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Queen Bey might have told us that girls run the world—but in our patriarchal paradigm, it’s not always a celebrated idea.
Still, it doesn’t take much of an effort to see that the day of girls and women rising into their power is upon us. 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 being made and the books being read. The women who run the world are finally starting to get some of the credit they deserve.
International Women’s Day is March 8, and while 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 day set aside to observe the accomplishments of great women worldwide.
When I think of great women, a few names automatically spring to mind, but I’d like to call attention to someone I believe to be one of the most important and underrated feminists of our time: Tania Katan.
You may not know her name, but I’m sure you know what she’s done to shift the way we look at women.
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 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, a 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 call attention to the four STEM areas that largely shut women out: science, technology, engineering, and math. The idea was to make it clear that women and girls were not just welcome in this club—they were needed.
With this assignment, Katan wracked her brain. Then it hit her—that ubiquitous female restroom symbol. The stick figure wasn’t wearing a dress. She was wearing a cape!
Her design went viral within 24 hours with 18 million organic impressions. The story was told by The New York Times, CNN, Time, 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 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 around the globe, with many women never knowing Katan’s name but recognizing her symbol. Suddenly, the women who’d been silently bearing the majority share of the physical and emotional labor of households, whose work outside the household was often undervalued, saw themselves as they are: superheroes in their own right.
As the father of three young daughters, this really resonated with me. So much so that when Katan’s new book, Creative Trespassing, was published last month, I read the entire thing in two days. I highly recommend it. She goes way beyond feminism and activism to explain how important it is for all of us—men and women—to come back to who we were as children. To return to the hopeful, imaginative, and creative people we began as.
There was one section where she explained that researchers in the 60s, in an attempt to help NASA find the most creative problem solvers on the planet, began testing people of different age groups for their capacity for what’s known as “divergent thinking.” In other words, creative and out-of-the-box solutions to difficult problems. What they found was that of the 1,600 five-year-olds tested, 98 percent of them scored at the highest possible level. Five years later, that number decreased to 30 percent; five years after that it was 12 percent.
This stuck with me. It essentially proved through empirical data that adulthood tends to lobotomize the creative genius out of all of us—men and women.
To me, this was not just the crux of the book, but of who Katan is. Her entire professional tenure has been spent on the preservation of divergent thinking. She makes the case that with artificial intelligence coming to the fore any day now, divergent thinking is what will determine job security and our roles in the workplace. Her creative thinking, combined with her advocacy for women, makes Katan a force to be reckoned with and a powerful example what women are capable of when they explore outside-the-box thinking.
Of course, there are many wonderful and powerful 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 most identify with. Check out her TEDx talk. Read her book. Share them both with the powerful girls and women in your life.
Katan is a great example of why gender equity is so crucial today. For too long as a society, we’ve 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.
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