6 Women More Inspiring and Influential Than Sandra Fluke


Sandra Fluke was one of the 2012 nominees for TIME's Person of the Year. For a time last year, she, and birth control, seemed to be everywhere. Mainstream publications like TIME and the Huffington Post kept Fluke, her run-in with Rush Limbaugh, and women's deeply-felt fears about birth control and reproduction in the public eye for months. But nobody ever completed a degree, launched a business, hired somebody, cured a disease, cleaned up a polluted river, won a race, discovered a nuclear particle, or built a house out of fear. And fear was what the Sandra Fluke phenomenon was all about. Fear that birth control would be taken away. Fear that abortions would be outlawed. Fear that conservative men would silence any women who'd dare to disagree with them.

Chris Altchek's run-down of PolicyMic's amazing 2012 included the following goal: "By 2016, we want the most important thinkers and columnists not to be selected by the editorial boards of New York Times or Wall Street Journal, but instead be voted on by hundreds of thousands of engaged members of PolicyMic."

No one should feel badly because they chose Sandra Fluke as TIME's Person of the Year. That's the media world we live in. It tells you what it knows: These days — not very much. But for those of you who were less than inspired by TIME's choice, here are six examples of women from 2012 who are also worth looking at, listening to, and learning from, in addition to Sandra Fluke.

1. Astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell

While a postgraduate at Cambridge, Bell Burnell discovered the first four pulsars (distant, rapidly spinning stars that have led to many other discoveries in astrophysics). Her male supervisor and a male colleague won a Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery; Bell Burnell was overlooked. Later, she served as the first female president of the Institute of Physics. She has most recently given a series of entertaining lectures debunking the myth that the world would end on December 21, 2012 and explaining how the world might actually experience an apocalypse one day.

2. Tech and social entrepreneur Juliana Rotich

Born in Kenya, 35-year-old Rotich is a rare person. She received her degree in Information Technology from the University of Missouri. In 2008, she founded Ushahidi.com, which began as a web platform for crowdsourcing information about violence. Ushahidi is a Swahili word that means "testimony." Ushahidi.com's platform lifts the veil of government and media secrecy and allows citizens to report what is really happening in violent, war-torn areas. It is highly effective, and has saved many lives since its inception. Now involved in revitalizing Kenya and advocating for human rights, Juliana told The Guardian in 2012, "So, if a nerd can be part of the future, let's do this."

3. PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi

Nooyi routinely appears as #1, 2 or 3 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list. Born in Chennai, India, Nooyi was educated in India and the United States, and has led PepsiCo and its approximately 300,000 employees since 2006. "Immigrant, woman, person of color, those are three strikes against you," she told Darmouth's graduating class in 2002. Therefore, Nooyi said, she worked harder than anyone else, put in more hours, and made many sacrifices and trade-offs in her career. She has introduced flex time, family and child-friendly policies, and family leave, as well as a focus on healthier product development, at one of the world's largest multinational food and beverage companies.

"We need women in the companies, some of the brightest candidates are women. We need to help them balance. And it doesn't have to be government, it should be corporations," Nooyi told The Guardian in 2011.

4. Astronaut Eileen Collins


Eileen Collins retired from NASA in 2006, after serving as the first female Space Shuttle pilot and mission Commander. Collins logged more than 38 days in spaceflight. She was also the first Commander to dock with the Russian space station Mir. Prior to being selected as an astronaut, Collins was one of the first female pilots in the United States Air Force. She frequently speaks to university and community audiences, saying "Maybe I can encourage other women to go into this field." Flying. In space.

5. Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson

Baroness Grey-Thompson, DBE, was born with spina bifida, and began using a wheelchair at age 7. She changed the world's view of the Paralympics and differently-abled athletes by winning 16 Paralympic medals, as well as winning the London Marathon 6 times. She retired from competition in 2007, and is now the President of the UK National Council for Voluntary Organizations. She recently joined the European commission that is investigating sports doping in the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal. (Tanni Grey-Thompson won her races without any outside doping or medical help.) Her attitude has influenced countless others.

"I don't like seeing pity in other people's faces," she said. "I don't want to be patted on the head and told I've done well if I know I haven't. I don't want people to tell me it doesn't matter if I've lost. It matters to me."

6. Physicist Lindley Winslow

Dr. Lindley Winslow, formerly with MIT, and now with UCLA, is researching why there is more matter than anti-matter in the universe. She has received a number of awards to continue her research on anti-neutrinos as part of the collaborative (French, U.S., Japanese) Double Chooz Project, one of the many cutting-edge scientific research projects you've likely never heard of that are uncovering truths about the universe. In her spare time, she's building a particle detector based on quantum dots that could make nuclear power safer and more reliable.

How many of these women have you heard of? How much of their work, aside from the Space Shuttle, do you know? Tanni Grey-Thompson is very well-known in the UK and Europe, but not so much in the United States.

Still feel like reading TIME for all your news? 

TIME's shortlist for person of the year included Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was shot in the head by Taliban extremists for attending school (it fits the "narrative"), Bill and Hillary Clinton, Yahoo! CEO Melissa Mayer (because she's under 40 and beautiful, I think), Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, and of course, the eventual winner, Barack Obama.

And Sandra Fluke, role model for all women? She was one of the initial nominees, but didn't make the shortlist.

It doesn't matter that few reading this article have ever heard of these women. It's what they've accomplished that matters.