Celebrating Women Who Broke Barriers
As you may have seen when the ‘Our Power Women Series’ was launched late last summer, we’ve taken to using masks to show support for some of our favorite “Nasty” women. And we’re pleased to note that not only through masks, but through other kinds of apparel, social media support, and more, the celebration of women seizing their moments is becoming a more common practice. We may still live in a time when women have to fight for a fair share, but having that fight more collectively is becoming the norm — and that’s a good thing!
To that end, we wanted to take a post and look at some of our favorite barrier-breaking ladies from over the years. They’re not all current political figures or activists but they’re the kind of modern women who remind us of progress made and inspire us for more to come.
We’re going to start with a young woman we simply don’t want people to forget: the incomparable Mo’ne Davis. In case the name sounds familiar but you can’t remember why, Davis was the 14-year-old girl who became the first African-American girl to pitch in — and win — a Little League World Series game. The LLWS is an almost surprisingly major staple in American sports, to the point that it is broadcasted for more or less a full month each summer. And yet it’s simply accepted as an almost entirely male showcase for emerging young athletes.
Looking back at the impact of her success on her life in a recent interview with People.com, Davis explained it best: “Especially in baseball, you never see girls of color playing baseball… Even seeing a girl, it was just unheard of.” It certainly was, and yet Davis took the LLWS by storm and looked badass doing it! This may not have led to a tidal wave of young women into the event, but it was a powerful and lasting statement on behalf of women athletes everywhere, and countless women are better off for it today. And for her part, Davis is now preparing to start a collegiate softball career at Hampton University - an HBCU where her presence could shine more light on black women’s sports.
That’s right! We’re looking at some of our favorite Nasties ranging from a 14-year-old baseball prodigy to the first woman secretary of state! In all seriousness though, Madeleine Albright shouldn’t be forgotten or overlooked in these discussions. We (rightly) spend a fair amount of time lauding Nancy Pelosi for being the first woman speaker of the house, Hillary Clinton for becoming the first woman presidential nominee by a major party, and of course now Kamala Harris for becoming the first woman vice president! But Albright — despite being somewhat less visible — essentially occupied a higher place of power in U.S. government than any woman before her back in 1996. And that, too, is quite a barrier to knock down.
Continuing our quest for variety in identifying barrier-breaking women in this post, we also want to highlight a name many might remember: Vanessa Selbst, who helped make competitive poker more accessible to women. Today, those with a specific interest in poker tend to find it quite accessible in a practical sense. There are a ton of high-quality online platforms that support competitive gaming, and as Poker.org’s guide to playing online outlines, the sign-up process has become quick and easy. Male, female, professional, or amateur, anyone today can go online, find a good poker site, sign up and start playing within minutes.
Before online poker ever evolved to this state though, Selbst helped to make it a friendly game for women in the first place. During the “poker boom” of the early 2000s (which led droves of players to early versions of today’s online sites), almost the entire cast of characters was male. Figures like Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, and others dominated the scene and became TV stars representing a veritable boys’ club of a sport. But Selbst — while not the first woman to go pro — eventually broke through and achieved similar success to all of those men. A New York Times profile of Selbst (and her transition to Wall Street) casually named her the most successful female poker player of all time, and she does top the earnings list among women. That kind of success may not put her next to Albright in history books, but the fact that much of it came on TV undoubtedly led countless young women to see poker as something that was for them, too.
Kathryn Bigelow absolutely belongs on this list, but is also perhaps the most infuriating inclusion. For those who may not remember the name, Bigelow is the filmmaker who directed the 2009 film The Hurt Locker. For her efforts, she won Best Director at the 2010 Academy Awards, becoming the first woman director ever to take home this award. It’s incredibly discouraging that it took until 2010 for this to happen, and unfortunately we’ve hardly seen other women even nominated for the award since. But Bigelow’s example still shines bright or aspiring female filmmakers — and there’s hope, as of this writing, of another triumph in 2020! Variety’s latest Oscar predictions suggest Chloe Zhao has a good shot at the award for her work on Nomadland.
Last and newest on our list is the new Poet Queen of the United States, miss Amanda Gorman herself! We (hopefully) don’t need to explain Gorman or he impact given that she burst into the public spotlight mere months ago. But suffice it to say Gorman’s poetry reading during Joe Biden’s inauguration was something young women — and particularly little girls of color — will remember, celebrate, and aspire to for many years to come. Gorman didn’t break down a barrier as specific as becoming the face of women’s poker, or the first woman to win Best Director at the Oscars. But she smashed through an unseen and undefined glass wall to steal the show at a U.S. presidential inauguration as a then-22-year-old Black woman poet.
Clearly, dozens if not hundreds more women could be included on a list like this. But these are some favorite “Nasty” women we wanted to prop up and remind people of as we continue to celebrate the barrier-breakers.