By Claudia Quesito

March is Women’s History Month, a celebration of women’s contributions to society at large. Despite getting the short end of the stick for centuries, women have shined in every field, from sciences to arts and everything in between. And they are still shining.

Meet Maïwenn, Sophia Hoffman, Ellen Ochoa, and Bebe Vio. From four different cultures and backgrounds, these are four amazing women from our times—four fighters.

 Fight till you make it

Around twenty percent of French movies are directed by women, well above the European average. It’s worth noting, however, that despite awards, international recognition, and box office records, women directors are paid far less than their male counterparts. And they often have to expiate the “guilt” of being good-looking or having been the partner of some famous man. 

This is certainly true of Maïwenn Le Besco, better known simply as Maïwenn: a writer, actress, and filmmaker of Algerian, French, and Vietnamese descent. Born in France, Maïwenn appeared in the film Léon in 1994. It was directed by Luc Besson, Maïwenn’s husband at the time. Maïwenn’s career progressed with other acclaimed Besson works, particularly The Fifth Element. 

After the couple’s breakup, Maïwenn started a career on her own. She began as a standup comic—inspired by her years as child actress—then went back to movies.

In 2003, she started to direct films. In 2011, she won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival with Polisse, and in 2015, her movie was selected for the Palme d’Or. Being downplayed at times for her child-actress-turned-director trajectory just made Maïwenn fight harder, and she made it. In 2022, she is directing a movie with Johnny Depp on the life of Louis XV.

 Cooking with a twist

Sophia Hoffman is a vegan chef, feminist, and writer from Berlin, Germany. After starting out as a DJ, she realized that food was actually her greatest passion. She lacked formal training, but she had experience working with chefs. She was lucky enough to “go with the flow”—the flow being the explosion of the Berlin food scene in the 2010s. 

Four cookbooks soon followed, including Vegan Queens,—but they are, in fact, far more than just cookbooks. As Hoffman says, “there’s always an extra story to it”—stories like showcasing woman-owned and led businesses, for instance. She is now part of the Feminist Food Club, which brings together and empowers women from different food-related businesses. 

Her current focus is on sustainability, zero waste, and circular economy. Berlin seems the ideal stage to pursue these goals, but despite being vibrant and international, the local food scene is still widely male dominated. Hoffman does not seem intimidated though, so stay tuned for her next endeavors—like HAPPA, her soon-to-be restaurant.

Ellen Ochoa, First Latin-American woman in space

Ellen Ochoa, First Latin-American woman in space

When the glass ceiling is the stars

Born in Los Angeles of Mexican heritage, Ellen Ochoa has several firsts to her name. She is the first Hispanic woman serving as director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, for starters. In 1993, she made history as the first Latina in space while on a mission to study the Earth’s ozone layer.

On that mission, she brought along a flute and became the first astronaut to play a musical instrument in space. 

In the 1990s, pursuing her career was fraught with obstacles for Ochoa, both because of her Hispanic background and because she is a woman.

She wouldn’t change a thing about her past, however, and she is acutely aware that role models do have an impact. Her own inspiration was astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. 

Among Ochoa’s many recognitions, schools and STEM education centers across the US have been named after her.

She has also been featured in children’s textbooks and TV programs. Her message is to reach for the stars—and it’s hard to imagine anyone who could be more believable.

 To fencing… and beyond!

Bebe Vio is a shining example of superhuman willpower. She is twenty-five years old, and she has been fencing since she was five.

At age eleven, she contracted meningitis and had to have both her forearms and her lower legs amputated. She spent 104 days in intensive care before going back to school—and back to fencing. 

After just a year, she was competing again. She was able to do so thanks to a special prosthetic that allows her to hold her fencing foil. Vio also credits the support of her family and coaches. First and foremost, however, Vio owes her return to her own extraordinary determination. 

In addition to winning national and international competitions (including the Paralympic Games), Vio is constantly bursting with energy.

She is a fierce advocate of early vaccination. She also founded Art4sport, an association that firmly believes in sports as physical and emotional therapy for kids with prosthetics. 

Vio also never stops dreaming. “Life is cool” is her motto, which she developed during her darkest time, soon after being released from the hospital. And there’s no better proof of it—or inspiration for others—than Vio’s own life.

 

Read also: Five Admirable Women Who Won the Nobel Prize

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