Up until fairly recently, a woman’s worth and status were not defined by her accomplishments alone, but rather by those of her husband, as well as her ‘duty’ as a wife and mother. In such a world, single women were considered unfulfilled, and the notion of being both unmarried and childless was almost unthinkable. How could single women possibly be grateful if they were so incomplete?
The former train of thought is dangerous for a multitude of reasons, mostly because it associates a woman’s success with a man, but in another sense, it invalidates the identity of aromantic and asexual individuals. In 2021, conservative ideas of a ‘woman’s place’ have not disappeared, but thankfully — due to feminist reform — these historical definitions are declining.
Below are a few of the many women in the overtly male-dominated field of diplomacy, activism, and government who destigmatize older notions of a woman’s ‘success’ through their authentic ambition and passion for their area of work, rather than focusing on their marital status.
Condolezza Rice, a woman born in November of 1954, was the first Black woman — and woman, period — to be appointed to the position of National Security Advisor.
Her career in politics began in the mid-1980s when she worked as an international affairs fellow in Washington, D.C. The service Rice completed, as well as the connections she made during her time in D.C., allowed for her to take up larger roles such as director of Soviet and East European affairs with the National Security Council and special assistant to President Bush.
Later in her career, and continuing to set records, Rice became the first Black woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. Nowadays, the former diplomat has earned the occupation of director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. She continues to thrive as well as pursue her goals, compounding what we should all know by now: nothing can stop an ambitious woman.
The widely popular and influential Stacey Abrams is a politician, lawyer, author, activist, and woman largely credited with turning Georgia ‘blue’ in the 2020 federal election. Stacey previously served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2006 to 2017, a position that helped solidify her role as a politician but not as a political figure.
At age 17, Abrams became a speechwriter when she impressed a congressional campaign committee with her editorial skills. Her passion for policy continued as she occupied positions such as a staff member in Maynard Jackson’s Office of Youth Services, Atlanta’s deputy city attorney, a member in the Georgia House of Representatives, and founder of the New Georgia Project which registered over 200,000 voters of color between 2014 and 2016.
In 2018, Abrams ran for governor of Georgia in the state’s gubernatorial election, but she lost to the Republican nominee Brian Kemp. As explained on a biography page on Abrams, “aside from running in the race, Kemp’s office oversaw the election, cutting nearly 700,000 names from the rolls in the two years leading to the election, and more than 200 polling places were closed, primarily in poor and minority neighborhoods, according to the Washington Post.”
These acts of voter suppression and election defeat only furthered Abram’s spirit and allowed her to found her organization Fair Fight, which focuses on issues such as voter protection, registration, and education. The establishment registered over 800,000 Georgian voters before the 2020 federal election. Without Abram’s efforts, her team, and Georgian voters, The U.S. Senate would not hold a democratic majority.
Cori Bush, one of the newest members of ‘The Squad,’ was elected into the position of Representative of Missouri’s 1st Congressional District in the 2020 federal election cycle. Bush, a single mother, former nurse, and activist uses her political influence to advocate for racial justice in America.
In 2014, after the brutal shooting of Michael Brown Jr., Bush protested for 400 days and served the “Ferguson Frontline” as both a nurse and pastor. Her dedication to the Black Lives Matter and Ferguson movement led to fellow activists urging her to run for office, leading to her running for Senator in 2016 and Representative in 2018. As we know, she lost both elections but was recently voted into office as Representative for Missouri’s 1st District.
Since being sworn into office, Bush continues her role as a progressive activist and force in the fight for racial justice. “The federal government must account for its ongoing role in perpetuating, supporting, and upholding white supremacy,” Bush has said.
All three women have been incredibly victorious in their respected occupations as well as in historical significance. For many, by being both single and powerful they defy the pre-set patriarchal ideas of what a woman should be, after all, “how could a woman possibly be secure in both a social and economic sense without a husband?” I am glad to see our mindset and community advancing from myths about women in the workplace, however, with our communities evolving to be progressive, what matters less is a woman’s relationship status and more so who she is.
Unfortunately, in efforts to dismantle misogynistic ideas surrounding ‘singleness,’ we have made the mistake of equating singleness with empowerment. We agree that associating marriage with one’s value is wrong and confines a woman’s worth in the hands of men, but this can also be applied to associating singleness with empowerment. Status cannot be defined by the presence, or the lack thereof, of men in a woman’s life.
A woman can choose to be single and powerful, or have a family and be powerful — neither is more ‘empowering’ than another. The idea of ‘empowerment’ comes purely from living authentically, advocating for the abolishment of misogyny, and protecting other women. Your accreditation as a woman does not come from your achievements while void of a relationship or your achievements while in a relationship. We cannot equate women’s relationship to men as a point of feminist liberation.