2021 is winding down, and what a year it’s been. As we look back on the last year, we at MEDIAGIRLS want to reflect on some of the real-life women who made headlines in 2021 and the lessons that they can teach girls+. The six women on this list are some of many who broke down barriers this year, modeling confidence, integrity, and courage in a variety of applicable ways.
Let’s begin this list back in January. Amanda Gorman made history as the youngest-ever poet to read at the presidential inauguration ceremony, and she quickly became a symbol for the new administration’s promise of a truly united USA. With her poem “The Hill We Climb,” Ms. Gorman discussed the gap between “justice” and “what just is,” challenging President Biden’s “back to normal” rhetoric. She invites all of us to do our part for the more perfect union we desire, “if only we’re brave enough to be it.” Ms. Gorman’s thoughtful words and dynamic delivery launched her into the national spotlight, with everything from bestselling books to magazine covers to the Super Bowl and Met Gala. Through it all, Ms. Gorman continues to advocate for the causes she believes in. She’s signed on with Estee Lauder as a “Global Changemaker,” promoting female literacy around the world. The world is Ms. Gorman’s oyster, and we’re all eager to see what she does next.
Moving ahead to April, Chloe Zhao made history at the Academy Awards when she became the second woman (and first woman of color) to take home the Best Director prize for her film Nomadland, which also won Best Picture that evening. Chloe Zhao is an independent filmmaker with some terrific features under her belt. These features all show the beauty in the things we tend to overlook. She doesn’t ignore the ugliness of the world, but she demonstrates that there’s so much more to life than struggle and sorrow. If you and your family are interested in indie dramas (and can handle the heartbreaks that Zhao so masterfully builds), I heartily recommend Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider. Later this year, she released her first big-budget tentpole movie, Eternals from Marvel Studios — be sure to check out our thoughts of that film here. Chloe Zhao is a filmmaker with a big heart and incredible skill behind the camera. Her 2021 stories teach girls+ to take pride in their creaImtivity and to tell the stories that the world needs to hear.
This July in Tokyo, gymnastics superstar Simone Biles stood out by sitting out. When her mental and physical health simply wasn’t up to the task, Ms. Biles defied the expectations of the whole world so she could do right by herself. In a world where girls+ are constantly told to put others’ wants ahead of their needs, Ms. Biles demonstrated the courageous act of self-care on a global stage. In her own words, “At the end of the day, we’re not just athletes or entertainment; we’re human, too. We have real emotions, and sometimes they don’t realize that we have things going on behind the scenes that affect us whenever we go out and compete.” We at MEDIAGIRLS regularly discuss how social media turns most of life into a public performance. Sometimes it can be fulfilling to share your experiences and ideas with the world, but if it comes at your own expense, no accolades or recognition are worth it.
The youngest woman on this list (she turned 18 earlier this year), Jojo Siwa is an exuberant Internet personality who’s made an impressive splash on pop culture. Back in January, Siwa came out as LGBTQ+ in a widely circulated TikTok video, making her one of the biggest names to do so in the social media age. And as we at MEDIAGIRLS discussed back in March, there’s something undeniably powerful in Ms. Siwa’s honesty about not wanting to confidently label her sexuality or orientation; she’s young, and she has every right to figure it out more as she grows. Demonstrating that kind of ambiguity and flexibility is an important lesson for Ms. Siwa’s young fanbase, who will grow up and explore similar ideas about who they want to be and how they exist in relationships with others. As the year went on, she continued to make history as one half of the first same-gender duo on Dancing with the Stars, where she and partner Jenna Johnson placed second. Ms. Siwa is already making history, and we’ll likely be talking about her as she persists in the future.
Frances Haugen is unique among this list of #REALMEDIAGIRLS. Rather than using her presence on the social internet to advocate for change, Ms. Haugen took the fight directly to the platforms. A data scientist for Facebook, Ms. Haugen found she could no longer stand by while the company prioritized profits over the public good. So she left the company, taking thousands of documents with her that chronicle Facebook’s history of wrongdoing, including its lax attitude towards misinformation, hate speech, and teenage mental health. Facebook, in its current form, is eroding our shared sense of reality and our empathy for one another. In her own words, “No one at Facebook is malevolent, but the incentives are misaligned. Facebook makes more money when you consume more content…, and the more anger they get exposed to, the more they interact.” It’s a complicated issue with no easy fixes, but the public has a right to know it exists. Now it’s up to us to lobby the tech giants, political leaders, and other people of influence to heed this advice. Following Ms. Haugen’s lead, we can fight for the digital world we deserve.
Our final trailblazer this year is Amy Schneider, a California engineering manager who’s made history as the first transgender woman to qualify for Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions. I’m not the first person to point out that this has been an upsetting year for the transgender community. Amid violence and civil rights violations, it was important to us at MEDIAGIRLS that we show a transgender woman living openly and proudly. With her whip-smart answers on Jeopardy and playful back-and-forth with the host, Ms. Schneider shows transgender joy for all the country to see. I’m rooting for her every episode, just as I cheer on the girls+ across the country and all over the world who see themselves in her.
From all of us at MEDIAGIRLS to all of you reading, we wish you a happy holiday season and a Happy New Year 2022. We hope for another year of learning, growth, and joy for you and your families.
Katherine Lynch is a student at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. She studies Communications and Media with a minor in Marketing. She loves to read, write, and learn about the world, passions she is eager to share with the MEDIAGIRLS community.