Presenting the 2019 Bitch 50

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.

We honor those who have taken risks in their work that push us closer to progress—a world where more LGBTQ people of color 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.

 

ABORTION ACCESS

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photo of a smiling woman with brown curly hair wearing a black top and denim jacket

Photo credit: Jakob Derner

Calla Hales

Clinic Director, A Preferred Women’s Health Center

Ensuring access to abortion runs in Calla Hales’s family: Her mother and stepfather opened A Preferred Women’s Health Center (AWPWHC) in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1998. Now, Hales directs four clinics across North Carolina and Georgia, and has helped more than 30,000 women in the Southeast access abortion care since 2014. She joined the board of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina to ensure that independent clinics like APWHC are being heard by their state officials, and works to combat the aggressive tactics of antiabortion protestors. The Charlotte clinic has been a target of campaigns of intimidation and harassment in the past several years. In response, Hales helped create the volunteer program Charlotte for Choice to put the word out about local antiabortion protests and to support patients entering the clinic; she also started the Twitter hashtag #40WeeksofHarassment to document the impact of such protests on patients and staff.

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Photo credit: Melissa Alexander

Kwajelyn Jackson

Executive Director of the Feminist Women's Health Center in Atlanta

In May 2019, Georgia became one of several Southern states to pass restrictive laws designed specifically to curtail abortion access after six weeks. Given that the majority of people don’t realize they’re pregnant until they’re about six weeks along, these laws—dubbed “heartbeat bills”—amount to a total abortion ban. For six years, Kwajelyn Jackson has been in the eye of a storm that’s whipping across the United States with the express intention of overturning Roe v. Wade and criminalizing abortion. She’s been working with the Feminist Women’s Health Center since 2013, first as the community engagement coordinator, then as the community education and advocacy director, and now as executive director. In all of these roles, Jackson has been fighting—alongside a team that’s “willing to roll up their sleeves and go above and beyond”—to lobby for expanded aborton access for people in Georgia.

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Photo credit: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Amanda Reyes

President of the Yellowhammer Fund

Amanda Reyes is the president, executive director, and cofounder of the Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama nonprofit that offers funding and other assistance to low-income pregnant people seeking abortion access. In 2018, Yellowhammer was able to help 328 women receive abortions by covering their travel, costs of procedures, and other fees associated with abortion care. In May 2019, after Alabama passed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the United States, the nonprofit received $100,000 in donations in a single day. Over the course of two weeks, Yellowhammer raised roughly $2 million, in part due to signal boosts from 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand. Additionally, Reyes and Yellowhammer set up a separate fund to pay Marshae Jones’s legal fees after she was shot in the stomach, miscarried, and was indicted for manslaughter of a fetus.

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photo of reproductive justice advocate, Laurie Bertram Roberts, a Black woman with short, purple curly hair, wearing glasses and a black floral dress, sitting inside an office

Courtesy of Laurie Bertram Roberts

Laurie Bertram Roberts

Cofounder and Executive Director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund

Abortion funds have always been a vital part of reproductive healthcare, and as states continue waging war against abortion access in the United States, they’ve become even more crucial. Laurie Bertram Roberts, cofounder and executive director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund (MRFF), is leading one of the few abortion funds in the United States run by Black women in a state that has the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. Roberts and her seven children have been operating MRFF from 2014, which not only helps cover the costs of abortion but also provides abortion doula services and a diaper bank. Despite the obstacles, Roberts is dedicated to making reproductive healthcare more accessible for all those who need it.

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photo of abortion access advocate, Reneé Bracey Sherman, a Black woman with glasses and shoulder length curly hair, standing in front of a building wearing a patterned blue and red dress

Photo credit: National Network of Abortion Funds

Renee Bracey Sherman

Founder of We Testify

Renee Bracey Sherman’s website identifies her as “the Beyoncé of abortion storytelling,” and that’s no hyperbole: For more than a decade, she has been among the smartest, loudest, and most tireless advocates for reproductive justice and autonomy. Sherman founded the national leadership program We Testify, which foregrounds race, class, and gender identity so those who have had abortions to speak, write, and advocate with intersectional focus; in 2019, We Testify partnered with Advocates For Youth to launch Youth Testify to mentor and empower people between the ages of 17 and 24 to speak with everyone from friends to legislators about the importance of reproductive justice and access to abortion.

Read Renee Bracey Sherman’s interview

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Courtesy of Pamela Winn

Pamela Winn

Reproductive rights activist

Surgical nurse Pamela Winn was pregnant with her third child when she was sentenced to serve 78 months in a federal prison, and she almost immediately realized how hostile the conditions were for pregnant people in condition. There wasn’t always access to clean drinking water after a certain time and if she were in medical distress, there was no guarantee that she’d receive the treatment she needed. She was also being shackled in arm and leg cuffs as she was being transported back and forth to court hearings, which caused her to fall and later miscarry. Winn’s traumatizing experience became the linchpin for HB 345, a Georgia State bill that bars prisons in the state from shackling pregnant or postpartum people or putting them in solitary confinement. HB 345 passed unanimously in March 2019, bringing an end to an inhumane practice.

EDUCATION

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Photo credit: Ana Isabel Martinez Chamorro

Jennifer Driver

Vice President of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States

Jennifer Driver is the vice president of policy and strategic partnerships at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Through SIECUS, Driver founded and manages the recently launched Sex Education Policy Action Council (SEPAC), a coalition of sex-education experts and advocates working to further comprehensive sex-ed programs in communities across the United States. In a country where sex education for youth is severely lacking, Driver’s work to build a network of advocates who inform federal, state, and local policy and legislation is critical. Driver was also instrumental in the creation of a national set of standards to guide educators and school administrators in creating curriculums that actively teach about reproductive justice, sexual violence, LGBTQ identity, and beyond

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Courtesy of Carolyn Petit

Carolyn Petit

Managing Editor of Feminist Frequency and host of Queer Tropes vs. Video Games

Five years after Gamergate—a catch-all phrase for the coordinated harassment and doxxing of people working to make gaming more inclusive—writer, editor, and feminist Carolyn Petit is still in the digital trenches. Petit has served as the managing editor of Feminist Frequency, a nonprofit organization that analyzes “modern media’s relationship to societal issues such as gender, race, and sexuality,” for four years and is also the host of the popular YouTube series Queer Tropes vs. Video Games. Queer Trope vs. Video Games thoughtfully explores how LGBTQ characters have been portrayed historically and contemporarily in video games. It’s a continuation of Petit’s enduring work and mission—holding a culture she loves accountable for its misdeeds while educating its players on how to do better.

Read Carolyn Petit’s interview

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Photo credit: TED/Ryan Lash

Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi

Cofounders of CHOOSE and authors of Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture, & Identity

Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi were sophomores in high school when they realized that their peers, their teachers, and their school’s administrators either didn’t have a fundamental understanding of racial literacy or were afraid to foster substantive conversations about racism among students. Rather than being complicit in a culture of silence about race, Guo and Vulchi rose to the challenge in 2014 and created CHOOSE, a nonprofit organization that aims to transform how schools teach race by empowering every high school in the United States to build racial and intersectional literacy into their curriculum. Since founding CHOOSE, Guo and Vulchi have delivered TED Talks, written two textbooks, and in June 2019, published Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture, & Identity, a book that recounts their journey up to this point and the lessons they’ve learned about race along the way.

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photo of a Black woman with long platinum white hair, standing on a campus wearing silver hoop earrings, a black tank top and jeans, while smiling and holding her laptop

Photo credit: Christelle Snow/UCLA

Vanessa Warri

UCLA Student

Vanessa Warri, a transgender Nigerian American student at the University of California, Los Angeles, is “committed to the liberation, empowerment, and safety of Black transgender women” in more ways than one. For 11 years, Warri has been using her personal experiences, including being in foster care and being homeless, to guide her advocacy work, and now as a recipient of a Point Foundation scholarship—funds awarded to LGBTQ students—as well as an intern at UCLA’s LGBT Resource Center, she is bringing her expertise to academia. As an assessment and engagement intern at the LGBT Resource Center, Warri spearheaded a campus-wide survey of the school’s LGBTQ students designed to improve campus services and policies that serve them.

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Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Beverly Willis

Architect and documentary filmmaker

For more than 70 years, Beverly Willis has been a pioneer in the field of architecture. While she is best known for her design of the San Francisco Ballet Building, home of the first professional ballet company in the United States, she has also made waves by creating space for women in the industry. In 2002, she founded the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF)—alongside Heidi Gifford and historians Diane Favro and Lian Mann—a nonprofit dedicated to highlighting women’s contributions to architecture. In 2017, BWAF created the Emerging Leaders program to give professional development opportunities to women in architecture. At the thriving age of 80, Willis began producing documentaries. Her most recent film is Unknown New York: The City that Women Built, which premiered in 2018 and depicts 234 Manhattan designed, developed, or engineered by women.

ACTIVISM

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Photo credit: The Center for Popular Democracy

Ady Barkan

Healthcare activist

Ady Barkan is one of the most foremost healthcare activists in the United States. After being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) three years ago, Barkan became even more vocal about the necessity of affordable healthcare, specifically Medicare for All, for all people in the United States. Even as ALS slowly strips Barkan of his motor skills, he has remained diligent about championing Medicare for All and other issues of importance to progressives, including protesting the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Barkan has endorsed Elizabeth Warren for the presidency, though he’s been interviewing every Democratic candidate—with the exception of Joe Biden—about their stance on healthcare.

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photo of a Black woman and artist, Vanessa German, smiling and standing next to her mixed-media sculpture

Photo credit: Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center

Vanessa German

Founder of the ARTHouse

Artist Vanessa German was creating large-scale, mixed-media sculptures in and around her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when neighborhood kids began coming by to ask questions and watch her work. In a neighborhood known for poverty and violence, German saw potential for creating a space for those kids—as well as others in the community—to explore, learn, and create. At what’s now called the ARTHouse, German provides materials, snacks, and inspiration; the words “we are all here together” stretch across the house’s second-story porch in a glittering mosaic. In late 2018, German won the Don Tyson (as in Tyson Foods) Prize, which is awarded by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; she is putting the $200,000 toward opening the Museum of Resilience inside the ARTHouse “as a way of honoring and acknowledging the neighborhood’s large population of single Black mothers and their children.”

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closeup profile photo of a Black woman, poet, and writer, Bassey Ikpi, wearing multicolored beaded jewelry, with her head turned towards the camera

Photo credit: Maxine L. Moore

Bassey Ikpi

Poet, mental-health advocate, and author of I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying

In 2016, world renowned poet and writer Bassey Ikpi was in the throes of a severe depressive episode and decided to turn the page, as she’d done so many times before. I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying, a New York Times-bestselling memoir in essays, was the result. Ikpi wears many hats, including being a Def Jam poet and a Twitter savant, and advocating for people to take their mental health seriously is near the top of that list. Ikpi is the founder of the Siwe Project, an organization that raises awareness about mental health for Black people and people of color, and the creator of #NoShameDay, which aims to reduce stigma. Ikpi told People she wants “people to open up a chamber of empathy,” and it’s clear that her work is the conduit.

Read Bassey Ikpi’s interview

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closeup photo of a Black woman and social worker, Feminista Jones, wearing gold hoop earrings and a yellow shirt, smiling and standing in front of a wood-paneled background

Courtesy of Feminista Jones

Feminista Jones

Retired social worker and author of Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets

Feminista Jones, a feminist writer, public speaker, community activist, and retired social worker has been using social media for more than a decade to increase understanding of Black feminism and organize around a number of social issues, including street harassment and police violence. In 2019, Jones released her fourth book, Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World From the Tweets to the Streets, which explores how Black women have long used various mediums—from the classroom to Twitter—to create and lead political movements. Jones can count herself among those women, given that it’s nearly impossible to follow Black feminist conversations online without becoming acquainted with her work and feeling her influence.

Read Feminista Jones’s interview

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photo of three gallon jugs of water with encouraging words of solidarity for migrants, written by volunteers from the No More Deaths organization

Photo credit: No More Deaths/Facebook

No More Deaths

Undocumented Immigrant Advocacy Group

No More Deaths (NMD) is a Phoenix- and Tucson-based immigration advocacy group. Founded in 2004 by local Jewish, Catholic, and Presbyterian leaders, NMD aims to prevent the deaths of people crossing the United States-Mexico border by patrolling and providing food, water, shelter, and humanitarian aid to undocumented immigrants, as well as document human-rights violations by immigration officers. On January 17, 2018, Scott Warren, a volunteer working with NMD, was arrested by Border Patrol and charged with a felony for harboring undocumented migrants by providing two of them with food and water. Warren faced up to 20 years in prison, but his trial ended in a hung jury in June 2019 and he was recently acquitted in a retrial.

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photo of a Black woman and activist, Aria Sa’id, standing outside in front of a fountain, surrounded by greenery, whilewearing a pink top and blue patterned skirt, holding her hands up to her mouth while smiling

Photo credit: Daniela Dusak Photography

Aria Sa’id

Public service, organizing

Everyone has heard of the Stonewall riots, but fewer know about the event three years earlier that shook San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The Compton’s Cafeteria Riots marked the moment that the neighborhood’s marginalized residents (including transgender women of color, drag queens, and sex workers) pushed back righteously and violently against longstanding harassment from the San Francisco Police Department. When the Tenderloin was anointed the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District in early 2019, Sa’id—one of three Black transgender women who lobbied for the designation—was named its executive director. Sa’id is the former program director for the St. James Infirmary, which provides heath care and support for sex workers of all genders; she’s also the founder of Kween Culture Initiative, whose mission is to foster community and change among Black and Brown transgender women.

Read Aria Sa’id’s interview

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photo of a brown woman and activist, Lea Lakshimi Piepzna-Samarasinha, who has curly blue hair and purple lipstic, standing outside smiling while wearing a sleeveless black top with a shark graphic

Photo credit: Jesse Manuel Graves

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Disability-justice activist and author of Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha has such an impressive body of work that it’s difficult to even pinpoint when their excellence began and the impact their writing, their performance art, and their activism has had on a movement to return rightful dignity to people with disabilities, especially people who face oppression at other intersections of their identities. Piepzna-Samarasinha has published a number of different groundbreaking books, including Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home (2015), Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice (2018), and Tonguebreaker (April 2019), that have shifted how we understand and use language, and has lived in alignment with their politics.

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photo of climate activist, Greta Thunberg, standing outside, wearing a blue hoodie and plaid shirt while holding a climate strike poster

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commmons

Greta Thunberg

Climate change activist

Though Greta Thunberg is only 15, she’s at the forefront of a movement to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on the Earth. She held daily protests outside of the Swedish Parliament because of that government’s inaction on fighting the climate crisis and demanded the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions to comply with the Paris Agreement. Thunberg’s criticism hasn’t just been limited to government officials; she’s also criticized older generations for “shitting on” the futures of young people by not taking climate change seriously. Thunberg’s fiery speech at the United Nations Climate Change Action Summit inspired students around the world to organize their own climate strikes. Due to her age, fierce advocacy, and openness about being on the autism spectrum, Thunberg has been the target of online harassment and abuse from climate-change deniers. In an interview with Time magazine, however, she made it plain: “I’m not going to let that stop me because I know this is so much more important.”

POLITICS

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closeup photo of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, who has long, dark brown hair, and is smiling

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister of New Zealand

On March 15, 2019, accused shooter Brenton Taranton opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people and wounding an additional 49 people. Mass shootings are so common in the United States that we’ve become desensitized to them, but in New Zealand, a mass shooting carried out with semiautomatic weapons was jarring enough to lead to sweeping reforms. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden immediately referred to the shooting as a “well-planned terrorist attack” and within a month, the country’s parliament banned most automatic and semiautomatic weapons. Beyond this, Arden, who’s the youngest prime minister in the history of New Zealand, has tried to carry out a progressive agenda that includes extended family leave, fighting climate change, and ending poverty.

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photo of reporter, Julie K Brown, a white woman with short blonde hair wearing a blue blazer and sunglasses, while exiting a building

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Julie K. Brown

Reporter at The Miami Herald

Julie K. Brown knew that the crimes perpetrated by Miami financier Jeffery Epstein against dozens of young women were an open secret, and in 2017 became determined to reveal exactly how Florida law-enforcement bigwigs kept him out of prison and his victims in the dark. The Miami Herald’s series “Perversion of Justice” dropped at the end of 2018, and the story exploded, in part because of Brown’s efforts in reaching out to Epstein’s victims, who had never told their stories publicly. Brown was awarded the 2019 Hillman Prize for Journalism in the Common Good and the 2019 George Polk Award in Justice Reporting, but her focus remains on the young women who risked so much to come forward and were robbed of their day in court by Epstein’s death. “This is another betrayal, in a way,” Brown said in an interview. “Not only by [Epstein], but by the system.”

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photo of Amber Hikes, a Black woman and Director of Diversity at the ACLU, wearing a 3-piece black suit and blue collared shirt, standing in a historical-looking building.

Photo credit: John Cruice

Amber Hikes

Chief Diversity Officer at the American Civil Liberties Union

Philadelphia has long been one of the most progressive cities in the United States; it was one of the first cities to offer safe haven for formerly enslaved people who escaped from plantations and has been a home for millions of people from underrepresented communities. That doesn’t mean Philly comes without its fair share of problems, including rampant racism in its small but historic Gayborhood area. In 2017, Amber Hikes was hired as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, and she immediately began addressing how racism impacts queer people of color in Philly. She instituted an annual LGBTQ State of the Union; introduced the “More Pride More Color” flag; and fostered conversations with community activists leaders about making the city’s LGBTQ population safer. Hikes joined the American Civil Liberties Union in July 2019 as the chief diversity officer, a move that will allow her to do this kind of integral work on a national level.

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selfie photo of author Sarah Kendzior, a white woman with blonde hair, wearing a blue shirt and smiling in front of a white wall

Courtesy of Sarah Kendzior

Sarah Kendzior

Professor, cohost of the Gaslit Nation podcast, and author of The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America

As an academic, Sarah Kendzior studied totalitarianism in former Soviet states, writing her dissertation on the use of internet disinformation campaigns in Uzbekistan. That’s made her one of the most astute chroniclers of Donald Trump’s ascendence, but also one of the most maligned: Kendzior’s warnings about the potential result of Trump’s affection for authoritarians and flair for media manipulation were routinely dismissed as overblown conspiracy theorizing—until she was proved right about all of them. Kendzior’s journalism is pointed and ruthless in forcing us to consider the catastrophic cost of both-sides media: Both her podcast, Gaslit Nation, and her regular appearances on MSNBC cut through mealy-mouthed punditry. Her new book Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America is a history of U.S. corruption over the past 40 years, comes out in 2020.

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closeup photo of Congresswoman and Somali woman, Ilhan Omar, wearing a white headwrap and white top, looking off to the side and smiling

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ilhan Omar

U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District

Ilhan Omar is the very embodiment of Shirley Chisholm’s iconic “unbought and unbossed” slogan. Since becoming the first Somali American and the first of two Muslim women elected to Congress, Omar has faced down Donald Trump, who has called her antisemitic; introduced legislation that will “get dirty money out of politics;” and either endorsed or supported progressive legislation, including Medicare for All, pushing for more affordable housing, and ending the Hyde Amendment. Though Omar has faced criticism from conservatives and progressives alike for her stance on Israel, she’s unflinchingly held firm to her values.

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photo of journalist Priya Ramani, a brown woman standing outside, wearing a patterned shirt, a grey longsleeved top, and a red scarf while carrying a bag, looking off to the side and smiling

Photo credit: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Priya Ramani

Journalist

In October 2017, journalist Priya Ramani published “To the Harvey Weinsteins of the World” in Vogue India, an open letter that described the sexual harassment she faced at the age of 23 while working for a much-older editor. In October 2018—as the #MeToo movement geared up in Hollywood—Ramani revealed that her harasser was MJ Akbar, the founder and former editor-in-chief of The Asian Age and a politician. Her brave decision to publicly challenge the behavior of a powerful, predatory man led 20 other women to come forward; Akbar resigned from his position as Union Minister weeks after her initial allegations. Though Akbar is now suing Ramani for defamation, she has said that “a great personal cost” is no match for “the public good” she was able to do. 

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

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closeup photo of author Samantha Irby, a Black woman with short dark hair, wearing glasses, a red lip, and leather jacket, smiling.

Photo credit: Eva Blue

Samantha Irby

Author of Meaty and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life and writer for Hulu’s Shrill

Samantha Irby is one of the funniest writers on planet Earth. Her bestselling books, including Meaty (2013) and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life (2017), are insightful, witty, and relatable, especially for fat people and people with chronic illnesses, and in 2019, Irby moved into a new medium. She joined the writer’s room for Shrill, a Hulu series based on Lindy West’s 2017 essay collection, and penned “Pool”—the first season’s most memorable episode. Within it, Irby captured an experienced that many plus-size people are now familiar with: attending a plus-size pool party and realizing that freedom can come through being in community with other fat folks. Irby is releasing her third book, Wow, No Thank You in March 2020.

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photo of Jari Jones, a Black woman, actress, and activist with long black hair, posing for photographers, wearing an off-the-shoulder, ruffled light blue top, and dark blue satin pants

Photo credit: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Jari Jones

Actor and Producer

When she was cast in the independent film Port Authority, Jari Jones didn’t expect to take on other roles, first as a script consultant and later as a producer. When Port Authority—a love story set in New York City’s ballroom scene—premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, it was the first film produced by a Black trans women to do so. In a field where plus-size transgender women of color are rarely visible, Jones is a force of nature: She’s appeared on stage and in television, modeled for brands like Universal Standard and Phluid, written about colorism in Out magazine, and advocated for TWOC gaining bigger and better representation in media and popular culture everywhere.

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photo of Lizzo, a Black woman and musician, standing on stage and smiling while wearing a denim bustier and denim shorts, with a tattoo-patterned shirt underneath

Photo credit: Burak Cingi/Redferns

Lizzo

Musician

There are few lines in music as iconic—and immediately recognizable—as “I just took a DNA test/ Turns out I’m 100 percent that bitch,” and in a whirlwind year, it’s a line that perfectly describes Lizzo. Two years after originally releasing “Truth Hurts,” the song hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for seven weeks, tying Iggy Azalea’s 2014 song “Fancy” for the longest-running number one song by a female rap artist. But that’s not it. Lizzo also released her third album, Cuz I Love You, in April, which included a collaboration with Missy Elliott; earned eight Grammys nominations, including Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year; and credited British performer Mina Lioness as a songwriter on “Truth Hurts” for originally tweeting the aforementioned “100 percent that bitch” line. Now, that’s what we call a year to remember.

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photo of Deaf, Jewish-Asian, genderqueer, trans masculine activist, artist, model, and actor, Chella Man, standing in front of a white wall while wearing a half-unbuttoned, red-colored shirt and white pin-striped pants

Photo credit: Paul Archuleta/Film Magic

Chella Man

Actor and Model

Chella Man, a 20-year-old Jewish Chinese actor, artist, and activist should be on everyone’s radar: Man has been publicly chronicling his experiences with gender dysphoria and transitioning on YouTube since 2017, where he’s racked up more than 240,000 subscribers and reaches more than 1 million viewers per video. Man, who’s also Deaf and genderqueer, is also a model signed to IMG and in June 2019, he announced that he’ll be joining the second season of Titans as a mute crime fighter named Jericho. Joining the D.C. universe—and breaking barriers while doing so—is just the beginning for this actor on the rise.

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photo of Marsai Martin, an actress, executive producer, and young Black woman wearing a 2-piece pink satin suit, smiling and standing in front of a pink brick wall.

Photo credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET

Marsai Martin

Actor and Executive Producer

Marsai Martin might only be 15, but she’s already a Hollywood powerhouse. She first rose to prominence as Diane Johnson, the feisty, witty, and always-scheming daughter of Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) and Dre (Anthony Anderson) on ABC’s Black-ish, and then made her film debut in the 2016 Amazon Studios drama An American Girl Story—Melody 1963: Love Has to Win, set in a Civil Rights-era Detroit. Though Martin wormed her way into her hearts as an actor, she didn’t just want to work in the office of the camera; she wanted to make decisions about the kinds of projects Hollywood greenlights as well. Not only did Martin develop the idea for Little, the April 2019 comedy that grossed more than $45 million at the box office, but she also starred in the film and served as its executive producer. At 13, she became the youngest executive producer in Hollywood history, and she doesn’t intend to slow down anytime soon. Martin has inked a first-look deal with Universal, meaning we’ll likely be getting more projects from this wonderkid soon.

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photo of actress Ali Stroker, a white, blonde woman wearing a long, v-neck sequined dress, sitting in her wheelchair on a redcarpet, and smiling in front of a wall of red roses

Photo credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Nordstrom

Ali Stroker

Actor

Actor and singer Ali Stroker has been breaking new ground for years: She caught the acting bug at the age of 7, when a neighbor cast her to play the titular protagonist in a neighborhood production of Annie, and since then, she’s been committed to the craft. After taking parts in the Glee Project, Spring Awakening, and Glee, she combined her love for music and acting by pursuing roles on Broadway. In 2019, Stroker earned the 2019 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in Oklahoma! making her the first wheelchair user to win a Tony.

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photo of writer Esmé Weijun Wang, an Asian woman with short platinum blond hair, wearing glasses and leaning by a window, looking at the camera

Photo credit: Kristin Cofer

Esmé Weijun Wang

Writer and author of The Collected Schizophrenias

Writing, as a creative process, is difficult to begin with; writing while experiencing the delusion that you’re actually dead would seem to be impossible. Esmé Weijun Wang did that and much more in chronicling her own mental illness, and her Graywolf nonfiction-prize–winning book of essays, The Collected Schizophrenias, takes the profound fear and confusion of living with schizoaffective disorder and draws grace and humor from them. Wang doesn’t want to be anyone’s inspiration, and resists the idea that writing candidly about her life is tantamount to dispensing advice to others. The Collected Schizophrenias records states of mind that are both terrifying in their unknowability and vivid because of just that, and makes us excited to see more of the world through Wang’s eyes.

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photo of the executive editor of Out magazine, Raquel Willis, a Black trans woman with long light brown braids, sitting outside wearing a long, pleated metallic dress and leaning her elbow on her knee

Photo credit: Texas Isaiah

Raquel Willis

Executive Editor of Out magazine

Raquel Willis is unapologetically herself on every single platform where she’s visible, organizing, and leading conversations about how to make the world as safe and equitable as possible for Black trans people. Sometimes that takes the form of giving speeches; other times it’s creating projects like the Black Trans Circles to build “the leadership of Black trans women in the South and Midwest;” and many times, it’s transforming institutions that previously overlooked and excluded trans people. In December 2018, Willis became the executive editor of Out magazine, and she and her team have shepherded in a new era that we’re all marveling at. As she told Essence after her appointment, she remains deeply committed to the Black trans community, the trans and nonconformity community, and the LGBTQ community “in all of the ways that it exists”—and that shows up in her work time and again.

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photo of queer illustrator and designer, Loveis Wise, a Black woman with locs in an updo, sitting on her colorful patterned bed smiling, wearing a yellow top and red pants

Photo credit: Brinson & Banks

Loveis Wise

Illustrator and Designer

Loveis Wise, a queer illustrator and designer based in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, is transforming publishing. In June 2018, she became the second Black woman to create the cover for the New Yorker, with her “Nurture” artwork, and she repeated this feat in April 2019 with her “Taking Care” artwork. Not only is Wise being the first Black woman since Kara Walker to create a New Yorker cover amazing, but her focus on womanism, activism, family ties, and other issues relevant to her experience only magnifies the accomplishment.

SPORTS

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photo of athlete and coach, Veronica Alvarez, a brown woman smiling and wearing a blue activewear top and an MLB baseball cap

Photo credit: Major League Baseball

Veronica Alvarez

Baseball Player and Coach

Veronica Alvarez has loved and played baseball since childhood, but like many girls, she was funneled into softball once she aged out of Little League. Softball is a viable sport that should be respected, but Alvarez’s heart remained in baseball, though there wasn’t an established career path for women interested in playing the latter sport. That’s until Alvarez stumbled on the USA Baseball Women’s National Team, which competes for championships on a biannual basis. Alvarez has been the catcher on four USWNT teams, and now, she’s working with Major League Baseball to create programming for girls who are interested in baseball. In April 2019, she became the first woman to coach at spring training for the Oakland A’s.

Read Veronica Alvarez’s interview

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photo of Olympian, Simone Biles, a Black woman wearing a red and blue tracksuit with a gold medal around her neck, while waving to the crowd and smiling

Photo credit: Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia Commons

Simone Biles

All-Around World Champion Gymnast

Simone Biles’s gold-medal count well outstrips her age: At just 22, she’s racked up 25 world-championship medals and held the world all-around title for three straight years, from 2013 to 2015. That’s to say nothing of her domination at 2016’s Olympic Games, where she led the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to victory and set the nation’s record for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics won at a single Olympic Games. And though making history is nothing new for Biles—she was the first female African American athlete to win the all-around world title, in 2013—the 2019 season was evidence that she’s got many more firsts to come. Just for starters, she debuted two floor and balance-beam skills at the World Championships, complicated double- and triple-twisting multiple somersaults (dubbed “the Biles” and “the Biles II”), and, by winning five gold medals, tied the record of most golds won at a single World Championships. Long may she reign.

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profile photo of tennis player, Coco Gauff, a young Black woman with long black braided hair, wearing a white headband, white top, and white wristband, raising her fist in front of her

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff

Tennis player

Tennis is always ripe for new superstars, and Coco Gauff is more than willing to step into the limelight. At just 15, Gauff is ranked number 68 in the world, is the youngest singles title-holder on the Women’s Tennis Association’s circuit since 2004, and defeated Venus Williams at Wimbledon in a first-round upset. She’s competed at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and a number of other tournaments in 2019, and in August 2019, she faced off against Naomi Osaka in a match that left us all humbled by their graciousness and sportsmanship.

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photo of writer, Jemele Hill, a Black woman in a 2-piece silk suit, sitting cross-legged on a stage, speaking to an audience

Photo credit: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE

Jemele Hill

Staff writer at The Atlantic and host of the Unbothered podcast

Sports journalist Jemele Hill has been a staple on many of our timelines and televisions for years: She started as a newspaper journalist, covering sports for the Raleigh News & Observer and the Detroit Free Press, before moving to ESPN to work as a columnist. Her insight about sports led to appearances on Sportscenter, First Take, and ESPN’s other slate of shows, before she and her cohost Michael Smith were first given their own show and then moved to Sportscenter. Though Hill faced a storm in 2017 for referring to Trump as “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime,” she’s left ESPN, found a spot at The Atlantic where she’s not just relegated to sports, and has also launched a popular podcast. In May 2018, Hill was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists for her sustained excellence.

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photo of X Games winners, Lizzie Armanto, Cocona Hiraki, and Misugu Okamoto, a young Finnish-American woman and two young Japanese women, standing on podiums holiding their skateboards and medals

(From left to right) Cocona Hiraki, Misugu Okamoto, and Lizzie Armanto (Photo credit: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Lizzie Armanto, Cocona Hiraki, and Misugu Okamoto

Professional Skateboarders

There’s nothing new about girls and women actively participating in skateboarding culture, with Patti McGee, Kim Cespedes, Peggy Oki, and Laura Thornhill helping usher in the sport in the United States in the 20th century. However, the marketing of skateboarding—through video games, merchandise, and sponsorships—has long been the domain of men. It wasn’t until 1998 that Elissa Steamer became the first professional woman skateboarder with an endorsement deal. Despite this exclusion, a new generation of women skateboarders are taking their rightful place at the top of the ramp. At the 2019 X Games in Minneapolis, three young girls—Misugu Okamoto, Lizzie Armanto, and Cocona Hiraki—were dazzling as they medaled in the women’s skateboarding competition. Best of all, Okamoto is just 13, so she can—and will—continue dominating the sport for years to come.

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closeup photo of track star, Caster Semenya, a Black woman, with short cornrows, wearing a sleeveless jersey and track number, while looking off to the side

Photo credit: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP via Getty Images

Caster Semenya

Olympic Track Runner

From the moment South African runner Caster Semenya burst onto the global stage in 2009, winning a gold medal in the 800-meter competition at the world championships in Berlin, she’s been subjected to unfair scrutiny. She was just 18 then, and World Athletics (IAAF), the international body that governs a number of sports including track and field, were already testing her body’s testosterone levels to determine if she should be allowed to compete in races with fellow women competitors. As Semenya has accrued more medals and records, including gold medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, the IAAF has continued to harass her, eventually leading to the controversial July 2019 ruling that she will have to take testosterone-lowering medication before being allowed to compete in the 2020 Olympics. As Semenya appeals the ruling, she’s also remained committed to a simple goal: “I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world,” she told the Washington Post in a statement after the ruling.

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group photo of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team with their hands in the air, celebraiting their World Cup win

Photo credit: Naomi Baker/FIFA via Getty Images

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team

Professional Athletes and Equal Pay Warriors

In March 2019, an unexpected group joined the ever-growing chorus of women advocating for pay equity: the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team. Twenty-eight members of the USWNT filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer Federation for violating the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit reads, in part, “Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts.” After winning the World Cup in 2015 (and winning it again in 2019), the USWNT is fighting to be paid equally to a team that hasn’t even won a World Cup. Imagine that.

SCIENCE, TECH, AND INNOVATION

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photo of AllGo founder and CEO, Rebecca Alexander, a white, short haired blonde woman, wearing glasses and a patterned blue v-neck top, smiling in an office space

Photo credit: Michael Poley

Rebecca Alexander

Creator of AllGo

The world is not designed to accommodate fat people. Restaurants, airplanes, amusement and water parks, doctor’s offices, and every other public place rarely consider if their establishments are inclusive of larger bodies, leaving many plus-size people with an anxiety that they’ll be unable to fit. Rebecca Alexander understood that fear of embarrassment, and she decided to do something about it. Alexander created AllGo, an app that’s still being beta-tested, that functions as a Yelp specifically for plus-size accommodations. If you’ve ever wondered if chairs have arms or if benches move in your favorite coffee shop (in Portland, for now), and then this is the app for you.

Read Rebecca Alexander’s interview

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closeup photo of grad student, Katie Bouman, a young white woman with long brown straight hair, wearing a purple top and smiling

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Katie Bouman

Computer scientist and assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology

Dr. Katie Bouman is a computer scientist and an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology. Bouman made headlines in April 2019 when a photo of her reacting to the first image of a supermassive black hole went viral. Bouman originally began work on the computer algorithm that would produce the first ever image of a black hole when she was a PhD student at MIT in 2013. However—because the internet is the internet—she became the target of sexist harassment dismissing her role in building the algorithm. While Bouman has been erroneously credited as the sole contributor in this groundbreaking scientific discovery, she has repeatedly highlighted the contributions of the rest of her team of scientists and researchers.

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photo of journalist and social entrepreneur, Sherrell Dorsey, a Black woman with brown curly hair, wearing a yellow, long sleeved blouse, hoop earrings and necklace, standing outside smiling

Photo credit: Kayla Gladney

Sherrell Dorsey

Tech journalist, entrepreneur, and founder of BLKTECHCLT

We all know the dismal stats about tech funding, particularly for startups led by Black innovators. Sherell Dorsey has literally made it her business to get those numbers up: She founded the daily newsletter ThePLUG in 2016 in order to highlight and connect Black tech creators and investors; she was also intent on narrowing what she calls the tech industry’s “data gap” and making sure that the industry could no longer lean on the excuse of not knowing how to find Black-led tech projects. ThePLUG is national, but the North Carolina resident also thinks locally: She’s the founder of BLKTECHCLT, Charlotte’s first tech hub supporting the state’s Black entrepreneurs and tech workers. Dorsey was a guest speaker at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Digital Empowers Summit in Washington D.C., and delivered a keynote about “smart cities” at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

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(from top to bottom) photos of the five founders of POC Audio: Afi Yellow-Duke, a short haired black woman with glasses in a grey sweater and blue and orange scarf; Adizah Eghan, a Black woman with an afro in front of a colorful wall looking off to the si

Photo credit: (from top to bottom) Afi (Amy Pearl), Adizah (Kunjo), Zakiya (Amy Pearl), Aliya (Yuula Benivolski), Phoebe (Eleanor Petry)

Afi Yellow-Duke, Adizah Eghan, Zakiya Gibbons, Aliya Pabani, and Phoebe Wang

Founders of POC In Audio

Podcasts are booming; at least 165 million people in the United States have listened to a podcast and 32 percent of adults in the United States listen to podcasts on a monthly basis. But even as the audio market expands, those creating, producing, hosting, and profiting from the boom as predominantly white. In October 2018, producer Phoebe Wang called attention to this issue after winning a Best New Artist Third Coast Award, and issued a directive for publications to hire more people from underrepresented communities. “Don’t wait for people to come to you,” Wang said. “Go on the internet, recruit people, invite them to apply for your position, invite them to join your applicant pool.” Not only did Wang issue this directive to others, but she also took up the challenge; she joined forces with Afi Yellow-Duke, Adizah Eghan, Zakiya Gibbons, and Aliya Pabani to create POC in Audio, a database that connects employers with people of color working in audio for opportunities and connects people of color in audio with one another.

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photo of Sex Tech Space founder, Alison Falk, a white woman with brown hair tied in a bun, wearing a black top and orange scarf, while looking at the camera

Photo credit: Keaton Manning

Alison Falk

Creator of SexTechSpace

Pittsburgh-based app developer Alison Falk created Women in Tech PGH after hearing too many fellow women in tech downplay their projects and achievements so they wouldn’t be perceived as arrogant or off-putting; the platform highlights new and ongoing tech projects, lists jobs, and hosts workshops and events for women and nonbinary people in local tech. Falk is also the brains behind SexTechSpace, a free bimonthly digital publication covering technical, ethical, and social issues in sextech:  One recent issue focused on sex work and the problems with using tech to combat sex trafficking, as well as on the importance of making sure the people impacted by such applications have a voice in its development; another looked at issues of privacy, safety, and surveillance in the sextech space. With an eye on demystifying and destigmatizing sextech for creators and users alike, SexTechSpace is at the forefront of conversations and innovations about the future—and the present—of sex.

Read Alison Falk’s interview

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top photo of scientist Kelly Ramirez, a short haired, blonde Latinx woman in the outdoors, wearing a pink jacket and cap and smiling. Bottom photo of scientist Jane Zelikova, a white woman with brown hair standing in front of a mountain landscape wearing

Photo credit: Courtesy Kelly Ramirez, Meg O’Neill (bottom)

Kelly Ramirez and Jane Zelikova

Founders of 500 Women Scientists

After the 2016 election of Donald Trump, four women scientists who met in graduate school at the University of Colorado Boulder published an open letter about their ongoing commitment to championing people from underrepresented communities in science. It ended with two simple sentences: “We are women. We are scientists.” More than 20,000 women working in STEM signed the open letter, declaring their commitment to the mission of what would become 500 Women Scientists. In 2018, Kelly Ramirez and Jane Zelikova turned that open letter into an organization that includes several components, including Request a Scientist (featured on the 2018 Bitch 50 list) and a fellowship.

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photo of Lit.Bar founder, Noëlle Santos, an Afro Latina woman with long brown curled hair, standing in front of a colorful mural, wearing a black hoodie with the words "Read or else"

Photo credit: Matthew Swiader

Noëlle Santos

Founder of the Lit.Bar

When the Bronx’s only bookstore (a Barnes & Noble) closed in 2016, Noëlle Santos was rightfully outraged. She then decided to turn that frustration into action and began crowdfunding to open her own independent bookstore. After raising $170,000 in a little more than a month, Santos opened The Lit.Bar on April 27, 2019, perfectly timed with Independent Bookstore Day. Part-bookstore, part-wine bar, and part-community space, The Lit.Bar places an emphasis on literature by Black and Latinx people

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photo of physicist, Jessica Wade, a white woman with short brown hair and glasses, smiling and standing outside wearing a purple sweater and apron, while holding a liquid-filled plastic bottle upside down.

Courtesy of Jessica Wade

Jessica Wade

Physicist

British physicist Jessica Wade—that’s Dr. Wade to you—has made it her mission to ensure that women’s contributions to science don’t disappear in the digital ether. Wade began researching and writing Wikipedia entries for women scientists in 2018; since then, she’s added more than 650 of them. Noting in a New York Times interview that Wikipedia is “really the only peer-reviewed, crowdsourced, democratized access to information for every single person in the world to be able to read and contribute to,” Wade saw a way to inspire future scientists with direct storytelling, rather than relying on the work of girls-and-STEM initiatives that garner big funding but have yet to bridge the gender gap in scientific fields. Wade hosts edit-a-thons all over the world, at schools and  science conferences; she’s also a tireless booster of fellow women scientists, regularly nominating them for prizes.

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