word about nomenclature. I have feminist friends that would kick MY ass for using the word “chick”, and I also have feminist friends who take pride in the fact that they have reclaimed their strength, identity, and language enough that they use the word themselves. Apologies if the word bothers you. Oh well. I say “dude” a lot too. The fact is, I had six sisters, and grew up in a community that’s so progressive that I really didn’t understand how un-evolved our culture really is until I was in my late teens. Since then, I’m perpetually perplexed at the modern world’s seeming inability to recognize the greatness of women, and instead often hold up the absurd foibles of men as symbols of greatness.
This really hit home for me recently as I was rounding up information on inspirational figures in history and the present day, in order to create a series of video clips like this one. It seemed that every time I went to do some research, it was men, men, men. This was equally true when I asked both male and female friends for suggestions; unless I specifically asked for names of women as inspirational figures, the lists were always skewed to about 80% male. So I asked a bunch of friends on Facebook for suggestions. The result was the list below, which has been an inspiring learning journey in itself. Most of the names link to Wikipedia; I tried to keep the descriptions useful but minimal.
One of my few heroes – male OR female – is Julia Butterfly Hill. She turned the experience of a near-fatal auto accident into a catalyst for personal change, pursued her passion for environmentalism, and eventually ended up keeping multi-million dollar logging company interests at bay BY HERSELF. She had supporters of course, but it was Hill’s physical presence – living on two six-by-six-foot platforms for 738 days at the top of a Redwood named “Luna” – that not only accomplished the goal of protecting all the redwoods in a 200 foot radius, but forced the logging company to donate funds to Humboldt State University as part of an agreement for research into sustainable forestry.
I would have never ended up with this list without the suggestions of a few friends. A special thanks to Jean Henry, Kimberley Brown, Molly Mason, Michael Brown, Johnnie Chamberlin-Brooks, Sara Feldman, Jenny Parker, Jeanne Adwani, Jackie Byars, Franky Bennett III, Hava Gurevich, Elena Shepard, Jeff Mason, and William Blaak for the helpful suggestions!
Feel free to suggest more in the comments….
Bella Abzug – American lawyer, Congresswoman, social activist.
Marion Anderson -American contralto and civil rights activist.
Maya Angelou – Poet, civil rights activist, dancer, playwright, film & television producer, author, actress, professor.
Diane Arbus – American photographer and writer.
Hannah Arendt – German American political theorist.
Mary Baker Eddy – Spiritual and religious leader, author, and lecturer, founder of Christian Science.
Simone de Beauvoir – Writer, philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist.
Grace Lee Boggs – Author, social activist, and feminist.
Louise Bourgeois – Sculptor, installation artist, painter; founder of “confessional art”.
Rachel Carson – Marine biologist, writer, and pioneering environmentalist.
Anne Carson – Poet, essayist, translator and professor of Classics.
Marie Curie – Physicist and chemist, pioneer of radioactivity research. Won Nobel Prize in multiple sciences.
Bette Davis – Actress and first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Marlene Deitrich – Pioneering entertainer and champion of sexual expression.
Emily Dickinson – Legendary and innovative “pre-modernist” poet.
Marguerite Duras – French writer and film director.
Amelia Earhart – Aviation pioneer and author.
Sally Field – Actress, filmmaker, screenwriter, health and women’s rights activist.
Anne Frank – Holocaust victim and author of “The Diary of a Young Girl”.
Emma Goldman – Anarchist political theorist and activist, writer.
Hildegard of Bingen – 12th century writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, Benedictine abbess & visionary.
Julia Butterfly Hill – Activist and environmentalist
bell hooks – Author, feminist, and social activist.
Grace Hopper – Pioneering computer scientist; developer of “human friendly” programming languages; US Naval officer.
Zora Neale Hurston – American folklorist, anthropologist, and author.
Molly Ivins – Newspaper columnist, populist, political commentator, humorist and author.
Jane Jacobs – Writer, Urban theorist.
Barbara Jordan – American politician and a leader of the Civil Rights movement; recpitent of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Joan of Arc – Folk heroine of France and Roman Catholic saint.
Hedy Lamarr – Actress, inventor. Invented early technique for “frequency hopping”, required for wireless communication.
Karen Lewis – Chicago Teachers Union President
Ada Lovelace – English mathematician and writer known for her work on early mechanical computers.
Rachel Maddow – TV host, political commentator, author. First openly gay anchor of a prime-time news program in the US.
Wilma Mankiller – First female Chief of the Cherokee Nation; recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bridget Mary McCormack – University of Michigan Law School professor; 2012 Michigan Supreme Court Candidate.
Toni Morrison – Nobel & Pulitzer Prize winning author of African American literature.
Sandra Day O’Connor – Retired United States Supreme Court justice.
Georgia O’Keefe – Artist. Rose to prominence decades before women had gained access to art training in America’s colleges and universities
Rosa Parks – Civil rights activist; often referred to as “the first lady of civil rights”.
Sylvia Plath – Poet, novelist, and short story writer credited with advancing the genre of “confessional poetry”.
Ayn Rand – Political philosopher and propagandist.
Condoleezza Rice – American political scientist and diplomat.
Ann Richards – 45th Governor of Texas.
Eleanor Roosevelt – First Lady, politician, and lifelong civil rights advocate.
Sappho – Ancient Greek lyric poet.
Sacagawea – Native interpreter and guide to Lewis & Clark in their exploration of the Western United States.
Diane Sawyer – Television journalist, press aide in Nixon White House.
Anne Sexton – Pulitzer Prize winning poet.
Maria Shriver – Journalist & author.
Esperanza Spaulding – Musician, composer, educator, bandleader
Gertrude Stein – American writer, poet, and art collector.
Gloria Steinem – Journalist and activist recognized as a leader and spokesperson of the women’s liberation movement.
Martha Stewart – Business magnate, author, publisher, and television personality.
Suzanne Somers – Face it, the Thighmaster changed the world.
Mother Theresa – Nobel Peace Prize winner, humanitarian and Catholic nun.
Sojourner Truth – Nineteenth century abolitionist and women’s rights activist
Harriet Tubman – Abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War.
Marianne Williamson – Spiritual activist, author, lecturer and founder of The Peace Alliance
Oprah Winfrey – Chairwoman, CEO, and CCO of the Oprah Winfrey Network; CEO of Harpo Productions.
Beatrice Wood – American artist and potter, who late in life was dubbed the “Mama of Dada”.
Victoria Woodhull – Leader of the woman’s suffrage movement, advocate of Free Love, civil rights activist.
Virginia Woolfe – English writer regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century.