James Brown, at one time, put a great deal of effort in telling us that it is a man’s world. That was, of course, in 1966 — which was a long time ago. As a matter of fact, one could argue that those days have long since changed.
There’s been an obvious shift in our media as more and more celebrities- both men and women- publicly own their feminism and actively use their celebrity to promote gender equality. It’s in the movies that are made, and the books that we read. The women who run the world are just now starting to get a little of the credit that they deserve.
International Woman’s Day is approaching this Friday, March 8 and even though its earliest observance goes back to 1909 in New York, it wasn’t until over a hundred years later when Barack Obama breathed new life into it that it became what it is today: a time set aside to observe the accomplishments of great women worldwide. When we think of great women, a few names may automatically spring to mind, but I’d like to call attention to who I believe to be one of the most important and underrated feminists of our time: Tania Katan.
You don’t know her name- yet- but you’ll definitely know what she did to help shift the way we look at women.
Tania Katan began her professional life as a playwright but went on to become what she describes as a “creative disruptor.” What that essentially means is that tight and stodgy professional companies would routinely bring her in to shake things up and assist them in becoming a little more creative about their processes. Her first gig like this was at The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art where she made fine art accessible to the people who could least afford it by holding arm wrestling matches right in the museum, but it was at her second gig where Katan practically changed the world.
Axosoft, the software company also based in Scottsdale, brought Katan in as a software evangelist. The CEO, Lawdan Shojaee, wanted to sponsor a big Women in Technology event to somehow call attention to the four STEM areas that largely shut women out (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The idea was to spread the news that girls and women were not just welcome to this club, they were needed. With this assignment, Katan wracked her brain for as long as she could until it hit her like a thunderbolt: that ubiquitous female restroom symbol. That stick figure wasn’t wearing a dress. It was a cape!
This image of the female with the cape went viral within 24 hours with 18 million organic impressions. The story was told by The New York Times, CNN, Time magazine, India Times and Fox News. It was all over Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and Instagram and led to Katan’s TEDx talk where she spoke of the inspiration for the invention of the campaign which became known by its hashtag, #itwasneveradress.
In her own words, “women are often not seen, heard, or celebrated for the superheroes [they] are. What if we could land in a classroom where a 12-year-old girl takes a coding class because she sees herself in the female teacher…because she sees herself in the girl sitting next to her…because she sees herself?”
This idea of women being secret superheroes resonated with women around the globe, and even without ever hearing Katan’s name, you’ll have seen the symbol. It was that prevalent and that impactful of an image. All of the women who have been silently bearing the majority share of the physical and emotional labor of households, whose work outside the household is often undervalued, suddenly saw themselves as they are: superheroes in their own right.
Tania Katan just published her second book, “Creative Trespassing,” last month and I recommend it with enthusiasm. Her audiobook narration is like no other audiobook I have ever heard. Some writers can be conversational, but Katan spends six and a half hours talking to you like someone you’ve known your whole life. You may find yourself listening non-stop from beginning to end as I did.
The book discusses the power of bringing creative and divergent thought into the workplace, the advantages of being an outcast, and an endless array of entertaining personal stories and anecdotes. It’d be difficult for me to say enough about it.
By the time you reach the end of the book, you will feel as though you have spent the day with your friend who just happens to know the secrets to the universe. This is the magic that Katan brings to the table and, most likely why she is such a highly sought after speaker in — not just the corporate world — but anywhere people are trying to make a difference.
Of course, there are many wonderful and effective feminist activists to celebrate on the 8th and for the whole of March, which has been set aside as Woman’s History Month in the United States. Katan just happens to be the one who I can mostly identify with. Check out her TEDx talk. Read her book. She is a great example of why gender equity is so crucial today. For too long, as a society, we have had the tendency to ignore creative disruptors like her while focusing on some of the more mediocre accomplishments of men. But imagine what we could do if our own thinking stepped outside the box of gender norms and began to acknowledge the secret superheroes in our own lives. Like Katan, we just might change the world.
This article was originally published at Elephant Journal . Reprinted with permission from the author.