Pop culture is an evolving landscape that is populated by artists, entertainers, visionaries, activists, and political figures. At Bitch Media, we’re interested in shape-shifters who push pop culture to be more representative, inspiring, and meaningful for communities who are typically ignored by mainstream media. We’re paying attention to those who say what won’t be said anywhere else; those who do what needs to be done, with or without fanfare; and those who push for and measure social and cultural progress with a lens that expands the world beyond our current realities.
The Bitch 50 recognizes the most impactful creators, artists, and activists in pop culture whose imaginations extend beyond normalizing and affirming the same mainstream messages. The Bitch 50 have utilized their creative or political power to further advance visibility, equality, or access for marginal folks—especially LGBTQ communities of color.
We honor those who have taken risks in their work that push us closer to progress—a world where more LGBTQ people are in leadership and decision-making positions, democracy is a practice not a hope, and racial inclusion is a basic start instead of a goal. The Bitch 50 highlights the firsts and the pioneers; the people who created a ripple or a path from the margins to the center. We looked at cultural work that generated exciting possibilities for expressing identity, power, gender, sexuality, and relationships—work that intentionally focused on freeing others.
Founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks and author of Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!
In 2015, at the age of 12, Dias was frustrated by the lack of diversity in the books her teachers assigned. In response, she created the social-media campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks with the goal of collecting 1,000 books featuring Black-girl protagonists. Within a few months, #1000BlackGirlBooks topped that, amassing more than 9,000 books with diverse protagonists to donate to libraries. In 2018, Dias became the youngest Black girl to be featured on the Forbes 30 under 30 list, and her first book, the kid-focused Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!, was published by Scholastic.
Professor at the University of Chicago
Folks who first encountered Eve Ewing on Twitter, where she delivers concise, witty, and often withering commentary under the handle “wikipedia brown” weren’t surprised to find out that she’s just as much of a powerhouse offline. A sociologist, professor, author, and poet, Ewing’s focus on educational advocacy and the communal toll of systemic racism crosses genres. In 2018, her book Ghosts in the Schoolyard traced the impact of history, racism, and economic inequality in Chicago’s public-school system, and her newest role is writing Marvel’s Ironheart, the first solo comic series to star young Black tech whiz and Tony Stark protégée Riri Williams.
Aria Mia Loberti
Disability-rights and women’s-rights advocate working with the United Nations
Aria Mia Loberti might seem like more than your average college student when she’s balancing 19 credits at the University of Rhode Island; pursuing majors in philosophy, political science, and communication studies; and working as a teaching assistant. Loberti is already a powerhouse outside of her college campus, where she fights for other teens with disabilities as a United Nations Youth Delegate. As the first legally blind delegate, she helps the UN develop new activist organizations on college campuses, and works with UN women to conduct research about people with disabilities.
Culture writer and critic Clarkisha Kent debuted the Kent Test on International Women’s Day. Inspired by the Bechdel test, the Kent Test is a set of criteria that evaluates the representation of women and femmes of color in media, resulting in a score from “abysmal” to “strong.” Criteria includes “must not solely exist in the film/piece of media for the purpose of fetishization” and “must not be solely included in the narrative just for purpose of ‘holding down’ some male character and his story.” The Kent Test is an important reminder that not only must we continue to demand more from the media we consume, but those demands need constant inspection and revision to remain inclusive and intersectional.
Journalist, author, and member of the board of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland
An uptick in heated immigration debates—and the ugly rhetoric that accompanies them —spurred Jennifer Mendelsohn to create #ResistanceGenealogy, a hashtag indictment of hypocrisy among xenophobic public figures. When Stephen Miller, Trump’s top policy adviser and architect of the Muslim travel ban, implied that the United States should privilege English-speaking immigration applicants, Mendelsohn dug up a 1910 census showing that Miller is a descendent of immigrants who couldn’t speak English. She’s gone on to unearth the immigrant roots of Tomi Lahren, Steve King, and Dan Scavino, using the hashtag to emphasize the universality of immigration in American history.
Activist, student, and Little Miss Flint
Water activist Mari Copeny, also known as Little Miss Flint, first came on the national radar in 2016 when she wrote a letter to President Obama about the Flint water crisis and later met with him to discuss solutions. Copeny was 8 at the time. Since then, she’s raised money to provide backpacks for over 1,000 students in Flint, and this year, she raised more than $16,000 so kids in Flint could watch Black Panther in theaters. “Kids need to see themselves as superheroes,” Copeny told The Washington Post in February. “Black kids are seen as victims — and we’re not.” Copeny says she wants to run for president. We’re so ready for 2044.
Professor, cofounder of Anis: Institute for Bioethics, documentary filmmaker, and pro-choice activist
Debora Diniz is a prominent voice for the pro-choice movement in Brazil, where abortion is illegal with few exceptions. But her public advocacy for decriminalizing abortion has put a target on her back, and in August 2018 she went into hiding after receiving death threats from anti-abortion groups. But her work continues: Diniz is the cofounder of Anis: Institute for Bioethics, one of Latin America’s notable feminist human-rights organizations. With Anis, she has worked extensively to research and inform the general public on women’s and children’s health issues, reproductive rights, mental health, and prison reform.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
When psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford reluctantly arrived on Capitol Hill on September 27 to testify about one of the worst nights of her life, thousands of women waited to see if the Senate Judiciary Committee would excoriate and discredit her as they’d done to Anita Hill in 1991. Ford had no interest in laying bare the violence she’d endured at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but considered it her civic responsibility to challenge his moral fitness for the nation’s highest court. Through a voice strained by swallowed tears, Ford recounted the summer night in high school when Kavanaugh attempted to rape her. While the hearing itself was a sham designed by congressional Republicans to convey the illusion of impartiality, Ford’s powerful testimony was an unforgettable moment for generations of women.
Prison activist, organizer, founder of Project NIA
Described by Essence as a “modern-day abolitionist,” Mariame Kaba understands that the criminal-justice system is inherently violent, and has dedicated herself to actively dismantling it. She founded Project NIA, which works to reframe youth crime and violence using the philosophy of transformative justice to meet victims’ needs, effectively decrease recidivism, and strengthen communities. In 2016, after 14-year-old Bresha Meadows was charged with killing her abusive father in self-defense, Kaba helped spearhead #FreeBresha, an organizing collective that brought Meadows’s case to international attention—and, in February 2018, helped her return home.
March for Our Lives
High-school students and gun-rights activists
In the days and weeks after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, became the site of the worst school shooting in U.S. history, student survivors did what too many adults wouldn’t. Standing up to the National Rifle Association and the elected officials deep in its pockets, Parkland students formed Never Again MSD, a political-action committee focused on gun reform. They organized rallies and town-hall meetings; lobbied corporations like Delta and Hertz to discontinue discounts for NRA members; and spent summer 2018 traveling across the country registering other teens to vote.
In 2014, the Islamic State kidnapped Nadia Murad and thousands of other Yazidis from Kojo, a village in Sinjar, Northern Iraq. After escaping to a refugee camp in 2014, she became the first person to brief the United Nations Security Council on the Islamic State’s human-trafficking operation, and she’s filed legal action against ISIL commanders. Murad is also the founder Nadia’s Initiative, an organization that helps women and children who have been victimized by state and sexual violence. She published her memoir, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, in 2017, and in 2018, she became the first Iraqi to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Jade Magnus Ogunnaike
Co-director of Organizing Media, Democracy & Economic Justice at Color of Change
Color of Change is a national racial-justice organization with 1.4 million members who are fighting for a “more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.” Since launching in September 2005, the organization has targeted policies and organizations that are harming Black communities, whether that’s encouraging Fox News to #DropOReilly for being racist or telling Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio to redirect $3 billion in tax subsidies away from Amazon and toward livable wage jobs, affordable housing, schools, and public transportation. Magnus Ogunnaike has been integral to the organization’s success, leading effective campaigns about companies, like PayPal and Amazon, profiting from white nationalists, and CEOs participating in Donald Trump’s business councils.
First Nations water activist
Water is a personal issue for Autumn Peltier, an environmental and water-protection activist and member of Wiikwemkoong First Nation. Peltier has been engaged in this work for nearly five years—an admirable feat on its own, but more so considering that she’s only 13. (Her aunt Josephine Mandamin is a renowned water protector and recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation.) In 2017, Peltier made headlines for confronting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his support of pipeline projects that put 100 First Nations communities at risk. In 2018, she addressed these concerns in a speech to the United Nations.
Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund: Christina M. Tchen, Roberta Kaplan, Hilary Rosen, Fatima Goss Graves
Workplace-harassment lawyers and activists
As part of the National Women’s Law Center, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is making sure that people who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace can be heard regardless of their financial situation. The fund “will help defray legal and public relations costs in select cases for those who have experienced sexual harassment or related retaliation in the workplace” and is the brainchild of cofounders Christina M. Tchen, Roberta Kaplan, Hilary B. Rosen, and Fatima Goss Graves.
Fat-acceptance activist and writer
Virgie Tovar has spent her storied career as a fat-acceptance writer, activist, and speaker encouraging women to “break up with diet culture.” Whether it’s delivering a TEDX Talk about her #LoseHateNotWeight campaign or writing an impactful book, You Have the Right to Remain Fat, about dieting as a form of oppression, Tovar encourages women to trust their bodies and stop believing that they’ll only be happy when they’re “fixed.”
Charlotte and Dave Willner
Fundraising to reunite separated immigrant families
Californians Charlotte and Dave Willner don’t have a long history of activist endeavors: Charlotte works at Pinterest as the Head of Trust and Safety, Dave is Head of Community Policy at Airbnb, and they live in Silicon Valley with their daughter. But a viral photo of a 2-year-old Honduran girl crying as her mother was detained by Border Patrol sparked something in them. After learning that as many as 2,000 children were separated from their families under Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, the Willners began a fundraising campaign for RAICES, a Texas nonprofit that provides legal services to immigrants. By June 24, the campaign had raised over $20 million to help reunite families.
Creator of the Disability Visibility Project and Crip the Vote
Alice Wong founded the Disability Visibility Project to create a body of history and knowledge about the lives and experiences of the 57 million Americans who live with disabilities. As a former member of the National Council on Disability, she helped advise federal agencies who craft disability policy on best practices and key issues. As a cofounder of #CriptheVote, she uses social media to urge people with disabilities to make their voices and issues heard in the political process. And in 2018, she self-published Resistance and Hope: Essays by Disabled People, an anthology of “crip wisdom” and fuel for activist fire.
Executive Director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Julia Bascom is an autism-rights activist who leads the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Both Bascom and the organization aim to advocate for a “world in which autistic people enjoy equal access, rights, and opportunities” by fighting for policies that guarantee support and resources for autistic children and adults. In April, Bascom gave the keynote address at the United Nations World Autism Awareness Day, where she focused on how to best empower autistic women and girls. “It shouldn’t be surprising, but the needs and struggles of autistic women and girls are very similar to the needs and struggles of women and girls broadly,” she said. “We need our voices to be heard and honored. We need access to education and employment, we need access to the tools that empower everyone to be a part of the world and in charge of our own destinies.” And if anybody’s in control of her own destiny, it’s Bascom.
House of Representatives elect
In July, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th congressional district.Ocasio-Cortez’s historic candidacy brought several issues to the forefront: Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, a federal jobs guarantee, and criminal-justice reform. She’s about to become the youngest woman to serve in Congress. The Congressional term hasn’t even started and Ocasio-Cortez is already breaking barriers, bringing not only her constituents but the public as a whole along with her.
Senator Tammy Duckworth has smashed many barriers: She’s the first Asian American woman elected to Congress in Illinois, the first woman with a disability to be elected to Congress, and most recently, the first senator to give birth while in office. Duckworth is responsible for a resolution that allowed children under the age of 1 onto the Senate. Duckworth has always been a fierce champion for her constituents, and this year she and baby Duckworth came back to work, ready to keep fighting.
Kati McFarland was a double major at the University of Arkansas when she confronted senator Tom Cotton at a packed 2017 town-hall meeting in the town of Springdale. McFarland, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, addressed Cotton—who was among the senate Republicans who vowed to repeal Obamacare but never proposed a replacement—with the words, “Without coverage for pre-existing conditions, I will die,” and asked him to commit to replacement. Not long after, McFarland became the first Democrat in her district to run for state representative, on a platform that prioritized healthcare, education, and a living wage. And though she lost in the midterms, we’re not counting her out for the future.
Judicial Affairs Editor for Daily Kos
Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza was blocked on Twitter by Donald Trump when she suggested that Russia was responsible for his 2016 victory, and she became one of seven plaintiffs who filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the president—and won. According to the U.S. District Judge who oversaw the case, “[T]he blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment.” When not taking the president to task on social media, Buckwalter-Poza uses deeply researched reporting and as well as powerful personal writing to highlight injustices faced by LGBTQ and Latinx folks.
Kayla M. Reed
St. Louis Action Council founder and Electoral Justice Project organizer
After the murder of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, 27-year-old Black queer activist Kayla Reed dedicated her work to fighting police brutality and racial injustice. In 2014, Kayla founded St. Louis Action Council, a Black-led activist collective “working to build political power in the city of St. Louis through civic engagement and strategic political action.” Through Action STL, Reed organized a massive grassroots campaign to successfully remove incumbent prosecutor Bob McCulloch, the man who refused to indict Wilson. And in 2018, with co-organizers Jessica Byrd and Rukia Lumumba, she mobilized the nationwide voter-registration campaign #WakandaTheVote.
Reporter at Reveal
Aura Bogado is a reporter for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting who’s shining a light on underrepresented communities, especially immigrants. Bogado’s fearless reporting uncovered a federally funded treatment center in Texas that was coercing migrant children to take psychiatric drugs. Bogado and reporter Matt Smith broke the story at a pivotal moment, forcing the public and news media to reckon with the realities of Trump’s family separation policy.
Zinzi Clemmons, Monica Byrne, Alisa Rivera, and Carmen Maria Machado
Junot Díaz has been a seemingly unstoppable force since he released The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008, with accolades, academic appointments, and the rare level of admiration that eludes many writers. As Díaz accrued name recognition, however, he also racked up violations against women. His reckoning came in May when author Zinzi Clemmons accused him of forcibly kissing her without her consent, and other women writers, including Monica Byrne, Alisa Rivera, and Carmen Maria Machado shared horrific stories of their own. Each of these women are accomplished in their own right and make this list on their own merits. Together, they’ve rebuked a titan who harmed women—and put the literary world on notice about what they will no longer tolerate.
Staff writer at New York Jewish Week, Investigative Journalism Fund manager, and editor-in-chief of the Layers Project Magazine
Hannah Dreyfus’s investigative reporting for New York Jewish Week on sexual-harassment allegations against prominent Hillel funder Michael Steinhardt was a wake-up call to the wealthy, powerful men of Jewish communities—and the systems that protect them. (Steinhardt’s name was quietly removed from Hillel International’s board of governors list amid an internal investigation.) Dreyfus’s reporting also brought to light harassment allegations against leading Jewish sociologist Steven M. Cohen, as well as child sexual-abuse allegations against Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky and prompted Cohen’s resignation from Hebrew Union College and Krawatsky’s termination from Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.
Saraciea J. Fennell
Creator of the Bronx Book Festival
In 2016, the Bronx’s last remaining bookstore closed, leaving 1.5 million without access to the books that can help them envision a different tomorrow. Book publicist and Bronx native Saraceia J. Fennell knows all-too-well what it’s like to live in a community without books, as she told the New York Times in May. “I remember attending school in the Bronx, there weren’t any authors, no illustrators,” she said. “There weren’t people coming to visit us and talk about their books.” Now, Fennell is revitalizing the Bronx’s literary community through her role on the Latinx in Publishing’s steering committee and as the mastermind behind the Bronx Book Festival, which held its inaugural festival in May. As Fennell says, “The Bronx is not burning. The Bronx is reading,” and she’s embodying that very motto through her work.
Nanette is a comedy special for the ages that both interrogates the genre and upends expectations about what humor should look like. Hannah Gadsby planned to quit the comedy business after performing a set about sexual violence, homophobia, and comedy’s prickly relationship with women, but Nanette helped her career skyrocket instead. Her unveiling of her experiences in Tasmania, where homosexuality was illegal until 1997, is really the heart of the special, but it’s the discomfort that it causes audiences that makes Nanette unique.
You already know Roxane Gay’s work—the searching, personal writing of Bad Feminist and Hunger, the spot-on cultural and political commentary in the New York Times, and the glorious takedown of fools who step to her on Twitter. In 2018, Gay collaborated with Medium on a monthlong online series called “Unruly Bodies,” in which writers explored the human body as a site of everything from desire and spirituality to self-loathing and sickness. Gay’s contribution was a meditation on the longstanding belief in bodily discipline and her own decision to have weight-loss surgery.
Transitioning was an “incredibly isolating” experience for cartoonist Julia Kaye because she didn’t have trans people to talk to about her experiences. So she began drawing autobiographical comics about the ins-and-outs of the various challenges she faced, including being misgendered, changing her driver’s license and other identification cards, and having gender-confirmation procedures. Kaye’s comics have drawn more than 130,000 followers to her Instagram, and this year, she turned her illustrations into a self-reflective book titled Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition. She now encourages trans people to cultivate friendships with supportive people who understand the “challenging, exhilarating, and exhausting” process of transitioning.
Professor and author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects and Sick: A Memoir
Porochista Khakpour is an Iranian American novelist and essayist who has written extensively about popular culture, Islamophobia, and the aftermath of 9/11. In 2018, Khakpour turned to memoir with Sick, a chronicle of her struggles with addiction, misdiagnosis, and late-stage Lyme disease. Through her writing and activism, Khakpour pushes against disability stigma in publishing: She advocates for writers who are chronically ill, disabled, or otherwise marginalized, and consistently uses her own visibility to uplift and amplify them.
Staff writer at The New Yorker
Yes, her frequent coauthor Ronan Farrow gets the glory for their explosive #MeToo coverage for the New Yorker, but investigative journalist Jane Mayer has been dogging the heels of the media and political elite for more than 34 years. As the Wall Street Journal’s first female White House correspondent, as a New Yorker staff writer, and as a bestselling author, Mayer has staked out a rep for unearthing ugly political truths that read like thrillers. Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas (1994) is an essential accounting of the constructed narrative around Thomas and Anita Hill, while 2016’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right explains how the Koch brothers became the architects of a ruthless new political era.
Janelle Monáe is a tour-de-force. In 2016, she starred in Hidden Figures and Moonlight. She is the owner of her own imprint, Wondaland Arts Society. This year, she released her third studio album Dirty Computer, a lush and bright celebration in three-acts that Monáe describes as a reckoning, followed by an exploration of the fear and vulnerability that come with owning one’s otherness. We couldn’t get enough of Dirty Computer’s single “PYNK,” a gorgeous and joyful devotional to the vagina.
Seventeen-year-old Aaron Philip is the future of fashion. Last November, Philip, who was born with cerebral palsy, tweeted about her goal of becoming a model signed to an agency. Her dream came true in July when she became the first disabled, trans woman of color signed by Elite Model Management. And now Philip is committed to increasing visibility in the whitewashed fashion world for other trans people and people with disabilities. “It is no longer enough just to be a pretty face,” she told Vice in October. “Models also have a social responsibility, as they are increasingly becoming influencers, particularly to the younger generation.”
When Michelle Obama chose Baltimore artist Amy Sherald to paint her official portrait, she knew the artist would switch things up in the stuffy National Portrait Gallery. In paintings that also hang in the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture, Sherald interrogates race, identity, and belonging in part by rendering skin in warm grayscale. Though Sherald’s career was interrupted by heart failure—and a subsequent transplant—when she was 30, it’s only getting bigger. She even became a meme when a photo of a Black toddler entranced by her portrait of Obama went adorably viral.
Professional harpist, performance artist, and filmmaker
Ahya Simone is making an indelible mark on music and film. Drawing inspiration from her Motown heart, the Detroit-based harpist and filmmaking femme queen fuses R&B with jazz, experimental music with electronic ones, to create stunning musical compositions that take the harp outside of its usual contexts. Simone is also directing and starring in Femme Queen Chronicles, a web series about Black trans women in Detroit. Simone will soon be unstoppable.
Journalist, documentarian, and activist
Everything changed for journalist Noor Tagouri in 2015 when she was covering protests in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Grey. Tagouri, who always dreamed of being the next Oprah, was able to uniquely connect with the people she was interviewing. “This was my eureka moment,” Tagouri told Forbes. “I realized that my strength lies in using my own identity to build trust with people who’ve never trusted mainstream media to tell their story before. These were the stories I was meant to be covering.” This year, she released Sold In America: Inside Our Nation’s Sex Trade, an investigative series about marginalized communities and the sex trade.
Comedian, performance artist, and creator of Radical Cram School
Los Angeles-based comedian and third-generation Chinese American Kristina Wong is best known for her appearances on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and the New York Times series “Off Color Comedy,” but she’s also created a one-woman show about mental illness titled “Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and a performance piece, “The Wong Street Journal.” In 2018, Wong debuted Radical Cram Series, a witty, absurdist-leaning web series centered on teaching media literacy to Asian and Pacific Islander girls and arming them with tools to navigate racism—as Wong puts it, “Sesame Street for the resistance.”
Retired gymnast and attorney
#MeToo became a watershed moment because of the courage and strength of survivors, including Rachael Denhollander. Denhollander, a lawyer and former gymnast, was the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual assault. Her decision to come forward unleashed an avalanche of allegations against Nassar that ultimately resulted him in being sentenced to between 40 and 125 years in prison. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, Nassar’s sentencing judge, called Denhollander “the bravest person I have ever had in my courtroom.”
Assistant coach for San Antonio Spurs
Becky Hammon, a 16-season WNBA player, made sports history when she became the first full-time assistant coach in NBA history and the first full-time assistant coach in the Big Four professional sports. Hammon, who was inducted into the WNBA’s Ring of Honor in 2015, was born in South Dakota and later became a naturalized Russian citizen who played with Russia’s national team at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. She joined the Spurs in 2014 and has moved steadily upward. In 2018, she was promoted to top assistant coach, which means you’ll see her right up front.
Marisa Kwiatkowski, an investigative reporter at the Indianapolis Star, was working on piece about schools that fail to report sexual abuse. She didn’t expect that a tip about a lawsuit involving USA Gymnastics would end up uncovering 332 cases of sexual abuse committed on young gymnasts by Olympic Team Physician Larry Nassar. With her co-reporters, Kwiatkowski put survivors on the record, drawing stories from Olympic gymnasts, looking at court files, and revealing how long USA Gymnastics had covered for a predator. Kwiatkowski told Indianapolis Monthly that she intends to continue investigating gymnastics: “We have a lot more work to do.”
Professional Tennis Player
In September, Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams to become the U.S. Open’s reigning women’s single champion—and the first Japanese Haitian woman to win the tournament. At just 21, she’s ranked fourth in the world, and is the highest ranked Japanese player in history. Oh, and by the way, she serves at 125 miles per hour. Go, Naomi, go!
Founder of Indigenous Women Hike
Jolie Varela is a member of the Tule River Yokut and Paiute Nations who advocates for Indigenous women and the lands they belong to. As an avid hiker, her mission is to remind people of the inherent racism embedded within an outdoor industry that profits off of the genocide and displacement of Indigenous people from their home lands. Much of her advocacy includes building solidarity and creating allyship between Native Americans and non-Native environmental protectors. Varela founded Indigenous Women Hike in 2017, and hosted their first ever hike through the 210-mile-long Nuumu Poyo in August 2018.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
In 1967, then University of Cambridge graduate student Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars, or “rotating neutron stars observed to have pulses of radiation at very regular intervals that typically range from milliseconds to seconds,” but her male advisor took the credit. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974, and it took 44 years for her to be credited for her groundbreaking work. She was honored with a $3 million Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in September—and she decided to donate the money to create new opportunities for future women scientists.
Founder and CEO of Goodr
Every year, Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food, while 48 million Americans are food insecure. Jasmine Crowe, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based startup Goodr, is aiming to shortcut America’s hunger crisis by working with local restaurants and businesses, including office cafeterias, to redistribute their food surplus to charities. Goodr uses blockchain technology to track how much food is wasted by the companies they work with and the environmental impact of just tossing it away opposed to giving it to those in need. In August, Crowe received $1.25 million in pre-seed funding to expand Goodr’s services to Chicago, Los Angeles, and Raleigh, North Carolina.
Dr. Kathy Doody and Dr. Kevin Doody
In October, Ashleigh and Bliss Coulter birthed a medical miracle when both women carried their newborn baby through an innovative, and much cheaper, form of in-vitro fertilization. Instead of the Coulters placing a sperm and Bliss’s eggs into an incubator, a device was placed in Bliss’s body that allowed her to incubate the eggs before the fertilized eggs were placed in Ashleigh’s body. It’s a one-of-a-kind-procedure developed by Dr. Kathy Doody and Dr. Kevin Doody, specialists at the CARE Fertility clinic in Bedford, Texas. Not only will this innovate pregnancy for queer couples, but it also costs $8,000 instead of the traditional $15,000 to $20,000.
Data scientist and co-founder of First Vigil
Charlottesville resident Emily Gorcenski was horrified when, in the summer of 2017, she learned that white supremacists were planning to overtake her city. And in the course of protesting ultimately tragic Unite the Right rally, she was pepper-sprayed by one of its speakers (who would later serve three months in prison for it). But Gorcenski’s expertise as a data scientist armed her with a powerful weapon against the alt-right: Along with other activists, she created First Vigil, a public database used to track the criminal activity of white nationalists. Journalists can use the database for research on significant court cases, and it’s a crucial tool for anyone seeking a broader look at an increasingly widespread hate movement.
Three years ago, Arlan Hamilton packed up her home in Pearland, Texas, and made her way to Silicon Valley to build a venture capital firm from the ground up. Backstage now funds tech ventures that serve underrepresented communities, and this year, they’ve launched a $36 million fund dedicated to Black women entrepreneurs. Hamilton calls it the “it’s about damn time fund.” Bravo!
Liz McCullagh, Jane Zelikova, and Katarzyna Nowak
Women’s voices and contributions have long been ignored, especially in the STEM fields. All-male panels are so common that there’s even a name for them—manels—and Request a Woman Scientist was created to put an end to this practice. Liz McCullagh, Katarzyna Nowak, and Jane Zelikova created the platform so that any time someone needs a scientist to speak, collaborate on a project, or share expertise, they’re connected with an extensive multidisciplinary network of vetted women in science.
Optical physicist Donna Strickland was an associate professor at the University of Waterloo when she and her former doctoral advisor, Gérard Mourou, won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work in chirped pulse amplification for lasers. (This has since been widely adopted for surgical use, including for vision-correcting procedures.) As Strickland later told media, she hadn’t applied to be a full professor when she became the third woman in Nobel history (and the first in 55 years) to be awarded the prestigious prize. After receiving the award—and after fellow scientists had some stern words with the university—Strickland, who continues with groundbreaking work, was promoted to a full professorship.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Mari Copeny’s first name. (12/7/2018 10:50 am)
This story has been updated to correct Aria Mia Loberti’s University of Rhode Island majors. (12/7/2018 2:46 pm)
This story has been updated to remove Jolie Varela’s Instagram handle. (12/10/2018 10:27 am)