Written by Janet Hu
A role model: someone who lives in a way that makes us proud to be part of the same species. These leaders demonstrate human capability, awakening in us a drive to change situations we once believed to be permanent.
There are quite a few extraordinary men and women to look up to, but female role models are in no way exclusive to a female following. So here are eighteen contemporary female role models that every man can learn from:
1. Malala Yousafzai
Who is she: 21-year-old Pakistani activist; youngest Nobel Prize laureate; founder of The Malala Fund
Why you should care: Imagine having a voice so dangerously reasonable that people want you dead. This young activist was shot in the head by the Taliban at age fifteen. Malala’s activism started at age eleven when she blogged anonymously to expose life under the Taliban rule in Pakistan, where women were denied education. As a teen, she became a public advocate for women’s education. This brave survivor is now the founder of The Malala Fund, an international nonprofit organization that fights for girls’ education.
2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Notorious RBG)
Who is she: U.S. Supreme Court Justice, the second woman to be appointed the position, ever; a total bad*ss
Why you should care: Most Supreme Court Justices get a cushy life by accepting a lifelong term without stirring the pot, but not Notorious RBG. Ginsburg headed A.C.L.U.’s Women’s Rights Project and later her historic decision in The U.S. v. Virginia made it illegal to deny women from the military. Ginsburg is from a low-income part of Brooklyn and was one of only nine women in her class of five hundred at Harvard Law School. As a law student, she was also a mother and wife, supporting her husband through testicular cancer. Talk about a fighter. More recently, her monumental decision in Obergefell v. Hodges helped legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
3. Tarana Burke
Who is she: Fearless American civil rights activist; founder of the #MeToo movement since 2006
Why you should care: Way before the hashtag was popularized amidst 2017 Harvey Weinstein abuse allegations, Burke had met a thirteen-year-old girl who described being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. Burke didn’t know what to say at the time, but she wished she could have given solace by saying “me, too.” This was in 1997. From there, Burke founded Just Be Inc. in 2003, an organization that supports disadvantaged minority women aged 12-18 by bringing attention to challenges that are pointedly female.
4. Sheryl Sandberg
Who is she: COO of Facebook since 2008; founder of Lean In; a kind soul
Why you should care: Sheryl Sandberg is a big–monstrous–deal in tech. Before Facebook, she spent six years as VP at Google, where she developed its online advertising programs. She does it for more than the money, though. Sandberg is the founder of Lean In, a nonprofit that supports female growth in professional industries. She is also the author of Option B, a 2017 book focused on facing grief and building resilience. She wrote this book two years after the sudden passing of her husband, David Goldberg, former CEO of SurveyMonkey.
5. Angela Merkel
Who is she: Chancellor of Germany since 2005; de facto leader of the EU
Why you should care: She is the world’s most powerful woman for ten years in a row, according to Forbe’s. Angela Merkel holds a doctorate in quantum chemistry and was a research scientist until the fall of the Berlin Wall. She then transitioned into politics, establishing Democracy in Germany. She is the nation’s first female chancellor and has been referred to as the “leader of the free world.” Merkel hones in on transatlantic economic relations, promoting unity and trade among nations.
6. Nadia Murad
Who is she: Co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize; German-based Yazidi-Iraqi human rights activist
Why you should care: Murad survived three years of sexual abuse by ISIS and maintained the dignity and strength to fight for global policy change. After escaping war slavery, she brought legal action against ISIL commanders. She is now the first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human trafficking of the United Nations. Murad reaches out to survivors of genocide and trafficking, empowering them to share their testimonies, begin the healing process, and rebuild their communities.
7. Toni Morrison
Who is she: Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and poet; the first Black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Why you should care: Her words have inspired the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Civil Rights activist Angela Davis by shining light on the Black female experience. Morrison’s most celebrated novel, Beloved, chronicles the harrowing journey of a female slave who kills her own daughter to protect her child from the horrors of slavery. In 2012, Morrison was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to peace through literary art.
8. Ellen DeGeneres
Who is she: Talk show host; LGBT leading voice; overall warm and awesome person
Why you should care: Ellen is the first celebrity to come out on national television, and she did this in spite of clear threats to her already successful career. An ABC affiliate in Alabama refused to air the coming-out episode of Ellen, and sponsors such as Daimler Chrysler and JC Penney pulled out. The show was canceled a year later in 1998, but Ellen eventually bounced back with more fervor than ever. Her talk show, The Ellen Degeneres Show, has won 39 Daytime Emmys, and she has hosted both the Emmys and the Oscars. Ellen was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
9. Anna Wintour
Who is she: Editor-in-chief of Vogue since 1988; Artistic Director of Conde Nast; Unapologetic ice queen
Why you should care: Unperturbed by being portrayed as a ruthless psychopath in The Devil Wears Prada, Anna Wintour maintains and has even expanded her icon status. She revolutionized the world of fashion editorial by combining high and low trends. Her keen understanding of women, society, and human interests have made her “seemingly the only person on earth who knows how to run a steady print operation [today]” (Alison Herman, The Ringer). Haters gon’ hate, but the numbers don’t lie.
10. Geisha Williams
Who is she: CEO of PG&E; First Latina to run a Fortune 500 company
Why you should care: She is the definition of “self-made.” Williams came to the U.S. at age five as a Cuban political refugee. She and her parents had nothing. They eventually saved up enough to open a small grocery store, where Williams worked every day after school. She went on to earn an engineering degree, and after many more years of gradual career climbs, Williams became CEO of a Fortune 200 Power and Energy company. She is a lesson in the merits of hard work and belief in oneself.
11. Tsai Ing-wen
Who is she: President of Taiwan; First woman to be elected; First president of aboriginal descent
Why you should care: Ing-wen obliterates all sorts of sociopolitical norms. Not only is she the first female president of Taiwan, but she is also unmarried. Ing-wen supports LGBT communities, same-sex marriage, disadvantaged women, and the poor–all this in a traditionally conservative society. Furthermore, she phoned President Trump in 2016 to address him directly on his foreign policy decisions. Ing-wen has improved trade with China, and she plans to further stimulate the Taiwanese economy through focuses on biotech, green energy, and the Internet of Things.
12. J.K. Rowling
Who is she: Author of Harry Potter fantasy series; Philanthropist
Why you should care: Rowling is an incredible role model for youth. Her characters demonstrate friendship, imagination, and courage in the face of evil. She went from being a single mother living on welfare to becoming the world’s first billionaire author. This success didn’t come without its fair share of failures, rejections, and desperate times, however. After making it big, Rowling then donated a large portion of her wealth to charity. She remains an active voice in support of social equality.
13. Emma Gonzalez
Who is she: 19-year-old activist for gun control; Survivor of the Parkland High School Shooting
Why you should care: Gonzalez spoke with fervor and common sense that couldn’t be ignored. She called policymakers out on their “BS” in a televised speech, and she questioned why it was so easy to purchase semi-automatic weapons and bump stocks. Gonzalez helped organize March for Our Lives in protest of gun violence and mass shootings. As a result of her and her peers’ actions, new gun control laws were passed in the Florida Legislature, and large companies such as Dick’s sporting goods cut ties with the NRA.
14. Yara Shahidi
Who is she: American actress and activist; Star of Black-ish and Grown-ish
Why you should care: More than a beautiful face, Shahidi uses her media influence as a platform for inspiring social change and political education. She founded Eighteenx18, an organization that encourages young adults to vote, and Yara’s Club, which provides mentorship in hopes of ending poverty through education. Shahidi speaks openly about U.S. politics, Black identity, and Iranian identity in televised interviews and on social media. She is eighteen, and Michelle Obama wrote her letter of recommendation to Harvard University (which she started this year).
15. Gloria Steinem
Who is she: American journalist; Leader in the 60s & 70s women’s rights movement
Why you should care: “The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off”–nope, that wasn’t Pharrell who said it first, but feminist activist Gloria Steinem. Steinem advocated for Reproductive Choice in the U.S., and she then went on to study the placement of women in world cultures including India, South Africa, and Brazil. She is the co-Founder of New York Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Voters for Choice, and an advisor to TIME’S UP. Steinmen focuses on issues of sex equality, race equality, and child abuse as roots of violence.
16. Michelle Obama
Who is she: American lawyer; Advocate for poverty awareness and healthy eating; the former First lady
Why should you care: Aside from being Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama has a legacy of her own. With a Princeton BA and a Harvard JD, she worked as an associate in marketing and IP law. It was at a Chicago law firm that she met Barack Obama, whom she was assigned to mentor. Michelle Obama is a university administrator, and she continues to be a voice for education, justice, and physical health.
17. Martha Stewart
Who is she: American retail executive and TV personality; Founder of Martha Stewart Living; M. Diddy
Why you should care: The only woman on this list to have served jail time, Martha Stewart is the Empress of Comebacks. We’re by no means condoning illegal activity, but Stewart went from fashion model to stockbroker to 96% majority shareholder of a self-titled Omnimedia network. She was America’s first self-made female billionaire. Then, she became a convicted criminal on charges of insider trading (yikes!). That’s basically a guaranteed career-ruiner, especially when you’ve built your brand on the public image of a “pristine and tidy homemaker.” Stewart served five months in federal prison and two years under house arrest. Within five years of her release, Stewart somehow managed to rejoin the board of directors and become chairman of Martha Stewart Living again. Today, she’s still on TV teaching us how to make the perfect summer salad, as if her nickname wasn’t “M. Diddy” in the slammer.
18. Anita Hill
Who is she: American attorney and academic
Why you should care: Anita Hill is the Christine Blasey Ford of 30 years prior, seriously. When Clarence Thomas, a Black conservative with little prior experience, was nominated as Supreme Court Justice in 1991, Hill came forward to describe the sexual harassment she experienced while working for Thomas in the Department of Education and the EEOC. Hill testified out of a sense of civic responsibility. This high-profile case ultimately ended in the confirmation of said nominee. Go figure.
So there you have it, just eighteen of the strong female role models that exist everywhere, and we haven’t even gotten historical yet. Who is your contemporary female hero?