Free Britney. Controversial bills. Mental health in sports. It’s been an explosive month of news. These women are right at the center of the conversation, using their platform to speak out, support others and become self-advocates. We have a roundup of women who made headlines and left their mark on the media.
Women who made headlines in June:
Taking a stand on the podium
It takes hard work to become valedictorian and writing a commencement speech requires numerous drafts and feedback from the administration. Paxton Smith, valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, originally planned to discuss media consumption during graduation. At the last minute, she presented a new (unapproved) speech. Texas’ recent anti-abortion law compelled her to utilize the time and advocate for change.
“Without our input and without our consent, our control over [the] future has been stripped away from us,” Smith said. “I’m talking about this today – on a day as important as this, on a day honoring 12 years of hard academic work, on a day where we are all gathered together, on a day where you are most inclined to listen to a voice like mine, a woman’s voice – to tell you that this is a problem, and it’s a problem that cannot wait.”
While she initially faced disapproval from the school, people across social media praised Smith for her bravery and composure.
Acknowledging the importance of mental health
Professional athletes face expectations beyond performing well. Working with the media is often a major aspect of athletics. For most, the interviews are tiring – for those who struggle with mental health, they can be completely overwhelming. After a repeated conflict over refusing to speak at conferences, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open tennis tournament. In a Tweet, she explained how she faced “huge waves of anxiety” when speaking with the press.
Some feared that this decision would mean the end of her career, but many athletes and sponsors spoke out in support, including Nike, Sweetgreen and Metaforce. Overall, the response shows a societal shift towards prioritizing mental health.
Working to take control
The #FreeBritney movement has been around for years, but the recent New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears brought it back into the limelight. For over a decade, the pop star has been in a conservatorship where her father manages her major life decisions. Spears rarely spoke about the arrangement – until this month, when she brought the issue to court.
She revealed a shocking list of allegations. She was forced to perform, change her medications, forgo privacy and isolate herself from her friends. Most alarmingly, Spears wanted to have another child, but the conservatorship required her to have an IUD.
The case is still ongoing, but the widespread outrage and support will hopefully lead to Spears gaining control over her life for the first time in 13 years. In the meantime, the situation has brought up major conversations about the ethics of conservatorships and the importance of women’s reproductive rights.
Using money for good
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos faces frequent criticism for hoarding staggering amounts of wealth and donating only fractions of it. Novelist MacKenzie Scott, formerly married to Bezos, is taking a different approach. In 2019, she signed a pledge intending to give away most of her wealth throughout her lifetime. Over the past few years, Scott has made massive donations to nonprofits.
Most recently, she donated $2.7 billion to 286 charitable organizations, wanting to “[empower] voices the world needs to hear.” Her philanthropy supports a variety of causes, including the arts, equity, and social justice.
A showcase of other history-making women this month:
- Taya Currie is the first woman drafted for the Ontario Hockey League, one of the largest junior hockey leagues in Canada.
- Sarah Feinberg was nominated to lead New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, making her the first woman in the role.
- Leah Goldstein was the first female cyclist to win Race Across America, a 3,000-mile endurance race.
- Astrophysicist and professor Catherine Heymans became the first female astronomer royal for Scotland. This also makes her the first woman to hold a royal astronomer position in the UK.