Inspirational Women of 2018
In celebration of National Women’s History Month, here are 12 inspirational women who overcame obstacles such as sexual assault, drug addiction and gender bias. Each of these women have blazed their own paths to make a difference in their respective industries, providing inspiration to people across the world.
By Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Television producer, talk show host, film actress, producer, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and now a 60 Minutes contributor, Oprah Winfrey infuses every one of her projects with passion. Winfrey overcame a life of poverty and childhood sexual abuse to become the most popular talk show host in history.
During The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired for 25 seasons, she launched Oprah’s Book Club and O: The Oprah Magazine. Through Oprah's Angel Network, she has raised more than $50 million for charitable programs. In 2007, she founded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls to serve the needs of underprivileged girls living in nine provinces across South Africa. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Winfrey the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
At the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, Winfrey brought the audience to its feet when she delivered her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. She spoke of Sidney Poitier, the first black actor to receive the same honor in 1982, and Recy Taylor, a young wife and mother from Alabama. In 1944, Taylor was abducted by six armed white men, raped and left blindfolded by the side of the road coming home from church. Rosa Parks was the young NAACP worker assigned to her case and together they sought justice, to no avail, since it was the era of Jim Crow. Oprah ended her speech with the following words:
“I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”
2. Tarana Burke
The original founder of the Me Too movement more than a decade ago, Burke’s visibility in context with the #MeToo movement has taken on a life of its own. The first Me Too workshops Burke ran in Tuskegee, Alabama were targeted at helping black women speak out about sexual harassment and assault. Today, Burke is the senior director at Girls for Gender Equity, a nonprofit in downtown Brooklyn. Time magazine awarded its 2017 Person of the Year to Burke and other key MeToo supporters.
3. Senator Elizabeth Warren
By US Department of Labor [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A former Harvard Law School professor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the author of eleven books, including A Fighting Chance, a widely acclaimed national bestseller. Warren takes on GOP opponents in the Senate in a fearless and forthright manner. In 2011, she conceived of and established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help prevent mortgage companies, banks and credit card companies from ripping off consumers. Warren tirelessly champions for legislation in support of women’s rights, paid family leave, fair trade, affordable education and higher wages. Political pundits say Warren is now firmly in the top tier of potential Democratic presidential contenders in 2020, along with Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.
4. Malala Yousafzai
On October 9, 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot on a bus by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism on behalf of girls being denied an education. Since recovering, she founded the Malala Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Birmingham, U.K., and co-authored I am Malala, an international bestseller. She was also the youngest winner ever of the Nobel Prize and entered Oxford University to study philosophy, politics and economics. In 2018, Yousafzai sat down with David Letterman for his television series. When asked what she thought about President Trump, she said, “Some of the things have really disappointed me, things about sexual harassment and a ban on Muslims and racism. You see all these things and you feel that America, being known for human rights and a country of liberty and freedom, that country should be leading in terms of human rights.”
5. Ashley Judd
By Donna Lou Morgan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Almost a year before actress and political activist Ashley Judd publicly called out Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment, she presented at TED, accusing Silicon Valley of not doing enough to stand up to misogynistic cyberbullying. A rape, sexual assault and incest survivor, the actress has bravely shared her dark tale of being sexually abused as a child and her long struggle with depression. Judd points to a history of sexual abuse combined with “criminal abandonment and criminal neglect” during her youth as contributing factors in her battle with depression. In addition to being an advocate for female empowerment, the actress has devoted her life to AIDS and humanitarian efforts in Thailand, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Rwanda and South Africa.
As a solo artist, Beyoncé has sold over 17 million albums in the U.S., and more than 100 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Her 2016 album Lemonade was a powerful, no-holds-barred medley of soul-stirring songs, haunting imagery and cryptic poetry, touching on infidelity, grief, love, joy, relationships, womanhood and blackness. The mother of three, recipient of 22 Grammy awards and self-declared “modern-day feminist” is also a philanthropist who supports many important charitable causes. Among these are the Kids Wish Network, Music Rising, Oxfam, Save The Music Foundation, The Lunchbox Fund, Women’s Fund for Scotland, Feeding America and the Survivor Foundation, which she co-founded with Kelly Rowland to provide transitional housing in Houston for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
7. Robin Roberts
Good Morning America co-anchor since 2005, Robin Roberts has been the recipient of numerous awards such as the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism and was also inducted into the Halls of Fame for Broadcasting & Cable, Sports Broadcasting and Women’s Basketball. In March, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Radio Television Digital News Foundation for her years of dedication and leadership on GMA. Roberts courageously shared her struggle with breast cancer, the blood disease MDS acquired through a blood transfusion, and her bone marrow transplant. Her advocacy work on behalf of the Be the Match program resulted in a large increase in the number of people in the blood marrow registry. Since coming out as gay in December 2013, Roberts has used her platform to raise awareness on the unique needs and challenges facing LGBTQ people.
8. Jamie Lee Curtis
In Hollywood, middle-aged actresses are expected to resort to extreme measures to look younger. Jamie Lee Curtis is a testimony to aging gracefully, eschewing dying her hair and boldly posing for More magazine in 2002 without any makeup or retouching. In her early 40s, Curtis became addicted to prescription painkillers after cosmetic surgery. In 2016, Curtis said she relied on friends, family and rehab specialists to guide her through the difficult yet rewarding path of recovery. A beloved actress, bestselling children’s book author, and humanitarian, Curtis has worked hard to raise awareness about addiction as a chronic medical disease influenced by familial factors. She cited both of her famous parents being dependent on alcohol and her brother’s death from heroin at age 20. “My recovery from drug addiction is the single greatest accomplishment of my life,” Curtis wrote.
9. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
By Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court of the United States (Source 2)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In 1970, Ruth Bader Ginsburg co-founded the Women's Rights Law Reporter, the first U.S. law journal to focus exclusively on women's rights. Two years later, she co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, helping to ensure women's voices were represented legally. Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Bader Ginsburg became the second female Supreme Court justice ever. Despite health problems, the 85-year-old continues to fight for women, while inspiring comedy sketches on Saturday Night Live by Emmy-winning comedian Kate McKinnon. The octogenarian stars in a critically acclaimed 2018 documentary about her life, titled RBG.
10. Patty Jenkins
Although the wildly successful film Wonder Woman was shut out during award season, director Patty Jenkins broke the glass ceiling as the first female director of a big-budget superhero movie. The film starring Gal Gadot was the most successful DC Universe film ever made, with box office sums totaling $821.74 million. Before directing Wonder Woman, Jenkins was at the helm of the 2003 film Monster, guiding Charlize Theron to an Oscar-winning performance. Jenkins said, “I don’t think about Wonder Woman as a female film. She’s a major superhero.” In 2017, Jenkins signed a landmark deal to direct the sequel to Wonder Woman, although she considers herself a last wave feminist and not a barricade breaker.
11. Karlie Kloss
Supermodel Karlie Kloss has walked more than 30 runways at New York Fashion Week, 20 in Milan and 13 in Paris, and has appeared on top fashion magazine covers and in ad campaigns for countless designers. The 25-year-old is also a talented computer programmer and entrepreneur who began learning the basics of Ruby on Rails at Flatiron School four years ago. While Vogue Paris named her one of the top 30 models of the 2000s, it was Forbes that named her to its “30 Under 30” list due to her advocacy work helping girls pursue careers in tech. In April 2015, she established scholarships for young women to take coding courses at the Flatiron School before launching her own summer camp, Kode With Klossy, for 13- to 18-year-old girls in 12 cities across the U.S.
12. Mary J. Blige
One of the music industry’s most successful stars made history when she became the first double nominee for Best Song and Best Supporting Actress at the 90th Academy Awards for Mudbound. Although Blige didn’t win an Oscar, she wowed the crowd with a heartfelt, stirring performance of the gospel-inspired song Mighty River. Blige has won more than 100 awards including nine Grammys of 31 nominations. During her 25-year career, Blige has struggled with drug abuse, alcoholism and depression that she said stemmed from childhood sexual abuse. When Blige shared her struggles with addiction and depression in 2013, she admitted to being high on cocaine when she accepted her first Grammy in 1995. She credits her faith in God and Whitney Houston’s tragic 2011 drug-related death in helping her maintain her sobriety.