Women Driving Change! 5 historical women to remember & 5 women to start following today.
Women are at the forefront of a movement for change. With topics of: restructuring feminism, equal pay in the workforce, transgender rights, finding humanity in justice, feminine qualities vs masculine traits, and of course the sexual misconduct of the #MeToo undertaking. Women are a fierce bunch, who as a community, seem to be rising above countless histories of mistreatment to create change.
This isn’t the beginning of a movement however. Strong women have stood up to what is wrong for centuries. Throughout history, women have changed the world with their womanly strength, resistance, compassion, and determination to create a better future.
This year, TEDx Portland has brought together five women to stand on one stage and share, with their community, thought provoking ideas. Ideas around change for some of our world’s most fundamental issues. In this article, I tie together a reminder of who from our past helped get the momentum for change going, with the women at this year’s TEDx Portland who are keeping the movement alive.
Lost / Found
Perhaps you heard about Billie Jean King through the movie Battle of the Sexes. Maybe you too walked away not thrilled about how the United States Tennis Association handled the whole situation. Well they messed up another time too, but most of us didn’t get to learn about it through our history books or a well-known movie.
In the 1970s Renée Richards broke ground for Trans rights. As a man he was ranked 6th out of the top 20 male tennis players before transitioning to a woman in 1975. In 1976, she was denied entry into the U.S. Open, by the United States Tennis Association. Like Billie Jean King, she took matters into her own hands to provoke change. She took her case to the New York Supreme Court, who ruled in her favor. After winning her case she got back on the tennis courts, reaching the finals in doubles by 1977 and won the 35 and over singles title in 1979. Renée is an early pioneer for Trans, setting the stage for a worthwhile fight and challenging the status quo.
It’s been 42 years since Renée won her case but we are still fighting for transgender rights. Basic Rights Oregon wants to see this change so they are working toward a world that affirms the lives and experiences of transgender people, and backing that group is Colleen Yeager. At TEDx Colleen will share her thoughts on the fight for equality and protections of her transgender son, Eli, and others like him. Through a journey down the path of her family’s experiences, she aims to deepen our understanding of humanity and inspire actions we can each take to ensure equality for all.
Humanity / Authority
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Most won’t recognize the name but worth mentioning is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia from 2006-18 and the first woman to be elected head of state of an African country. Sirleaf made huge strides for her nation with a political stance of pro-women and anti-corruption. At the start of her first presidential term, Africa had more than 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers and unemployment was at 80%. Sirleaf set out to change that and by late 2010 Liberia’s debt was gone and Sirleaf had acquired millions of dollars of foreign investment. By 2008 she created the Anti-Corruption Commission to eradicate corruption, a significant problem Sirleaf saw within her country. In 2011 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to further women’s rights.
Chief Danielle Outlaw
It is possible Portland has its own Sirleaf in our 48th Chief of Police, Chief Danielle Outlaw. Outlaw, while new to Portland, recognizes the cultural conflict in Portland between the more recent identity as a center of progressive thought and also its deep history of racist groups and institutions. What these two women have in common is their leadership style. If you look past the title, uniform or badge what you see are two woman who are focused on humanity. Authority is a given, both are in a position for which the residents need follow, but the anti-corruption and accountability they highlight are reasons why we want to follow them. Chief Danielle Outlaw, Portland’s third female Chief of Police, strives to inspire transformation and positive progression. She is definitely someone to pay attention to at this year’s TEDx Portland and to see what change she brings to Portland.
Truth / Trust
Words speak volume. For 50 years the powerful literature of Maya Angelou inspired both women and African Americans to overcome gender and race discrimination. Her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1970, received international attention. It even made the best sellers list, but was banned from many schools for its attention to detail as Angelou recounted her experience about being sexually abused. A truth and subject that has long been ignored in our society but today is getting exposure through the #MeToo campaign and all the women willing to speak up. In 2011, Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her works that included 36 books, 30 of which landed on the best sellers list, seven autobiographies and over 50 honorary degrees.
Story tellers are a vital part of our world. Without them there is no history, there is no lesson learned, no culture, and inability to change, no truth to be told and no trust to be had. Lately there has been a weaponization of information dividing us that Ann Curry wants to talk about during her TEDx Portland talk. Like Maya Angelou, Curry, a world-renowned journalist and television personality, shares truth with the rest of us through her high-profile interviews, as well as in-depth coverage of natural disasters and human suffering in active war zones. Her reporting is testament to the power of journalism and its ability to connect us all. At this year’s TEDx Portland, Ann will help us explore truth, trust and objectivity in modern day storytelling.
Shame / Honor
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
Selecting the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States seems like an obvious historical pick. However, the reason I’d like to highlight Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell has more to do with why she sought to earn a medical degree.
Blackwell decided to become a doctor after a dying friend confessed that she would have suffered less had her physician been a woman. This concept to Blackwell deserved attention and she wanted to create change for the future. Late 1847, Blackwell was accepted as a medical student by Hobart College (Geneva Medical College). However, only after the 150 male students agreed to vote her in, as a joke. Rather than being shamed, Blackwell crossed the honorable bridge when she later graduated in 1849. Not long after, in 1857, Dr. Blackwell founded the New York Infirmary for women and children. Through her work at the infirmary, offering a place for women who were rejected from internships elsewhere, and the books she published on the topic of women in medicine, Dr. Blackwell paved the road for women in the profession today.
Tami Lynn Kent
Liberated from the previous constraints, the idea of a woman doctor today is completely normal. This leaves room for women to explore what being a doctor means today. Tami Lynn Kent is a prime example of someone focusing on women’s medical needs. She is concentrating on restoring the woman’s body by studying core patterns from the perspectives of modern medicine and traditional women’s wisdom. Affectionately known as the Vagina Whisperer, Tami is a women’s health physical therapist. She is currently exploring the practice of holistic healing for pelvic trauma. Her TEDx Talk will focus on how she helps bridge the gap from feeling shame, to honor.
Cultivate / Liberate
I’ve missed many notable women in history. Women who have made significant strides in changing things for the better. But this is my last historical woman and she may not, at first, seem like a fit.
Coco Chanel might be the most recognized name on this list, though more for her creativity and fashion, than for her woman’s rights work. Yet she is worth mentioning, for her ability to cultivate innovative design and liberate women from the constraints of fashion. The French fashion designer was revolutionary for feminine style. She turned ideas on their head. She took traditionally male clothes and redesigned them for the benefit of women. So her fight for women’s rights, came more out of a fight for herself, not a particular cause. She simply wanted the same freedom as men and to not have to depend on them. She was a creative who simply wanted the chance to be a creative.
The beauty of creativity is the forms, for which it can come in, is endless. Mira Kaddoura’s creativity shines through her ability to cultivate ideas. After 10 years creating hugely successful campaigns at Wieden+Kennedy, she now runs her own agency, Red & Co. My draw to Mira is elevated when I read about her mentoring for women in business. We’re stuck in a world where society tries to fit us in a box. Women should be feminine and men need to be masculine. Something Kaddoura focuses on is reminding us that we all have both of those traits. We aren’t just a risk taker or a nurturer. Women can be caring, brave, sensitive and strong all at the same time. For her TEDx Portland talk she’ll focus on turning another idea on its head. She’ll focus on asking ourselves “Why not me?” when something good happens, instead of weighing ourselves down with the thought “Why me?” when something bad happens.
The Take Away
Women aren’t alone in the fight for change. As humans, we have forever mistreated one another. We have built walls around our comfort zone and often separated ourselves from anyone who was different. My hope with this post is to remind us of where we’ve come from, who fought before us, and who is still fighting.
Come to the 2018 TEDx Portland on April 21st to hear from all the wonderful speakers this year. I promise you’ll walk away with so many thought provoking ideas you won’t know where to begin. Some might even lead you to step up and be a part of the change we all want to see in the world. A fairer world of happier women, men and children women who are truer to themselves, where justice is less about pointing fingers and more about moving forward, creativity is continuously turned on its head, and above all else, we all treat each and every person with the respect we’d want to receive.
Love is diving headfirst into someone else’s confusion
and finding that it all makes sense. ~ Atticus
Reference: Featured image is a quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich; not Eleanor Roosevelt.