Women's History Month - Inspiring Women Today

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Women's History Month - Inspiring Women Today

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born on September 15, 1977 in the city of Enugu in Nigeria. She is a Nigerian novelist whose written Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah,The Thing Around Your Neck, and a book length essay We Should All Be Feminists. Her family lost almost everything during the Nigerian Civil War. Adichie studied medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria. At the age of 19 she left Nigeria for the United States to study communications and political science. When she came to the United States, she realized that she was being identified by the color of her skin. As a black African in America, she was suddenly confronted with what it meant to be a person of color in the United States. Race as an idea became something that she had to navigate and learn.

In 2012 Adichie gave a TED Talk called “We should all be feminists.” It has been viewed more than five million times. She shared her experiences of being an African feminist. When she first heard the word, she didn’t know what it meant but she was told that feminists were “women who were sad because they couldn’t find a husband.” She was told not to call herself a feminist if she wanted to be taken seriously. After hearing that, she decided to define for herself what a feminist was. In the TED Talk she shares her views on gender construction and sexuality. Adichie said that the problem with gender is that it shapes who we are. She said: “I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change, but in addition to being angry, I’m also hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better.”

Listen to the TED Talk We should all be feminists for chimamanda ngozi Adichie’s “ideas worth spreading.”

Here are a few quotes from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay We Should All Be Feminists:

"Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture." 

"Some people ask: 'Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?' Because that would be ... a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women."

"I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be."

"We teach girls shame. 'Close your legs. Cover yourself.' We make them feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up — and this is the worst thing we do to girls — they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form."

"We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man. If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, pretend that you are not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate him."

"My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better." 

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is an American media executive, actress, talk show host, television, producer, and philanthropist. She is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show. Dubbed the “Queen of All Media”, she was the richest African American of the 20thcentury, and North America’s first black multi-billionaire. Oprah was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother. She lived in terrible conditions and her only friends were farm animals. She would frequently give the animals dramatic parts and include them in games. Oprah’s grandmother instilled religion in her and taught her to read and write before the age of three. She would recite poems and scriptures during church and was nicknamed in her neighborhood as “The Little Speaker.” This was the foundation of her passion for The Oprah Winfrey Show.

When Oprah was nine, she was raped by her nineteen-year-old cousin, who was baby-sitting her. This wasn’t the only time she was sexually abused. She was sexually abused by her cousin, a family friend, her mother’s boyfriend, and her uncle. At the age of 13 she ran away from home and shortly after became pregnant with a son who died shortly after birth. Oprah’s mother sent her to live with her father, who was very strict and made education the number one priority for Oprah. She attended Nashville East High School, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life, but she knew it involved speaking or drama. Oprah during her college education was offered a job as a co-anchor on CBS but declined several times before she was convinced by her speech professor that it may launch her career. Oprah’s boss set her up as a talk show host on a morning talk show called People Are Talking. Immediately after the first show she knew this was what she wanted to do. Oprah went on to start the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986. The Oprah Winfrey Show has received multiple daytime Emmy Awards and several other prestigious awards. She started releasing a magazine called The Oprah Magazine. She has acted in many movies and has received an Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Oprah Winfrey will forever be remembered as an innovator and the first female African American television show host. She is inspiring millions of people across the world, discussing significant issues such as equal rights, racism, poverty, and more. She is seen as an icon who has paved the way for many women across the world.

To hear motivational words from Oprah Winfrey, watch this speech at Power of Women

“When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are.”

― Oprah Winfrey

Malala Yousafzai

“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls.” Malala was born in Mingora, Pakistan on July 12, 1997. In Pakistan, having a baby girl is not always a cause for celebration, but her father was determined to give her every opportunity a boy would have. In 2008, the Taliban took control of her town in Swat Valley. The extremists banned many things such as: owning a television and playing music. They also said that girls could no longer go to school. She left her classmates at age 11, not knowing if she would ever see them again. In 2012 she spoke out publicly on behalf of girls and their right to learn, and this made her a target. In October of 2012 a masked gunman boarded her school bus and demanded that Malala make herself known. He shot Malala, a 15-year-old girl, on the left side of her head. She woke up 10 days later in a hospital in Birmingham, England. After months of surgeries and rehabilitation she joined her family in their new home in the U.K. She knew she had a choice: she could live a quiet life, or fight until every girl could go to school. She established the Malala Fund. The charity is dedicated to giving every girl an opportunity to achieve a future of her choosing. She has received a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work. She is the youngest-ever Nobel laureate. She is now studying philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford. With more than 130 million girls out of school today, there is more work to be done. Together, we can create a work where all girls can learn and lead. To learn more about the Malala Fund go to malala.org 

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

― Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Check out this interview with Malala Yousafzai with Gaurdian.

Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke is a civil rights activist who was the original founder of the “Me Too” movement, which she started in 2006. It later became a global phenomenon that raised awareness about sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in society. Tarana Burke was born September 12, 1973 in The Bronx, NY. Her childhood was difficult. She grew up in a low-income, working class family in a housing project. She was raped and sexually assaulted both as a child and a teenager. Since then, it’s been her passion to help improve the lives of girls who go through extreme hardships. In 2017 Burke and other influential female activists were named “the silence breakers” by Timemagazine. She currently serves at the Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn as its senior director. Tarana Burke originally coined the phrase “me too” while working at Just Be Inc., a nonprofit she founded in 2003 that focused on the overall well-being of young women of color. Burke was talking with a young girl who revealed that her mother’s boyfriend had been sexually assaulting her. Burke was searching for the right words to help empathize with the countless number of young ones who have disclosed their experiences to her. Ever since then, Burke has said “You’re not alone. This happened to me too”. “me too” has helped shape her campaign for activism to help anyone to has experiences sexual harassment, abuse, or assault.

Hear Tarana Burke’s reflection on the “me too” movement from the Cut.

“‘me too’ became the way to succinctly and powerfully connect with other people and give people permission to start their journey to heal.” – Tarana Burke

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King is an American former World No. 1 professional tennis player. King won 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. She won the singles title at the inaugural WTA Tour Championships. She often represented the United States in the Federation Cup and the Wightman Cup. King is an advocate for gender equality and has been a pioneer for equality and social justice for a long time. She is regarded by many in the sport as one of the greatest tennis players of all time and is in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She dealt with a lot of inequality in sports. Billie Jean King first encountered gender inequality at the age of 12, while participating in a tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. Billie Jean was barred from a group photo of junior tennis players because she had decided to wear tennis shorts that day, rather than the tennis skirt that was worn by female athletes. She soon learned that unequal treatment that female athletes experience wasn’t only related to dress code. In the 1960s and 1970s, the tournament payouts for women tennis players were significantly lower than male players. In 1971 Billie Jean became the first woman athlete to earn over $100,000 in prize money. Yet when she won the U.S. Open in 1972, she received $15,000 less than the men’s champion. She was determined to change the inequality in her sport. She soon realized that she could leverage her success and influence to demand change. She said, “Unless I was number 1, I wouldn’t be listened to.” Eventually, she was able to level the playing field and the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money to both sexes. The Battle of the Sexes was a tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Riggs, a top men’s player in the 30s and 40s was a 55-year-old, self-described hustler and male chauvinist. He claimed the women’s game was so inferior to the men’s game that even someone as old as he was could beat the current top female player. Billie Jean King accepted his challenge and beat him in the Battle of the Sexes. Perhaps no other sporting event has played a more significant role in developing greater respect and recognition for women athlete than Billie’s victory. It advocated for equal pay in all sectors of the workforce.   

To commemorate the 35thanniversary of the historic match, Billie Jean King authored Pressure is a Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes

In September 2017, Fox Searchlight Pictures released the biographical film, Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone as Billie Jean and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs.

Ever since that day when I was 11 years old, and I wasn't allowed in a photo because I wasn't wearing a tennis skirt, I knew that I wanted to change the sport. – Billie Jean King

For more about women who have changed the world, and to see how many appear on all the lists, use the following links.  You will note that some of the women still arouse controversy and most of them did during their lifetimes. 

12 women who changed the world/

100 women who changed the world results

The women who changed the world
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