A good friend of mine, who is a middle school literature teacher, recently gave her students an assignment I found to be interesting.
In the spirit of Women’s History month, she asked each of her students to complete a 500-word essay on a woman who has contributed something to the world in which we live.
When she asked me to help her sort through the essays, I feigned interest.
I was embarrassed to tell her how truly excited I was to assist. I thought reading about the women who currently influence our younger generation may leave me somehow inspired; I thought I could learn something.
But, all I learned was Beyoncé’s fan base has no gender restriction. With the exception of a piece on Katy Perry’s halftime show and one touching report on Ellen DeGeneres, nearly each of these students described in enthusiastic detail all the great things Beyoncé has done for society.
While I in no way mean to discount the grandeur that is Queen B, I was disheartened that no student took the opportunity to pay homage to one of the countless other women who have made a historical difference.
Fearing that women my age may write that same Beyoncé essay if given the opportunity, I thought I’d remind us all of a few women we may not realize we are thankful for:
Mary Phelps Jacob (Caresse Crosby)
In search of a comfortable alternative to the painful constrictions of women’s undergarments of the early 1900s, Jacob took it upon herself to reinvent what we would later come to know as the brazier.
From an adolescent girl’s first training bra to the diamond encrusted displays found on the Victoria's Secret runway, Mary’s venture encouraged the notion that women can both be in control and comfortable. I’m confident that women all over the globe are happy to silently applaud Mary for this endeavor.
Like most young girls, Barbara spent the majority of her time fantasizing about becoming a teenager. She was utterly consumed with fashion and freedom and would spend hours changing outfits, trying new hairstyles and discussing how great life would be as a teen.
Fortunately for us, Barbara’s fixation inspired her mother, Ruth, to create a doll her daughter could experiment with, one she could change and style and use to help put her daydreams in motion.
Ruth Handler and the Mattel Company released the very first Barbie in 1959, and went on to enrich every girl’s imagination from that day forward.
Helen Gurley Brown
In 1886, Paul Schlicht purchased and publicized what he had titled, The Cosmopolitan, initially pitched as a general household magazine.
For years, the magazines’ sales fluctuated and fell flat, hitting its lowest point just before William Randolph Hearst of Hearst Publications purchased it.
When Randolph hired Helen Brown as chief editor in 1965, the magazine underwent a monumental makeover. Brown single-mindedly worked to revamp The Cosmopolitan’s old style, ultimately initiating the fun, fearless and female-dominated collection of articles we now know as Cosmo.
With top-dog funny women like Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler making it look easy, it’s hard to imagine that not so long ago, the comedy industry deemed female comedians merely second-fiddle to males.
While Jean Carroll is not recorded as the first female to enter stand-up comedy, she did pioneer the idea of mixing standup with sex appeal.
When performing her material (all of which she wrote herself), Carroll dressed as the very iconic female whom she made the butt of her jokes: your commonplace housewife.
Donning heels, pearls and satin skirts, Carroll broke the mold and inspired women everywhere when she took the stage and had the courage to mock the very role society expected her to fill.
By now, I’m sure everyone knows Sports Illustrated made history when it introduced Graham as the magazine's first-ever featured plus-sized swimsuit model.
As that alone proves Graham to be an incredible woman, she also stands apart by being an incredible humanitarian. Aside from her missions to assist underdeveloped communities overseas, Graham is an avid contributor to her church, has mentored several aspiring plus-sized teen models and continues to guest speak at high schools about body image.
Graham has helped women of all ages embrace their figures and celebrate their curves, and for that, we thank her.
Remember growing up, being told you could be anything you wanted to be? It’s true! And, Sally Ride’s story proves it. As the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, Ride was an attractive, outgoing and athletic young woman, drawn to the studies of science and space.
Despite scrutiny from her peers, she decided to answer an advertisement for the Space Program, and in 1978, Ride was chosen amongst nearly 8,000 other applicants to join NASA.
Working through gender-biased criticism and harsh speculation by the media, public jokes about her menstrual cycle and harsh questioning of a woman’s emotional ability to handle space travel, Ride managed to prove not only worthy but valuable.
In 1983, she became the first woman to travel in space. Ride showed the world that landing a man on the moon was a giant step for both man and womankind.
They say behind every great man stands a great woman. In the case of Nicholas Sparks, behind every richly romantic man, stands an inspiring woman.
Although they are currently separated, in interviews past, Sparks has made no mistake in naming wife Cathy as his muse. In dreamy dramas like "Dear John" and "The Notebook," Nicholas Sparks has told us tales so rich with passion and promise, it has given many of us singles hope — however fantastical or fleeting that hope may be.
When modern-day romance became clouded with Facebook pokes and Tinder likes, readers became intoxicated with Sparks’ stories of lost war heroes and messages in bottles.
While the literary credit is his alone, it is safe to say that without the great love of his life, Cathy, Sparks would not have had the fuel to create the great love of my life, Noah Calhoun.
While it’s our initial reaction to grant credit for "Sex and the City" to Sarah Jessica Parker and her powerful performance as Carrie Bradshaw, we mustn’t forget that the bestselling novels, HBO series and feature films all began as an autobiographical column.
The New York Observer debuted Bushnell’s racy contributions back in 1994, and literary audiences were intoxicated with her "no bullsh*t" candor.
Candace Bushnell chronicled her experiences with sex and dating and made them undeniably relatable. I love SJP and her individual style definitely assisted in making "SATC" the phenomenon it became, but let’s acknowledge that without Bushnell’s brash bravery, we’d be without.
Last, but certainly not least, we should all take a moment to appreciate the women in our lives who make differences, maybe not monumental ones, but consistent ones.
Let’s thank our moms, our grandmothers, sisters, friends, colleagues and neighbors. Let’s make it a point to let the women of our lives know they are valued for all they do.
This Women’s History month, let’s come together to remember the women who set the tone before us — the ones who will carry our history long after us and those who will stand beside us now.