Who have been the influential women in your life?

Friday, Aug. 3, 2018 9:49 PM

Seeing the movie “RBG” (Ruth Bader Ginsberg) recently got me thinking:

Here is this woman who has done so much for women’s rights during my lifetime. She won five gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, spearheading the movement for women’s rights. Her work in law has made significant legal advances for gender equality in the workplace, in the family, in international law and in life. The influence she has had on women’s causes is phenomenal, even if it is subtle and unknown to most people now and since the 1970s.

So, it made me think of other influential women during my lifetime, and this became a topic of discussion with many other women my age.

There were Margaret Mead and Betty Friedan, who laid the groundwork for the sexual revolution and women’s movement, but I was too young and didn’t realize their impact. Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem stood on their shoulders, of course, and their social activism for the feminist movement was more a part of my life. There is Jane Fonda, who protested the Vietnam War and then led the fitness revolution in the ’70s. She is a powerful actress and still affects many of us with her honesty and forthrightness regarding her challenges, relationships, aging and life. And “Grace and Frankie” is just too funny!

Other names I’ve heard are Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin – look what they did for music; Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, but I’m not getting political here; Billy Jean King, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Dara Torres, Lindsay Vonn; Rosa Parks, Anita Hill. There are many other writers, artists, business leaders, women in medicine and other fields whom I’m overlooking here.

We all have a different path in life and different connections with what excites us. But I don’t think anyone can deny that Oprah is a major force on so many levels. Her public example of looking deeper, finding a kinder way, encouraging us to make the most of our lives and her philanthropy have been groundbreaking. The courage to follow her own path is exemplary. I’ve loved the book clubs, her truth around her public struggle with weight and even how to shop for clothes without breaking the bank. Practical stuff, yet coming from a more evolved place.

And then there are our local heroes – the teacher, the firefighter, the clerk at City Market who is so helpful, the spiritual leader we listen to every week, the friend who brings us soup when we’re sick. We all have people like these in our lives who impact us.

These are all good role models. I will never know the law like RBG, or the media like Oprah, or the podium of Michelle Obama. But we can look to these women as authentic, honest, humble and extremely committed to their own causes. And, compassionate toward other human beings.

Life is tough sometimes. These woman have helped me map it out a bit. May we look to them with inspiration and gratitude.

Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus to the other end of life and written the book “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at