In life, as we grow older, our perspectives grow evermore jaded as we realize that nothing is as facile as it originally seems. Our childhood dreams of becoming actresses, doctors, or politicians seem virtually impossible to achieve, as obstacles arise at every turn. The things that were once simple seem difficult, and at times, the easiest path becomes the most appealing.
Yet, although the world seems intimidating and arduous, whenever I hear stories about the incredible women who were able to obviate their struggles to emerge victorious I feel not only comforted, but also motivated by their strength.
Female icons, like Elizabeth I and Amelia Earhart, have taught all following generations of women that if you’re willing to have grit, resilience, and determination, you can accomplish anything, no matter how onerous it at first appears.
Throughout the course of history, such empowering women have redefined what it means to be female, from the societal roles they transformed, to their tenacious, independent, and courageous behavior. Not only are such individuals incredibly inspiring for young women (like myself), but most of them have also overcome serious hardships in order to achieve their goals.
- Elizabeth 1
“I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.”
Elizabeth I was fiercely intelligent, transformed what it meant to rule, and would become one of England’s longest sitting monarchs– serving forty-four years on the throne. Besides having an entire era named after her (Elizabethan era), Elizabeth also managed to do so without a man by her side, during a time when being unwed was inconceivable. She referred to her subjects as “all of her husbands,” thus asserting her independence while poking fun at the taboo idea that a woman’s sole purpose in life was to be a wife and mother.
- Marie Curie
“Now is the time to understand more, so we fear less.”
Even before she won two Nobel peace prizes, Marie Curie dominated the realm of scientific studies. Throughout her entire career, Curie fought against both institutional sexism and outright misogyny from her male co-workers. She was frequently questioned regarding why she prioritized the lab over family life, yet, she never let it interfere with her work. However, Curie’s perseverance paid off, as her discovery of the elements Radium and Polonium contributed to the development of the first X-ray. An incredibly brave and inspiring woman, Marie Curie forged the path for all those who came after her, while showing other females of her time that they could leave the cult of domesticity to become someone great.
- Rosa Parks
“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would also be free.”
Rosa Parks altered American history on the day she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her simple act spoke volumes; not only did she blatantly defy segregation laws and racism by remaining in her seat, but she also established that a man could not tell her what to do. Her fire and courage prompted the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which eventually led to desegregation on public buses during the civil rights movement. With dignity and class, Rosa Parks displayed that adversity can be overcome, no matter how daunting it may seem.
- Emmaline Pankhurst
“Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.”
Emmaline Pankhurst was a major player in championing women the right to vote in the United Kingdom. She not only co-founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, but she also staged a hunger strike in prison to support women’s suffrage. Her political activism and incredible resilience eventually led to the 1918 Representation of the People Act, under which women over the age of thirty were granted the right to vote. Although after the act was passed, women still had a ways to go, Pankhurst planted the seeds for female equality and showed the world that women were a force to be reckoned with.
- Frida Kahlo
“Feet, what do I need them for- If I have wings to fly.”
Considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists, Frida Kahlo overcame countless hardships in her lifetime. Not only did she grow up in poor health, but she was also seriously injured in a streetcar accident as a young woman. However, rather than letting life beat her down, Kahlo began painting, and she eventually went on to receive the National Prize of Arts and Sciences in 1946. Additionally, she coped with her physical and psychological struggles through art, highlighting that eminence and happiness can still be achieved despite major challenges.
- Helen Keller
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Helen Keller defied virtually every societal norm possible. From a young age, although she was both deaf and blind, she had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Her intelligence, ambition, and empathy led her to a life of great accomplishments and kindness. To her, living without certain senses only made life that much sweeter in other respects, and she refused to let anyone tell her otherwise. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree, published thirteen books throughout her career including a famous her autobiography “The Story of My Life,” and was awarded the presidential medal of freedom in 1964 (among many other accomplishments).
- Malala Yousafzai
“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”
A more modern female icon, Malala Yousafzai survived an attempted assassination for her outspoken feminist attitude and criticism of the political administration in Pakistan. Even after her brush with death and threats from various terrorist organizations, she continued to fight for what she believed in: women’s education. At only twenty-two years old, she continues to be an inspiration for women and people everywhere who face oppression.
- Billie Jean King
“I wanted to use sports for social change.”
The renowned tennis player and the subject of the movie “Battle of the Sexes,” Billie Jean King, was one of the first female athletes to openly embrace her homosexuality. King fought not only for the rights of women in athletics but also for the LGBTQ community. She became the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association, lobbied for equal pay, and in 1973 defeated the 55-year old male tennis player Bobby Riggs, a former number-one ranked tennis athlete. Paving the way for all female athletes to come, King showed the world that women can hold their own against men– and even outright beat them.
- Nora Ephron
“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”
Nora Ephron was a journalist, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, novelist, producer, and director. A leader in the arts who seemed to do it all, she fought gender inequality in the entertainment industry when it was at its peak. Beginning at the Washington Post as a journalist, she soon after began a career in screenwriting, leading to her creation of the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” Following her career in Hollywood, Nora Epron began writing books that shed light on her broken marriage, sharing heartbreaking truths with refreshing honesty. Despite her many accomplishments, Ephron’s vulnerability highlights her authenticity and realness, allowing all women to see that nobody is perfect.
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant to be your own person, be independent.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. An extraordinary woman who dared to bring gender equality to the forefront of American politics, Ginsburg launched the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project and was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women from 2004 through 2011. Her dedication to her craft has never faltered, and she fights hard for what she believes in every single step of the way. Her passion for justice is a powerful message for all young women who wish to see full equality between men and women.
Photo credit: Unsplash
There are so many women who have altered the course of history; redefining what it means to be female in our world. Among these women are those listed, but also Elizabeth Taylor, Amelia Earhart, Susan B. Anthony, Cleopatra, Margaret Thatcher, Jackie O, Mary Wollstonecraft, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, Sacagewea, Coco Chanel, Serena Williams, Barbara Streisand, Anne Frank, Jane Goodall, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, Christine Amanpour, Ellen Degeneres, Harriet Tubman, Isabel Allende, Patsy Mink, Amy Tan, Ashley Graham, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, and Tina Fey. Countless other women have also pushed past hurdles to reach success. Even today, incredible women continue to, for lack of a better term, be total bad*sses.