Sometimes I think about all the places women still have yet to go and all the accomplished women who have paved a way for me and I get overwhelmed by the idea that I could ever do anything like that. There are notable women out there whose stories we know, like celebrities, and there are notable women whose stories we are learning because they won the Nobel Prize or ascended to an amazing office. Then there are the women like me, who are just trying to figure it out and aren’t all that likely to make a great name. If I ever do anything noteworthy, it’ll be in a group as one of the many women of some project or other. There’s no shame in that and I do love those books too, but that’s not my point.
There are also stories of regular women who did amazing things. Yes, some of the names here may be familiar, but I deliberately chose women who did things that amaze me but that are ultimately not celebrities except maybe in their professions. I did include Sojourner Truth because I don’t think she got her due in her life and because her narrative doesn’t include the very speech that she is most known for now. Remarkably, she took the time to narrate her story in a time in her life when she was an ex-slave preaching up the East Coast. She was still just a regular woman doing something that was amazing for her time and place and gender and race.
Regardless of their reasons, these women bucked the systems they were in. Not all were outright rebellious, but they made progress. They may not have changed the story they were supposed to have, but they recognized and cried out against it in their own way. They brings us the idea of a system that oppresses a group (sometimes by gender, sometimes by race, sometimes both) and what it felt like to be in that group or in some cases to witness it and bring that story to the rest of us. Except Holly Fitzgerald, whose story of being lost with her husband on the Madre de Dios blew my mind. I can’t even imagine the strength to hold on to life like that. I saw her give a TEDtalk where she suggested that most have that strength when tested but I really hope to never find out. Like the others, she refused to give in, just to a different kind of problem.
- The Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth
- Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself by Rachel Lloyd
- First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
- A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio
- The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eger
- Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
- Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim
- Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon’s Relentless Madre de Dios by Holly Conklin FitzGerald
- Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox
- Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began by Alex Cooper
- Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince
- The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir by Leslie Marmon Silko
- An Unquenchable Thirst: A Memoir by Mary Johnson
So if you’re feeling like the fate of the world or your entire race or your entire gender is a little much to be focused on this year, remember that regular women are doing amazing things and though sometimes those things lead us into history, sometimes they don’t. Either way, even these smaller victories lead us down the road to a place we’re trying to get to.