When I typed in “amazing women in 2013,” want to guess what popped up first? “Most beautiful women.” “Hottest women.” Sigh. But I wanted to find out more about the most influential women who are making a difference. So I did a little more digging around at the news of the past year and landed on these 8 amazing women, who broke barriers in male-dominated industries like science, tech, business, politics, and entertainment:
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and former VP of Sales at Google, changed the conversation women were having about themselves, empowering us to believe. In 2013 she published her book Lean In in 2013 and launched the “Lean In” campaign, “focused on encouraging women to pursue their ambitions, and changing the conversation from what we can’t do to what we can do.” I attended a lecture and “Lean In Circle” led by Sandberg at the 2013 BlogHer conference in Chicago. We sat in groups of 6 to 7, all of us strangers to each other, and answered questions like “what’s the one thing you would you change about yourself?” and “who is the one person you admire most?” While these might seem grade-A cheese, the table of bloggers I was sitting at — women who had written books, led leadership campaigns, performed stand-up comedy — really shared a moment. We’re all in this together. It was empowering, which is exactly what Sandberg is about: giving women a voice and the courage to stand up for what they want, whether that’s to pursue CEO of their company or staying at home with their kids. It’s a choice, and women have the right to decide for themselves.
Amy Schumer, a comedian and self-proclaimed “slut,” launched a sketch comedy show on Comedy Central in April 2013, Inside Amy Schumer, where she talks frankly about sex — typically a topic only for men, taboo to women. She’s brutally honest about what it’s like to be a woman in 2013 and opened up the discussion to all of us. In a June interview with NPR, Schumer frankly talked about a number of empowerment issues that resonate: “Most women I know that I’m close to have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable [with]. If it wasn’t completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it’s not all black and white. There’s a gray area of rape, and I call it ‘grape.’ It’s the guy you went home with in college, and you said, ‘No,’ and then he still did it, or maybe you woke up and it was someone you were dating. …There’s just so many different things that can happen, so it’s not always this, ‘Well, you’re going to jail and that’s it.’ There’s other stuff where it’s like, ‘Wow, it would be so much work, and it would be such a life-changer for me to … press charges or take any action against this person.’ But every girl I know has had some experience that is kind of like ‘grape.’ ”
Janet Yellen became a fierce female in finance, being named the first female chair of the Federal Reserve ever (she has a final confirmation vote in early January 2014). Does it matter that she’s a woman, The Nation asks? Yes. Yes it does. One more female breaking her way into a male-dominated field sets a good example for all of us — especially girls who are looking for examples that prove any type of career really is possible.
Mary Barra, a businesswoman and electrical engineer, joined the “boys club” when she was named CEO of GM — the first female CEO of a global car brand ever. As a white paper by Edelman noted, the media focused on the fact that she was a woman, not that she was an engineer (and not a banker) to be appointed to the position. And it’s true — in researching news from her appointment, I was able to find little in the coverage about the fact that she’s an engineer by training. “At least they didn’t say ‘she’s pretty’,” Edelman wrote. True — and when she hopefully does more to lift the age-old carmaker, hopefully the media will have lots more to say about this woman in leadership.
Wendy Davis, senator from Texas…who could forget when she spent 11 hours on her feet fighting for a woman’s right to choose — something that’s quickly slipping away from us despite Roe v. Wade. Her filibuster battled a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, require clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgical center, and require doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital — requirements that aren’t based in medical necessity and that most clinics are not set up to handle. Since 2010, 200 such bills have passed across the U.S., effectively closing down clinics in record numbers across the country and limiting women’s access. Davis’s stand for women’s rights opened up the discussion of just how these laws are restricting women’s access to health care and their right to choose what to do with their bodies.
Marissa Mayer became the CEO of Yahoo in 2012 while pregnant and gave birth to her son — another female breaking in to a male-dominated field. But what she did in 2013 was more powerful: she changed Yahoo’s maternity leave policies, lengthening time allowance for parents and providing a cash bonus. This is a huge step in the right direction in the U.S., the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee paid time off for maternity or medical leave. Check out the stats showing the huge benefits of paid maternity leave for mothers and their children along with the bleak American statistics vs. the world here.
Michelle Bachelet, the first female president of Chile first elected in 2006, continues to be a powerful political female role model in a developing nation. She was reelected in a landslide for a second term as President of Chile on a platform promising to address the social gap between rich and poor and improve education for all kids. She also heads up U.N. Women, a United Nations group that promotes gender equality around the world.
Malala Yousafzai, a 19-year-old Pakistani girl, reminded us all how much equality we really have achieved in the western world and yet how far many places in the world still have to come. In 2012 she was shot in the head — and survived — because she stood up publicly for women’s education rights. In 2009, she wrote a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym promoting education for women after the Taliban had declared an edict prohibiting all girls from attending school. “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced,” she wrote. In 2013 the United Nations launched the “I am Malala” petition in her honor demanding that all children worldwide be in school by 2015, which helped lead to Pakistan passing its first Right to Education Bill.