7 Memorable Women Who Challenged Norms | Of Mercer

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Career and Life

7 Memorable Women Who Challenged Norms

In honor of the theme of this International Women's Day, we wanted to celebrate women who chose to challenge the status quo. 

This International Women’s Day celebrates the theme of women who have challenged the norms of the culture they were living in with ideas of independence, work ethic, and self-determination. Today, we see women coming out in droves to attend events like the Women’s March, or to participate in the league of women voters, to carry out the practice of those that came before them. While the fight for equal rights is not linear, women have come a long way in realizing their desired place in society, and that it should not be dependent on the norms of the patriarchy. When this was not evident, many women decided to fight for their place anyway, and have earned the right to be recognized whenever possible.

1.Malala Yousafzai

As the youngest awardee of the Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai- commonly known as just Malala- overcame violent and entrenched norms regarding education for young women. Despite threats to stop attending her school, Malala went anyway and was shot on her way home at the young age of 15 years old. This traumatic experience only lead to Malala being more vocal about the right women have to education, where she started giving speeches on the issue, informed by her expertise as a BBC blogger in 2011. Currently, with a degree form Oxford University in politics, philosophy, and economics, Malala continues her efforts in creating equal access to education for women globally.

2. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

With a heavy armor of educational prowess and years of public service, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma became the first woman to be elected by the Africa Union Commission as its chairperson. In this pioneering role, Dlamini-Zuma advocated for cheaper access to HIV education and treatment and was key in elevating the position of women’s rights at home and in the workplace. In an insightful speech, Dlamini-Zuma proved herself to be one of the most vocal people acknowledging gender equality as a key issue in eradicating poverty for the UN’s sustainable development goals. 

3. Evelyn Yoshimura

As a Japanese American during the World War II incarceration of Japanese people in camps, Evelyn Yoshimura was an activist vocal about the injustices of the time and the model minority myth placed upon American Asians to categorically list them as obedient. Fueled by the desire to break this harmful myth, Yoshimura proceeded to create a documentary in the Japanese incarceration camps and advocated for ethnic studies classes in schools. Heavily invested in the South African apartheid, Evelyn Yoshimura took what she learned from studying this in order to create a better outcome in the U.S.

4. Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was a key activist in the historical Stone Wall Uprising of 1969. Continuing her activism for LGBTQ+ civil rights, Johnson eventually focused her efforts on creating a refuge for homeless LGBTQ youth and sex workers. This refuge called the STAR house also provided support and services to help those inside of it who faced political and social discrimination. In addition to this, Johnson was a staunch AIDS activist for 20 years with the organization ACT UP. Through her activist work and organizing, Marsha P. Johnson envisioned a better future and fought through fierce discrimination to make it happen. 


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5. Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo is still considered one of the greatest artists to have walked this planet. Born in Mexico, Kahlo enjoyed sports from a young age which was considered strange for girls to do, but she still carried on this spirit in her art and political beliefs thereafter. Following a tragic accident she started painting mostly self-portraits which she eventually vowed to use to support herself financially without the help of a male counterpart. The feeling of androgyny and flight from her normal feminine appearance came to a head in her painting “Self Portrait With Cropped Hair,” where she refers to shedding her hair as a separation from the version of herself associated to her male spouse.

6. Marie Curie

As the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, Marie Curie hold this any many other achievements under her belt, proving she surmounted the barriers of her time period to follow her ambitions. Proving the elemental existence of the radioactive element, radium, Curie worked sedulously to replicate and affirm her research despite working in an uncharted field. With her research, scientists have made measurable feats in cancer research and X-ray machinery.

7. Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeon Bethune was the daughter of former enslaved individuals who eventually became a leading voice in advocating for Black Women’s rights in the American education system. Additionally, Bethune led voter registration drives after women gained the right to vote and continued her activist efforts to ensure gender and race equality. The result of these efforts was her becoming the highest ranking African American woman in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration and eventually the vice president of the NAACP. Dedicating her life to public service and equality, Mary McLeod Bethune used her knowledge and passion to create a more just world.