You know how the conversations get started. You’re cavorting with your friends when someone decides to take things in a direction that’s a bit less lighthearted and a bit more thought-provoking. A game of 20 questions goes from silly to sincere in the blink of an eye. When the tone shifts, I like to bring up the subject of women I’d like to meet. I think it’s enlightening to know who my friends would like to sit down with for coffee and a bit of chit-chat if they could choose any woman, living or dead, for their own little game of 20 questions.
My problem with such questions is that I would have a tough time narrowing it down to just one. I love women who break barriers or defy odds. I adore women who tell it like it is without apology. My standard choice has generally been Maya Angelou.
Much as I like that choice, I decided the other day that I needed to expand my horizons, branch out to new territory, find another bright, witty woman I don’t know with whom to have a little sit-down. After scouring the net for likely candidates — in a completely non-stalkerish way — I learned something important. I don’t know enough women. What I mean is, there are amazing women out there, in all kinds of places, and I had never heard of them before. And that’s just wrong. So I wanted to let you in on some of the amazing women I discovered.
First, you should know what got me started down this road in the first place. There’s a little slide-show article over at msn.com called "10 amazing women you’ve never heard of" (thanks Mo!). It’s an outstanding list of smart, beautiful women including Nobel prize winners, doctors, teachers, and the first plus-sized super-model, Emme Aronson. It includes women like Safiye Amjan, an Afghan woman who defied the Taliban to continue educating girls in her homeland. It includes women like Waris Dirie, a Somalian woman who has led the crusade to end female genital mutilation after suffering the atrocity of it herself. It includes women like Kelly Perkins, a heart transplant recipient who climbs mountains both literal and figurative. It’s a list you should definitely check out.
It’s also a list that leaves a lot of room for additions. Here are five women who would be on my list. I’d love to engage any of them in a little coffee talk.
1. Katherine Switzer — Marathon runner
Switzer wasn’t the first woman to run in or complete the Boston Marathon, but she was the first to do so with actual numbers from race officials. She entered the race as K.V. Switzer in 1967. When race officials realized they had inadvertently allowed a woman to enter the race, one of them tried to forcibly remove the numbers from her shirt as she ran. Several male runners stepped in to help fend him off. Forty years later, she’s till running. You go, girl.
2. Maryam Keshavarz — Filmmaker
Keshavarz made her first film, The Color of Love, after studying at Shiraz University in Iran and competing nationally on the Shirazi basketball team. An Iranian-American raised in New York, she was inspired by the women she saw navigating Iran’s strict rules without fear. Her film documents how religion, Iranian law, and Western media shape the way love is viewed by women in Iran. Recently, she was the inagural recipient of the Adrienne Shelly Foundation Women Filmmakers Grant, a collaboration between ASF and Sundance. Her vision just might help shape the way we see our world.
3. Arcadia Kim — Chief Operating Officer, Electronic Arts
First off, how cool is that name? Second, how cool is that name for someone in the male-dominated world of gaming? It’s a world Kim has been a part of for sometime. Before taking over as COO at EA, she was Director of Product Development at Maxis. You might have heard of some of their games, like The Sims, The Urbz and SimCity. For us girls who love to game, Kim is a player’s playmaker.
4. Suzan-Lori Parks — Playwright
Parks did find her way onto another of msn.com’s lists, which you should also check out. But I love her because she fits the Maya Angelou mold for me. She’s bright, witty and beautiful. And I love a woman who has a way with words. She also happens to be the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
5. Katharine Bement Davis — Penologist, Suffragist, Politician, Sexual Research Pioneer — you name it, she did it!
I love history. I especially love the history our teachers neglected to tell us about. Davis is one of the figures our educators have left out of far too many textbooks. Her work was the building block for Kinsey when he began his studies of human sexuality. Davis was the first to take a non-judgmental look at sexual relationships between women. She ran for public office in New York City in 1914. She was the NYC Corrections Commissioner from 1914 to 1915 and the first woman to head a major civic department in NYC. She never married and never apologized for it. This is a woman I would love to chat with. And she’s someone our history books should remember, not neglect.
Who are some of your favorite amazing women?