The Shehawk: Top 10 inspiring women

Samantha Durham is a junior studying sociology. She began writing for a column, The Shehawk, to be the voice for those that feel they lack one and to help young women feel empowered and inspired. Contact Samantha with any comments, questions, concerns, or for advice at

Samantha Durham is a junior studying sociology. She began writing for a column, The Shehawk, to be the voice for those that feel they lack one and to help young women feel empowered and inspired. Contact Samantha with any comments, questions, concerns, or for advice at [email protected].

Samantha Durham | Assistant Opinion Editor

One of the best ways to meet your goals and have dream-worthy success is by having good role models. Obviously, we all know people in our everyday life we admire and aspire to be like. But, challenging powerful and inspiring women in everything you do is a good way to keep your eyes set on the prize, whatever that may be.

I have put together a list of my top ten women you should want to be like. They come from all over, with different backgrounds, lives and fields, but they all have one trait in common that all women on the path to success should have: determination. Also, note these women are not “ranked” in any specific order; they are all inspiring individuals equally.

1. Candice Pool Neistat 

Want to talk about a “girl crush”? My number one go to lady is Candice Pool Neistat, for so many reasons. She is a jewelry icon, down-to-earth mom that is out to breakdown the barriers that define women as “girly girls.” Candice owns FINN Jewelry Company, along with the lines Minor Obsessions and her latest, Billy! Her work is inspired by all the women you are, because let’s face it, no woman is just that “one girl.” She knows that being a woman means you are more than a girly girl or a tomboy. You can be something in between any day of the week.

What I love most about Candice is her honesty and determination. She admits on her “Billy!” website, “it’s a brand built on the idea that there is no right way to do something.” Not only is she a new age jewelry mogul, but also she is a loving mother to her daughter Francine, and her stepson Owen. Candice makes time not only to be a fierce, industry concurring woman, but also a kick-butt mom.

Alongside her is her husband Casey, a world-famous vlogger and filmmaker. He features her in many of his YouTube videos as a goofy and fun loving woman, but also a hard worker. She inspires me because she doesn’t let her husband’s fame over shadow her. She works equally as hard doing the things she loves, no matter what stands in her way. She shines on her own and does her own things, while also supporting her husband and her family in everything they do. I admire her for her desire to be different and herself, something that can be hard to do, but she does it with flare.

2. Michelle Obama

I am not sure what girl doesn’t look up to one of the coolest women in the world. Would this be a list of inspiring women if Michelle Obama wasn’t included?

Ever since becoming the First Lady of The United States, women of all ages have idolized her for her grace, empowerment and strength. She embodies just about every quality that makes a powerful woman. She’s determined, ambitious, and of course, passionate.

Mrs. Obama has made history as the first African-American First Lady, but she made her mark on this country in many ways. She aims to provide a healthier life for all American citizens. She introduced a school lunch program to offer healthier meals to children in school. She also inspired people to work towards higher education and worked to combat poverty.

Michelle graduated cum laude from Princeton and went on to work at a Chicago law firm where she met her husband, Barack Obama. When she isn’t out saving the world, she is a loving wife and mother of two daughters. She also looks fabulous doing it as the style icon of the White House.

Michelle inspires me not only because all of she has achieved in her life, but also because of how much she gives back. She is passionate about what she does and has shown women of all ages that the sky truly is the limit.

3. Ilhan Omar 

My number three pick for my inspirational women list is Ilhan Omar. She is quite inspirational in the sense that she is one of the few Muslim women to ever be elected to a state legislature within the United States.

Ilhan Omar is a woman with a difficult past. She was one of many Somalia refugees to make their way to this country in the 1990s. Omar and her family were forced to leave Somalia after war began in the country. She, along with her family, lived in a refugee camp in Kenya until she was 12.

After settling in Minnesota, Omar became passionate about politics when she went with her grandfather to local Democratic caucus meetings, in which she would translate for him. After spending more time in the United States, Ilhan Omar became involved in community health and was then appointed the position of senior policy aid for the Minneapolis City Council, reported The Huffington Post. Omar then moved on to run for Minnesota’s House of Representatives.

Omar is inspirational for a multitude of reasons. She represents success in the face of adversity, determination and a drive to do the things she is passionate about.

She stated to the Huffington Post, “We’re all created equal and under the eyes of God, we all have a right to freedom and to access our rights equally.” Her passion for equality is the base of her campaign. But, she is not just a political figure. She also cares for her family and inspires women with similar faiths and backgrounds to believe in their abilities, fight for people and have faith in the message you bring to others.

4. Tina Fey

If Tina Fey hasn’t made you laugh so hard your burst into tears, then you are missing out. Not only is this woman hysterical and witty, but also she embodies girl power to its core.

She is a well-known actress, writer, comedian and producer. If you haven’t read her book, I strongly suggest Bossypants. She was so relatable and painfully hilarious I couldn’t put it down.

I am inspired by Tina Fey because she never gave up on her dreams, which, I think as we all know, can be challenging. She saw great success as a writer and performer for Saturday Night Live. She has also starred in many films such as Mean Girls, Date Night and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

However, success did not come in a box with a bow on it. She had to work for it like everyone else.  She worked as a receptionist during the day, but took classes at night to work on her acting and comedy.

Tina inspires women of all ages to be unforgivingly real and to strive for your dreams without question. Not only does she work hard and make people laugh, she also gives back by being involved in Mercy Corps and Autism Speaks.

5. Nadia Murad

Not all people are strong enough to take their tragedies and turn them into a passion for others. Nadia Murad inspires me because she has faced horrible things in her life, but she is brave enough to speak out those times.

Murad was one of many young women kidnapped by ISIS in Iraq. Murad spoke in front of the U.N Security Council about the hardship and struggle of the Yezidi ethnic and religious group under the ISIS.

ISIS is known to kidnap these people for being “nonbelievers” and one of the few minority groups in the area that does not practice Islam. ISIS is known to abduct and hold outsiders captive. 

ISIS is also known to imprison non-Muslim women in sex slavery and also rape them. According to Time magazine, this practice is not only practiced within ISIS, but encouraged.

Women who survive and escape imprisonment claim that ISIS fighters believe if a woman is raped by 10 Muslims, she becomes officially converted. While these women face rape and sexual assault, they are often sold and traded at young ages as a reward among fighters.

When these men came to Nadia’s village, they separated the men from the women, slaughtered 312 of the men and took most the women into captivity, including Nadia Murad.

Nadia faced these hardships during her time in captivity. Now she speaks out for those that suffer in the same way she did and works with other organizations to end this brutality. She inspires me for her bravery and ability to speak about things that changed her life forever.

6. Jaha Dukureh

Jaha Dukureh inspires me for some very incredible reasons. She was forced to move to New York from Gambia at the age of 15 as part of an arranged marriage. She had always dreamed of attending school and never gave up on that dream, despite her circumstances. After finally finding a school that would take her, she grew up having an education, but still had many challenges ahead of her.

Dukureh is one of the many activists today speaking out and fighting against female gentile mutilation. While she spent most of her life in the United States, Dukureh still hears many stories about this act taking place not only in her home country, but also on American soil.

Jaha Dukureh is one of many women that are stripped of their outer sexual organs as young as a week old.  She stated to The Guardian, “There is such a culture of silence about FGM in America. If you stand up and say ‘This happened to me,’ people will scrutinize you, but someone has to stand up and say this can’t go on happening. This is a human rights abuse and it has to stop.”

Her story of hardship, loss and triumph is truly inspirational. She speaks out about one of the things in this world that I deem to be truly evil and horrific. She embodies what it looks like to make a change and have a life after tragedy and suffering.

She inspires me because she fights for those that do not have a voice and the basic human rights that all people have the right to. She’s brave in the sense that she speaks out about this sensitive subject matter without fear.

7. Karlie Kloss

While I do think that it is highly important to recognize the activists, survivors and pioneers of our generation, I also feel it is important to recognize women that embody what it means to be a good person and woman like she is, without boundaries.

I chose to put model Karlie Kloss in this list for that very reason. Kloss is a well-known Victoria’s Secret model and has also been featured in Vogue and various other fashion shows and magazines.

However, she is not only a beautiful woman, but she inspires me because she knows no boundaries. She does what she feels is best for her, regardless of the gender stereotypes that exist in our culture.

Kloss runs a YouTube channel that covers a range of topics and follows her through life. She is also an avid coder. She partnered with Flatiron School and to help offer scholarships to women interested in software design and computer science.

I am inspired by Karlie Kloss because she is more than just a “pretty girl.” She shows women that you can be beautiful and have brains; you do not have to choose. I think Kloss teaches and inspires women to be who they are and love what they do, which is incredibly important to loving the life you live as well as being successful.

8. Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres has inspired me for years. I grew up watching her show with my babysitter and mom after school. She made me laugh and showed me the importance of thinking of others and giving.

As I got older I was given her book, Seriously… I’m Kidding, and I laughed so hard reading it that I have recommended it to others since then. She starred in sitcoms, movies (Hi Dory), and is a successful author. She is most known for advocating for the LGBTQ community and never being shy about her sexuality.

I am inspired by Ellen because she gives so much to others in need, but she also tries to brighten your day in anyway she can. She keeps her show light and fun, but she doesn’t refrain from standing up against injustices that bother her. She has often spoken out about being a lesbian and has always been so proud to be who she is. Ellen inspires me because she loves who she is and tries to help others love who they are too.

9. Carmen Aristegui

This one is for all my fellow journalists and writers out there. This amazing woman is Carmen Aristegui and she is one of the leading journalists and anchorwomen in Mexico.

Carmen is known for exposing a huge scandal within the Mexican government. She was one of the main journalists to expose President Enrique Pena Nieto and his wife for having a mansion built in one of Mexico City’s most high-end neighborhoods, all by a company that won hundreds of million in government contracts, reported The New York Times.

She was fired from her job at MVS communications, but was supported by many in the public for reinstatement. Many claimed that she was one of the few Mexican journalists that were willing to challenge authority, and that is why I have her listed here.

Carmen inspires me because she stands up to the authority, which is something I have been trying to work on myself. She asks the questions most are scared to ask. She colors outside the lines and challenges what doesn’t “add up.” She is what I feel all journalists should strive to be: interesting, curious and ambitious. Aristegui wrote and discussed topics that many may not have dared to, but she did not let that stand in her way.

10. Meryl Streep

For my final inspiring woman, I chose Meryl Streep. She inspires me not only for having one of the most successful acting careers in the world, but also for speaking out against things that she feels are wrong.

Streep recently spoke at the Golden Globes, and many claimed that her using the speech as a method to speak about her political view was “tacky.” I thought the exact opposite, especially now. Streep spoke about her issues with President Donald Trump.

She stated, “There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good, there was nothing good about it, but it was effective and it did its job. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back,” reported CNN. 

Streep was highly criticized for doing this on such a public platform, but I thought it was brave and inspiring. No one should ever sit silent when something unjust is happening.

Meryl Streep inspires me because she stood up for someone who could not defend themselves, but also because she was not afraid to do it. She inspires me because she cares for others and refuses to let others be treated less than. This quality is something that all people should have, and I think she is an inspiration for that reason.