There must be something in the water today in history that so many kick-ass women are celebrating their birthdays. I’m going to start with the oldest, Gloria Steinem, because she’s one of the mothers of American feminism.
Gloria Steinem, born 1934 (77): Steinem has the honor of being probably the most recognizable feminist in the United States. She has been a tireless advocate of women for longer than I’ve been alive. I can’t believe she’s almost 80 because she’s still actively traveling and speaking about feminism. She co-founded Ms. magazine and helped found New York magazine.
I read her account of going undercover in 1963 at the Playboy club in New York, and I couldn’t imagine how any woman could subject herself to that kind of sexism and harassment, let alone someone with Steinem’s background. Her writing and activism have done incredible work in moving feminism into mainstream consciousness.
Aretha Franklin, born 1942 (69): The legend of the Queen of Soul speaks for itself, and I will let it, for the most part, because I couldn’t possibly do it justice. Winner of 20 overall Grammys, lone featured singer at President Obama’s inauguration, the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 14 million-selling singles… If you don’t “Respect” a career like that, there’s something wrong with you.
Sarah Jessica Parker, born 1965 (46): Parker is best known for her role as Carrie Bradshaw on HBO’s hit “Sex and the City.” Yes, the show was about a bunch of privileged white women. No, it didn’t depict reality for the majority of the millions of viewers who watched it. (Does any sitcom?) However, it did deal with women’s sexuality in a way that hadn’t been seen since the “Golden Girls” (which I still miss). The four main characters had regular sex and refused to apologize for it, even to each other. They talked about infertility, abortion, childlessness, STIs, cancer, death and more.
I only started watching the show after it ended, and I didn’t watch the DVDs because I envied the women their sex lives or their clothes. What appealed to me about the show, what I wish I had for myself, was the relationship among Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte. As Big told Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte in the series finale, “You three know her better than anyone. You’re the loves of her life, and a guy’s just lucky to come in fourth.” They were always there for each other no matter what. Maybe that kind of friendship among a group of women is just as unrealistic as anything else portrayed in the show, but it’s what kept me coming back for six seasons and two movies.
Sheryl Swoopes, born 1971 (40): I’m not at all athletic myself, but I wish I were, so I admire women like Swoopes who aren’t afraid to push their bodies and show physical strength. Society tells girls after a certain age to stop moving their bodies, to sit quietly instead of running and jumping and twisting, so it gives me hope we have role models like Swoopes to show girls how it’s done . She was the first player signed to the WNBA and has three Olympic gold medals, won in 1996, 2000 and 2004. She was also the first women’s basketball player to have a Nike shoe named after her. In 2005 she became one of the most high profile athletes to announce that she is gay.
Danica Patrick, born 1982 (29): I’m always happy to see women making strides in traditionally male pursuits, and no one can argue Patrick is the most successful female race car driver out there. She placed third in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, the highest finish for a woman in that race, and won the 2008 Indy Japan 300. I’m sure she’s had to put up with a lot of sexist comments and behavior to get where she is, and I can respect the hard work she’s put in.