We're in a time where women are storming the gates — both literally and figuratively. For one, hundreds of thousands poured onto the streets for the Women's March on Washington in January 2017 and again this past January. Beginning in the autumn of 2017, multitudes of women in a variety of industries, and most predominantly in film and television, came forward to detail their stories of sexual harassment and abuse in hopes that the insidious systemic behavior that has allowed those things to happen ends immediately. In January 2018, a group of women formed the Time's Up collective, raising awareness about sexual harassment and assault and taking contributions to build up a legal defense fund for survivors everywhere.
At the head of the pack were activists, journalists, social media commentators, celebrities, producers, directors and so many more. Women from every industry stepped forward and collectively said, "Enough is enough." There's no time like the present to champion women who are working to make the world a better place. So, to celebrate, we've rounded up a list of 21 real-life women who are our modern-day superheroes.
Activist Tarana Burke created the #MeToo movement over a decade ago, though it wasn't until actor Alyssa Milano tweeted the words that it took off as a hashtag. Burke's tireless advocacy work is aimed at helping the most marginalized people — women of color, especially — who lack the same privilege as white women to accuse and seek refuge from their abusers.
Burke was named one of the Silence Breakers in Time's 2017 Person of the Year issue, though many have noted that her absence from the issue's cover is glaring.
Actor and activist Gabrielle Union has been speaking out for years about rape culture and sexual violence. Her new book, We're Going to Need More Wine, is a collection of personal essays that dig deep into her experiences — including her own rape, her relationships and life as a black woman. Tarana Burke credits Union as "one of the few examples of resilience [she] could point to" when she started doing workshops with black survivors.
Oscar-winning actor Lupita Nyong'o isn't slowing down. She was already part of the Star Wars franchise, and her role in Black Panther this year had everyone buzzing.
But most notably, Nyong'o was one of dozens of women to come forward about sexual harassment from film mogul Harvey Weinstein and one of the only women Weinstein's team actually responded to in the press. Nyong'o also called out Grazia U.K. for editing her hair in a cover photo.
This star continues to shine, regardless of how many people try to knock her down. We're constantly in awe.
Kesha fought tooth and nail for the right to make new music without her abuser, Dr. Luke, whom Sony fired. Her newest release, Rainbow, was the first album she recorded without his input — and it was a smash. It was clearly shaped by her legal battle and her experiences as a survivor, but what no one could have predicted was that Rainbow would become an anthem for 2017 (#MeToo).
Uma Thurman embodied all our rage when she told a reporter she wasn’t yet ready to speak about the wave of sexual assault allegations that stormed through Hollywood this fall. But a few months after she gave us a snippet of her thoughts in an Instagram post, she detailed the assault to the New York Times and also accused Quentin Tarantino of not doing enough to protect her from an accident during the making of Kill Bill.
Activist Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white supremacist rally. Her name and the quote in her last Facebook cover photo became rallying cries for those resisting white supremacist gatherings all over the country.
The Heather Heyer Foundation was founded in Heyer's name to provide scholarships and financial assistance to those in need who are passionate about civil rights and social change. In the wake of her death, Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, encouraged people to follow in her footsteps, stand up for social justice and keep fighting.
Following a terrorist attack at her Manchester show that killed 22 people and left 59 injured, Ariana Grande and her team pulled together a fundraiser concert in just a couple of weeks. The One Love Manchester show raised $13 million in funds to help bombing victims and their families.
The first Asian woman to be cast in a lead role in the Star Wars franchise, Kelly Marie Tran broke down crying at the Star Wars: The Last Jedi premiere, and we all cried along with her. Representation matters.
Tessa Thompson has come a long way from Veronica Mars. When she was added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, Thompson came out in full support of the character’s canonical bisexuality (although it was never confirmed in the film, which is a representation issue for sure).
Danica Roem became the first openly trans woman to be elected to a state legislature in 2017 after running on a platform that was purely based on policy. To make the victory even sweeter, she beat a legislator who fought (and lost) to ban transgender people from being allowed to use public restrooms. Way to go, Virginia.
Writer, director and producer Ava DuVernay has been everywhere, and we love it! In addition to her incredible work on Queen Sugar, she put hope into the hearts of everyone when the first few trailers for Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time premiered. Her attention to detail and focus on bringing black girls to the forefront of incredible stories is so, so inspiring.
Author Roxane Gay faced a ridiculous amount of fat shame when she released Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. Gay shot down her critics with aplomb and penned dozens of critical essays and op-eds that called attention to some of the worst things we've seen lately. What a badass.
When Keah Brown created the #DisabledAndCute hashtag, it went viral and received nationwide media attention. Her incredibly personal, sharp-witted writing about the experience of being a black woman with cerebral palsy will be collected into a book of essays, The Pretty One, coming soon from Atria Books.
The first woman to direct a DCEU film blew the entire franchise out of the water. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman made $821.8 million at the box office, and we’re so ready to see her take on the rest of the world, too.
Issa Rae's rise from YouTube star to celebrated actor, writer and director is one for the books. Her HBO series Insecure has been renewed for a third season, and she has unapologetically acknowledged that the series is not made for men or for white people. Rae carved out a space for herself on a white-dominated network, and it's awesome to see her (and Insecure) thrive.
Janelle Monáe delivered a fiery speech at the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017, just months after launching the women's empowerment movement #FemTheFuture, which had its inaugural brunch last fall. And recently, she released the music video for "Make Me Feel," which saw her owning her bisexuality.
Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez dedicates weekly posts on her Instagram account to #MovementMondays, wherein she highlights a different person of color in the entertainment industry. These posts offer accolades and exposure to the accomplishments of actors, writers, producers, activists and more — and Rodriguez's 2.4 million followers are always stoked in the comments.
Seeing her lift up others each week is super inspiring, especially when celebrities are so often seen tearing each other down. Rodriguez has also spoken candidly about her experience as a Latina in Hollywood and how she's often criticized for not being "Latina enough."
In 2014, video game developer Zoë Quinn’s ex-boyfriend made a blog post that sparked the Gamergate controversy, wherein men in the gaming community went on a targeted harassment campaign against Quinn and other women, including Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian.
Quinn's book Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate hit stores in September 2017. It details her experiences with online harassment and offers solutions for combating the problem at every level. Quinn has become a voice for the voiceless in gaming and online harassment, and her social media presence and grassroots organizing are so important.
More than a year ago, journalist Lauren Duca wrote an article for Teen Vogue arguing that Trump was gaslighting America. She then launched the Thigh-High Politics column, taking an insult hurled at her and reclaiming it for her sharp political commentary pieces.
Duca has been the subject of intense, targeted harassment from several high-profile men — including "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli, who was banned from Twitter because of his obsession with her. Despite these threats to her well-being, Duca has never stopped delivering critical think pieces. Her 2017 Shorty Award for Best in Journalism was well deserved.
Trans author, activist and TV host Janet Mock has long been an important voice in the transgender rights movement. She released her second book, Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me, in June 2017, and her insightful commentary in every interview has been a breath of fresh air.
Tina Tchen is a force to be reckoned with. Not only did she serve as an assistant to President Barack Obama, as chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama and as executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls from 2011 to 2017, but she's also currently one of the leaders of the legal defense fund for Time's Up, which has so far raised over $21 million. And that's not all. The Recording Academy (the organization behind the Grammy Awards) just named Tchen as the chair of its new task force for inclusion and diversity.
A version of this article was originally published in December 2017.
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