My mom, thankfully, worked really hard to make sure that I grew up with all sorts of awesome women in my books, fictitious and historical. Since leaving school I’ve realized that a lot of people never get this experience, of knowing there are women defying gender roles and making marked contributions to humanity. One of her particular favorites among the real-life women always seemed to be Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who coined the computer term “bug.” My mom likes to remind us that she owns a nanosecond, thanks to Grace Hopper.
It is easy to miss all the women with such talent and style who have been in the world. Women in technology (and I assume other male-centric industries) often feel the need to hide their identity and blend in as much as they can. And history classes have been shaped so much over the years by old white men.
Personally, I have often looked to women in scifi like Jadzia Dax and Laura Roslin for role models with depth, balance, and strength. Lately though, my friends have all started having babies (some of them daughters) and that has gotten me thinking that we can’t all look to Star Trek in raising daughters. So with that and in response to International Women’s Day this year, I started thinking about women, like Grace Hopper and Notorious R.B.G., who blow me away with not just their accomplishments, but their style while accomplishing. Not just that they persevered and rose to the top, but that they did so with a certain grace, accessibility, and, I think, a truth to themselves. So I started a list: “Ellen’s List of Women So Badass I Can’t Even,” in no particular order.
- Rear Admiral Grace Hopper – early woman computer scientist who coined the term computer “bug” and invented the first compiler. She was a great and accessible speaker with a good sense of humor, with a passion for teaching the next generation well.
- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – one of only two female justices appointed to the Supreme Court. She earned positions on both the Harvard and Columbia Law Reviews while caring for a husband with cancer and a young daughter. With a great sense of humor, she is also the subject of a comedic opera and a petition for a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor.
- First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt – First lady to FDR, she empowered herself in response to his cheating, and went on to make huge contributions to campaigns for human rights and the US’s participation in the UN. She was considered “one of the most esteemed women in the world” during her life and was listed as one of the 20th Century’s Top Ten Most Widely Admired People.
- Doctor Jane Goodall – her name has become synonymous with research into our ape relatives and humanizing them, becoming “the only human ever accepted into chimpanzee society.” She also founded the Jane Goodall Institute for conservation and other programs in Africa and has earned a nice spectrum of prestigious awards for her work and advocacy.
- Oprah Winfrey – one of the most, if not the most, influential woman in the world, she has an impressive self-made American Dream success story. Her media presence has revolutionized TV and given her a platform for advocacy and inspiration.
These are women whose Wikipedia pages floor me with their accomplishments. Often in multiple areas such as renown in a technical field; adversity overcome; their charisma, humor and ability to speak well; philanthropy; and contributions to humanity. I think we can all agree that they are women worthy of being role models for the next generation we are raising. I’ve gotten some good nominees as well. Unfortunately the list is still very English-speaking and white, but I hope time (and your comments) will change that!
- Mother Teresa
- Helen Keller
- Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Jane Cochran)
- Joan Baez
- Meryl Streep
- Angelina Jolie
- Geena Davis
- Coco Chanel
- Doctor Temple Grandin
Please nominate further women of supreme awesomeness, and make sure women in your life know about how many examples there are. We need the next generation to know women are more than homemakers or feminazis. Who would you want to raise your (perhaps hypothetical) daughter looking up to?