Women are really making the news, lately. If you’re like me and like to consider yourself culturally literate, you may have heard of this lady named Beyoncé (last name irrelevant). I think she was at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards last week? If you haven’t, I suggest you do yourself a favor, hop onto YouTube and treat yourself to a nice big helping of girl power. Of the Beyoncé videos that will undoubtedly surface, the most recent and, in my opinion, most spectacular, is her latest single “Run the World (Girls),” which she performed before receiving the Billboard Millennium Award, an honor that has only ever been given to Michael Jackson. After this performance, haters everywhere had to stop and wind their jaws back up. It was just that good.
Also last week, a lady named Oprah (last name irrelevant), wrapped up her 25-year-long talk show. The TV mogul’s departure from The Oprah Winfrey Show to the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) was emotional and not without documentation by all the major news networks and publications. Despite all the fanfare, the event itself was surprisingly simple and forced me to rethink my preconceived notions of the Oprah. As much as Oprah scares me, I can’t deny her presence in mainstream media and the influence she’s had over American women from multiple race, age, and gender backgrounds. I used to think of her daytime talk show as a “soft” show for soccer moms, but sometimes Oprah’s commitment to her favorite issues speaks louder than the opinions of “hard” news shows at night.
As the media zeroed in on these two women’s accomplishments, I noticed a lot of attention was paid to their gender, as they were both the first females to reach certain accomplishments. In addition to being Destiny’s favorite child, Beyoncé is often described as one of the only women to have written 3 number one hits on Billboard Hot 100. And, also known as the first typo to make it big, Oprah is commonly reported as the first black woman billionaire.
All the attention these two have received regarding their gender made me realize that almost every time I hear of a woman succeeding in something, she is listed as the “first woman” to do so. This reminded me of another wise woman’s words. Last year when she became the third female recipient of the Mark Twain Award for American Humor, Tina Fey said, “I do hope women are achieving at a rate that we can stop counting what number they are…but I’m not going to get emotional tonight because I’m a stone cold bitch.”
What Beyoncé is to high-belting divas and what Oprah is to middle class soccer moms, Tina Fey is to me. In addition to the fact that she glamorized intelligence (use of the word “glamorized” debatable), what she said at the Mark Twain Award Ceremony is totally commendable. When people use numbers or ranks to provide meaning to a woman’s achievements, it demeans their success. For instance, when magazines like Forbes makes a list of the world’s “Most Powerful Women,” in addition to their list of “Most Powerful People,” it implies that there are different standards for both lists and that women cannot possibly be given inclusive access to a group of “powerful people.” It also doesn’t really help that out of last year’s list of the world’s top sixty eight power players, 5 of them were women.
When I read about a leader who has become the “first woman” to do something, I have two reactions. First, I’m excited that women are gaining more leadership positions. But I’m also annoyed that a woman’s accomplishments can only be relayed to the public if they are first compared to how many times a man did it first. Distinguishing a woman for being the first of her sex to do something is patronizing. Unless of course, that “something” is having an orgasm.
Anyway, instead of counting which lady did what and when, let’s talk about more movers and shakers who are doing things without the same level of press as the big BO (no, not Barack Obama, Beyoncé + Oprah). Warning: lots of personal bias ahead.
Jill Abramson – It was recently announced that Ms. Abramson will be replacing Bill Keller as the New York Times‘ Executive Editor. The idea of a press room being an “old boys club” dies on September 6 as she assumes her new position and, as she calls it, “ascends Valhalla.” Ms. Abramson is currently the news managing editor and has been, among many things, an investigative journalist and the Times’ Washington bureau chief. This job may not be as overtly sexy as Beyoncé’s but it may just be the most important position in the fourth estate.
Jessica Hische – Ms. Hische is probably responsible for half of the hipster hobos living on the streets of New York. She made a highly successful career out of doing what she loves (lettering, illustrating, designing) and her work inspires people to do the same. Sure, there are people who might think designing fonts would be a really boring job, but her portfolio says otherwise. Her whimsical style is so distinctive that I once spotted a book that reminded me of her, only to open the cover and see that she did the design. You don’t have to be old to be experienced. To me, she exemplifies what it means to be an artist during this age.
Ashlee SImpson – Just kidding.
Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis – These two ladies are redefining what it means to be a “lady” by including the word “slut” in their definition. Earlier this year at a York University safety forum, a Toronto police officer said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” In response, Ms. Barnett and Ms. Jarvis founded SlutWalk, an event to protest a victim-blaming society that warns “don’t get raped” rather than “don’t rape.” The event sought to demystify the concept of a “slut” and explain that “no one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.” It was such a success that 24 other SlutWalks have been organized worldwide. Businessmen meandering on sidewalks have never been so lucky.
These women, as well as many others, are rising above others professionally. Not because they want to be the first at something or because there’s some sort of race between women to get to the top, but because they just generally kick ass. So instead of tallying the “few” women who have accomplished things men have already done, let’s toast them by becoming leaders in ways neither sex has achieved yet.