In the midst of her university years, Djebar published her first two novels, La Soif and Les Impatients (she also took on her pen name, fearing that her father wouldn't approve of her writing). The novels were much less politicized than her later writing and received criticism for failing to acknowledge the then-current political climate in Algeria; still, these novels—written in French but set in Algeria, using romantic plots to explore female identity—foreshadowed many of the themes that are central to Djebar’s later work.
Elaine May gained notoriety for directing the 1987 Hollywood mega-disaster Ishtar, but before that she broke barriers for women in comedy with longtime partner-in-crime Mike Nichols, and for women in film with her gripping Mikey and Nicky and hilarious The Heartbreak Kid. She's worked against the grain as a writer and director, pushing against systems that normally value women only for their looks and not their wit. And, to top it all off, she's still pretty damn funny.
Ella Baker is best known for her involvement in the civil rights movement during the late 1950s and 1960s, when she helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. These organizations were indeed pivotal, but, as Baker herself said, "One of the things that has to be faced is the process of waiting to change the system, how much we have got to do to find out who we are, where we have come from and where we are going." Baker believed that a revolution entailed an ongoing process rather than a finite blueprint; her accomplishments and ideology then, should be studied as a transformative trajectory rather than as discrete events.
Gloria Anzaldúa lived a pedal-to-the-metal life, refusing to deny any aspects of her dynamic identity and writing her own page in the great book of queer/feminist/critical theory by tearing out 20 others. Her writings are enactments of the "borderland/frontera" concept that she pioneered; her books fly between prose and poetry, English and Spanish, and any number of personal and theoretical topics that she felt compelled to put between a front and back cover. In occupying a space between genres, topics, cultures and identities, she broke the hegemonic norms that sought to restrain her throughout her life.
"If you’re looking for quiet, soothing music that will lull you to sleep, put a record on your phonograph and spend the evening at home. But if you want to hear singing that will make the blood pound in your pulse, listen to the brown bomber of sophisticated song at Mona’s Club 440. Her name is Gladys Bentley and she’s as gifted with the piano keys as with her vocal cords."
Dara Puspita ("Flower Girls" in English) were the first Indonesian group of women to pick up instruments and play rock music on their own, without the assistance of any men. Up through the '60s, many Indonesian women had found musical success singing for bands with only dudes, but Dara Puspita decided to cut to the chase and write, perform, and play their own songs. The four jet-setters played in clubs around the world to critical oohs and ahs, but more importantly, they paved the way in their own country for Indonesian women in rock.
"The average farmworker lived 49 years—compared to 70 years for the white majority in the United States. A migrant worker’s baby was twice as likely to die as babies of other people. Farmworkers were three times as likely as other people to get tuberculosis, three times as likely to get hurt on the job, and were the lowest-paid workers in the country."
Jessie de la Cruz grew up in these conditions, and as one of the first female organizers of the United Farmworkers of America, devoted her life to make sure that others wouldn't have to.
Imagine, if you will, that you are living in Missouri at the end of the Civil War (1864 or thereabouts). Imagine also that you are a woman without a ton of moneymaking options who is in need of a job ASAP. Oh, and you are also a recently freed slave living in a place and time where people are still getting used to the idea that you aren't a piece of property. (And we thought it was tough to find a job in this economy.) What on earth will you do to support yourself?
Well, if you are a feisty entrepeneuse with a working knowledge of military life like Ms. Cathay Williams, what you will do is dress in drag and join the U.S. Army.
I used to live in a neighborhood boasting several martial-arts schools, and always liked walking by at night to see them all lit up and peopled with serious-looking little girls and boys in their crisp white gis. But it wasn’t until recently that I heard about the woman who was partially responsible for making sure that girls got an equal shake in martial-arts training and competition. Rusty Kanokogi, who died in November, 2009 at the age of 74, was the first woman to earn a seventh-degree black belt in judo. But perhaps more important, she was a pioneer in making the sport accessible to women in a time before Title IX.