The Wednesday Five: Women Making a Difference

In this week’s Wednesday Five, we pay homage to our own popular series “Women Making a Difference” with stories that are getting lots of traffic around the web about five groundbreaking women of our time—Elena Ferrante, Steffi Graf, Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, Oprah Winfrey, and Gloria Steinem.



Elena Ferrante

elena-ferrante-story-lost-childWe’ve heard and sung the praises of Italian writer Elena Ferrante (a pen name) and her Neapolitan novels. Earlier this year, our Eleanor Foa Dienstag wrote about the author, “Ferrante’s extended narrative is not only a literary triumph, but a feminist one as well. Rarely, in contemporary fiction, do we find a sequence of novels whose main focus is the friendship—from childhood to middle age—of two women.” Now that “The Story of the Lost Child,” the final volume of the writer’s series is out, the praise has transitioned to a sophisticated critical analysis of what Ferrante has done for 21st century literature. Writing for the The New Yorker in the artilce, “Elena Ferrante’s New Book: Art Wins,” Joan Acocella writes, definitively:

This, Ferrante seems to say, is what happens in the world of women, and though much of the book is devoted to women’s more frequently discussed problems—such as how they are supposed to go out to work and raise the kids at the same time, and, if they do have work, work they care about, how come this still seems to them secondary to their relationship with a man?—it is the exploration of the women’s mental underworld that makes the book so singular an achievement in feminist literature; indeed, in all literature.



Steffi Graf


She was 16 the first time she beat Chris Evert and Navratilova, 17 when she won her first major, and 18 when she became no. 1. She turned 19 the summer of the year that would define her dominance of the sport.

Such is the beginning story of Steffi Graf. That story, of the trajectory of her career, of her life post-tennis, and of the privacy she guards so deeply now, is beautifully written by Louisa Thomas for Grantland. Here’s an excerpt:

She gives the occasional interview, insisting on her happiness as a mother, as a wife, but for the most part she avoids the press. She didn’t disappear entirely. She posts pictures of hamsters and Little League fields on social media. She makes money, has endorsements, plays the occasional exhibition. . . She follows tennis, she told Isaacson, “from a real distance.” When the WTA celebrated its 40th anniversary, she did not attend. . . Graf has done little to protect, let alone promote, her legacy. But it isn’t quite humility that she projects. It’s something more painful and shy.



Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee

171We love to celebrate women in medicine, including this groundbreaking woman: Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee (sister of the entertainer Diana Ross of The Supremes) who in 1993 was the first African-American woman to be appointed dean of a United States medical school. She remained dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of Ohio University until 2001. The National Institute of Health’s (NIH) profile on her reveals that “During her tenure there, she reformulated the entire course of study, and drafted a women’s curriculum, earning a reputation as a change agent.” Watch a video of her life’s work here and see more from the NIH exhibition , “Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians.”



Oprah Winfrey


A series of profiles at Fast Company is questioning how several key leaders both fail and succeed at productivity. And while so much has already been written about Oprah Winfrey’s business acumen, we found this particular article refreshing as it unpacks how she course-corrected what she thought she already knew about successful television. In this fascinating long read, Winfrey talks about the beauty of un-learning, the importance of putting in place a deeply trusted team, and a concept she calls “radical focus.” Read the full article here.



Gloria Steinem

110814_gloria_steinem_vertiIn the current issue of The New Yorker, Jane Kramer tells us that after fifty years, Gloria Steinem “is still at the forefront of the feminist cause.” In a poignantly written article on the women’s rights icon, Kramer gets to Steinem’s own uncertainty about her status:

“Steinem finished the book in February this year, or, as she puts it, “seventeen deadlines late,” and in March she celebrated her eighty-first birthday, with a small dinner cooked by a group of friends. “A relief!” she told me. “My eightieth birthday had gone on for a year. People were starting to think that the movement began with me and, worse, was going to end with me.”

And when asked about her legacy, about who will carry on her life’s work, she responds:

“People are always asking me, ‘Who will you pass the torch to?’ The question makes me angry. There is no one torch—there are many torches—and I’m using my torch to light other torches. There shouldn’t have been a ‘first’ Gloria Steinem, and there won’t be a last one.” 

Read the full article here.

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