Sure, Rihanna’s dress for the Met Gala last night was big and yellow, and Kim K’s and JLo’s backsides are oh so beautiful, but today, May 5, would have been badass feminist pioneer Nellie Bly’s 151st birthday, and here’s why you should care more about her than all the bodacious booties and boobies crammed into couture put together.
Nellie Bly wasn’t even her real name. It was Elizabeth Cochran. She was given the pen name along with her gig as a writer and reporter for a Pittsburgh newspaper. She was discovered and hired in 1885 after writing a scathing letter to the paper after it published an article, “What Girls Are Good For,” which called women who worked a “monstrosity.”
She wasn’t having it. And it impressed Pittsburgh Dispatch editor George Madden so much that he gave her a job.
Once she started working as a reporter, she fiercely took up the issues of women and poor people. For one of her most daring — and celebrated — articles, Bly posed undercover as a mentally ill woman to expose the abuse and horrific conditions women were experiencing at an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.
No glam squad required.
In 1889, inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, she ventured out on her own journey to circumnavigate the globe — which she knocked out in only 72 days, natch.
To honor Nellie Bly’s 151st birthday, Google has a beautiful animated doodle commemorating her accomplishments, and it even includes an original song from Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The song, “Nellie,” gives a lovely shout-out to “tell ’em what a girl is good for” and “take us all around the world.”
Most touchingly, Karen O sings to Nellie that she makes us “wanna make something of ourselves too.”
So where are our Nellie Blys today?
This morning’s news feeds everywhere are filled with images from the Met Gala. There they are, pictures of our most high-profile women in media — from Rihanna to actual feminist icon Beyoncé — dressed like sexy, ass-bearing peacocks who don’t look like they could carry their own handbag much less rule the world.
Where are the images of strong, capable women in the media we can show our daughters? Where are the badass women who dare to be more than a body poured into a dress? Where are the women, like Nellie, tough enough to call “bulls***” on being made up into a strutting, real-life sex doll.
Can’t we do better? Yes. We can start by talking about and celebrating the Nellie Blys all around us — Amy Schumer, Mo’ne Davis, Emma Watson, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malala Yousafzai, Emma Sulkowicz — women taking a stand for more than the right to be oiled up and sexy. That’s the best tribute to Nellie Bly I can imagine.
Here’s Google and Karen O’s lovely tribute to Nellie Bly, in hope that it will inspire you to celebrate the courage of women unafraid to stand up and be counted.