Modern Day Heroes Who Are Not Insta Famous

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5 min read


Social media can be a fantastic way to discover women who inspire, but there are plenty of remarkable women who don’t document their deeds online. Athanae Lucev logged off to discover real-life feminist heroes you won’t find on Instagram. 

In an age where style seems to trump substance, and it seems the content of your Instagram feed means more than the content of your character (hello, Met Gala), it’s more important than ever to look outside the parameters of social media for inspiration.

You will find plenty of useful online pages and accounts to follow if you are into cooking, running, are into fashion, makeup, jewellery. Or if you are following a particular dietary plan or are looking for parenting tips. There is such a wealth of information online that it is sometimes easy to forget we all got by before the advent of these platforms, and that there are plenty of women who get on with their lives very well without them, or using them pretty minimally – thanks very much. 

It was actually Jacinda Ardern’s very special form of female leadership in the post-Christchurch terrorist attack period that got us first thinking about this. We decided it was time to search for some female heroes who are not Insta-famous. (I know, I know, how did we even find them?) 

Take some inspiration for your own lives from these kickass women, and maybe don’t make an Instagram story out of it. 

Cathy Burke – Ending world hunger and unlocking potential

For two decades, Cathy was Australian chief executive and then global vice president of The Hunger Project, a charity which uses local, on-the-ground engagement to empower people (especially women, as drivers of their families) to end hunger and poverty in their own communities. It’s uniqueness lies in its engagement model and its leadership programs, which take executives from Australia to remote and poverty-stricken parts of the world to learn problem-solving and leadership skills which, according to testimonials from participants, change not just their leadership styles but perspectives and lives more broadly. 

Winner of the AFR and Westpac Women of Influence award in 2014, Cathy authored Unlikely Leaders: Lessons in Leadership from the Village Classroom and now works as a presenter and facilitator, using her experience learning from role models in villages across the developing world, to transform leadership in the corporate world. 

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Professor Madhavi Menon- Author on sexuality and desire and Professor of English and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality at Ashoka University 

Professor Madhavi Menon might not be on social media, but she views activism on the online platforms a chapter in the story of feminism.

“I’m not on social media, so I have a very sceptical view of it,” Menon told The Wire (India).

Menon encourages a more critical, analytical and long-term view of feminism that encompasses the #metoo movement and forms of feminism expressed on social media as part of the collective, ongoing, and long-standing feminist movement. 

“I think it would be a mistake to forget those kinds of cumulative, sometimes extremely frustrating gains that have been made or to think that this is the only moment now,” she told The Wire.  

Melon writes on Queer Theory, desire, sex, sexuality and difference and amongst her books has authored a ‘queer companion’ to the complete works of Shakespeare. 

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Dr Maryam Mirzakhani – Mathematician and Professor of Mathematics 

Many of us heard of Iranian-born Maryan Mirzakhani for the first time when she died of breast cancer in 2017, aged only 40. She is the first and only woman, as well as the only Iranian, to have received the prestigious Fields Medal for mathematics. She earned a PhD from Harvard University in 2004, where she would write her notes in Persian. She held professorships at Princeton and Harvard Universities. She specialised in theoretical mathematics that the vast majority of us would struggle to understand: Teichmüller theory, Ergodic theory, and hyperbolic geometry, to name a few. She described herself as a ‘slow’ mathematician told Stanford News: “You have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math.”

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Dr Katie Bouman – Development of the algorithm for imaging Black Holes

As part of the Event Horizon Telescope team, a worldwide collaboration of astronomers, engineers and mathematicians, the 29-year-old postdoctoral researcher had been working on developing the algorithm that pulled together the first image of a black hole for six years. The image, lying at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy, was unveiled in April this year, and an image of Bouman’s delight went viral. Yes, she was part of a team, but her work was a critical part of threading together the research done by that team. Bouman has recognised the project was a team effort, but with the under-representation of women in science and maths and the lack of role models in this space, it’s especially important to highlight young women like Bouman so girls can imagine their futures in these fields.

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Hannah Gadsby – Award-winning comedian, writer and actor

On her website, Hannah Gadsby writes: “Hannah Gadsby’s tenth solo show was Nanette. It did alright”.

Actually, Nanette broke the internet – or at least Netflix. 

With her trademark self-deprecation, and with a cutting ability to employ comic technique, Gadsby tackles sexual assault, abuse, bullying, homophobia, misogyny and sexism in probably the most compelling, surprising and thought-provoking pieces of stand-up comedy you’ll ever watch (whether you classify Nanette as comedy, stand-up, a speech, a performance… we will leave the categorisation up to you). 

Gadsby and her voice are important because they call out the same stuff #metoo did: but without the hype and drama that has come to surround that movement. She is an openly gay woman who has also been diagnosed with autism and ADHD. Her voice is brave, authentic, and totally matter-of-fact, and it’s challenging stuff to listen to. Which is why it’s so important.

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I bet you know of some incredible women who are not Insta-famous – share their achievements in the comments below.

You might also like How These Women ‘Made It’.

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