So, that was a title meant to make you read this. Chances are, you haven’t heard of these women, but to assume you’ve never heard of them is presumptuous on my part. Regardless, I wanted to celebrate women of recent history who have done great work for this world. Hillary just announced her candidacy, so why not? Also, I had writer’s block, so a list seemed fairly easy to accomplish.
Sometimes, being a feminist is hard. Like, it’s really hard. As I mentioned briefly in my last article, only 16% of the population identifies as feminist and the rest of it hates us. So when you’re out there trying to break new ground and take a stand, it gets annoying when accomplished, amazing women are overlooked. As therapy, I like to read lists of some of these women—not necessarily feminists but women—to remind me why I fight the good fight. If nothing else, the inspiring work these people do will maybe make me stop eating ice cream and watching Monica and Chandler moments on YouTube long enough to update my LinkedIn account.
Here are six women that you’ve probably never heard of:
1. Lorraine O’Grady
O’Grady is an American performance artist whose work focuses on the black female subjectivity and the hybridity that exists for her subjects. The “hybridity” she focuses on is the state of existing as both a marginalized race and gender. Her most notable work is the Mademoiselle Bourgeoise Noire. Her character wore a dress made of white gloves and interrupted prestigious events, confronting discrimination as the title character. The piece became part of the museum exhibit WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, and this performance piece was the first featured on such a large scale. Before producing work in 1980, O’ Grady had many careers, which included an intelligence analyst for the U.S. government, a successful literary and commercial translator, and a rock critic. Her large range of experience contributed to her critical view of art and the art world, which then resulted in an “unusually eclectic attitude” toward creating art. Although O’ Grady’s art consists of intellectual content that is rigorous and political, the work is generally marked by unapologetic beauty and elegance. Interestingly, Lorraine O’ Grady’s exhibit was featured in the Walker Art Center on the now expired exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art in none other than Minneapolis, MN. The exhibit featured film recordings of the Mlle Bourgoise Noire when O’ Grady first performed it in 1983.
Check out her latest work on her website.
2. Toni Morrison
Okay, you probably have heard of Toni Morrison. If you’re an English major and/or sat in a high school AP course, you probably have heard of Toni Morrison. Or, if you’ve watched the Colbert Report (RIP) within the last two years, you may have caught the interview featuring Toni Morrison. Or maybe she exists somewhere in your mind, but you can’t quite grasp how you know her because she somehow sounds familiar and you, like, know her but you keep forgetting her name.
Well, Morrison is both a Nobel-prize and Pulitzer-prize winning author of many novels, including The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and my personal favorite, Beloved. After earning her degree at Howard University and teaching at Texas University for a period of time, Morrison came back to Howard University in 1957 to teach English. After the birth of her son, Morrison joined a writers group that met on campus. She began working on her first novel The Bluest Eye with the group, which started out as a short story. Her writing is considered thematically epic with grand, sweeping storytelling and rich characters, notably richly written black characters and black female characters. She has won nearly every book award possible, and she continues to write today.
Check out Morrison’s Facebook page to keep up.
3. Li Maizi
Also known as Li Tingting, Li Maizi is an openly gay campaigner for women’s rights in China. The student activist and feminist speaks and leads campaigns against blatant sexism in China along with a group of fellow Chinese feminists. Her most recent movement was called “Occupy the Men’s Toilets.” This campaign was to demonstrate that women’s facilities are lacking in comparison to men’s facilities. She led an Occupy movement in Beijing and has also been a part movements that increase the awareness of domestic violence by marching through the streets in a wedding dress covered in blood. In early March 2015, Li Maizi and other feminists had plans for a peaceful protest on International Women’s Day. One source claims it was essentially pasting stickers on car bumpers and handing out fliers to raise awareness of sexual harassment. Li Maizi along with four other Chinese feminists were arrested prior to this in order to prevent the demonstration. The charges they were arrested for were “picking quarrels and creating disturbance.” After a 37-day detention, Li Maizi and the four others were released from detention. Their prosecutors had decided not to press immediate charges, but the women are still under investigation and, in the meantime, remain under the watchful eye of the police. However, experts don’t believe Li and the others will be formally charged. She remains as passionate about feminism and the rights of women in China as ever, saying “Feminism is my soul.”
Unfortunately, Li Maizi doesn’t have a page thing directly dedicated to her work, but that’s what Google’s for, kids.
4. Catharine MacKinnon
Catharine MacKinnon is a legal scholar who pioneered the existence and awareness of anti-sexual harassment laws in United State courts. She published her book Sexual Harassment of Working Women in 1979 as part of her doctorate work while earning her JD in political science at Yale Law School. She argued that sexual harassment was a form of discrimination, and the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t officially rule on this issue until 1986. However, they sided with MacKinnon’s argument in that 1986 ruling and that became a landmark case for U.S. law. MacKinnon’s arguments from this work are frequently cited in sexual harassment cases. She also helped expand the legal definition of genocide to include crimes of forced prostitution and rape in the Kadic v. Karadzic case. In this case, MacKinnon represented Bosnian and Croatian women against Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic. In 2000, the jury awarded the plaintiffs in the case $745 million in damages.
If you’re interested, click here for a complete list of her past and current work.
5. Esta Soler
Esta Soler is a political activist and advocate whose work specializes in women and children. She started her work in the 70s as a social worker and noticed a fundamental problem throughout a large amount of her cases: relationship violence against women and children. However, there was no legal action against this violence, and because of this, Soler couldn’t use her pull as a social worker to help the women and children. As a response, Soler lobbied a bill that outlawed domestic violence. She founded the Futures Without Violence Foundation in the early 80s. Under her leadership, the foundation then named the Family Violence Prevention Fund was the organization that rallied for and realized the ratification of the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) in 1994, the bill that Soler lobbied for a decade prior. The Violence Against Women’s Act is the nation’s first comprehensive federal response to ending widespread domestic violence within families and communities, and congress reauthorized and expanded the law in 2000, 2005, and 2013, which now includes federal protection for the LGBTA community, Native Americans, and immigrants. Soler is now committed passing the International Violence Against Women Act to prevent gender-based violence on a global scale. In December 2013, Soler gave a TedTalk about her 30 years of work as an activist and making the invisible visible. She talks about the work her foundation did using innovative technologies that resulted in today’s 64% decrease in relationship violence, such as utilizing polaroids in the 80s as court evidence and using social media to spread the word of the movement.
Go to her foundation’s website to see her current work in the field of preventing violence against women.
6. Rebecca Adamson
Since 1970, Adamson has worked directly with grassroots tribal communities, and she has worked as an advocate nationally, speaking for local tribal issues. In the PBS documentary initiative “Makers,” Adamson tells the story of how she was evaluating the reservation schools. She was sent to evaluate a school in Oklahoma, which was a school attended by both white and Native American children. The Native American children had their mouths covered with adhesive tape. She quotes the instructor, saying, “Everyone knows that Indians are savages. They disrupt the class.” Adamson took the tape off of all the kids’ mouths and then removed them from the school, subsequently starting a school for Native American children. This initial action grew into the First Nations Development Institute in 1980 and later the First Peoples Worldwide in 1997. Adamson’s work focused on self-determination for Native Americans, and her work resulted in passing important self-determination legislation for Native American communities throughout the United States.
Check out First Peoples Worldwide and Adamson’s current work by going to their website.
So, if you ever find yourself needing some inspiration, perhaps even some therapy, just read a list of people who defied the masses and don’t care about what’s always been done.