MORE Magazine’s 3rd Annual Fierce List

We love their guts! In the past year, the women we're saluting made headlines, history, strides and waves; they made us laugh, cheer, sigh and try harder. One made the ultimate sacrifice. To all in the world that is evil, unjust, violent and joyless: You have nothing to fear but fierce itself

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Merry wife Windsor

New Yorker Edith Windsor, 83, married her partner of 40 years, Thea Spyer, in 2007 in Canada. When Spyer died, Windsor inherited her estate—but because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, Windsor was hit with a $363,053 federal tax bill that she wouldn’t have received if she had been married to a man or her marriage to Spyer was considered legal. Windsor sued—and won: In October a federal appeals court declared unconstitutional section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. United States v. Windsor was headed for the Supreme Court at press time. Being the test case, Windsor has said, “is almost a deliriously joyful thing for an old lady.”

Andy Ryan/Atelier Management

We're in her corner

Raised in Flint, Michigan, and introduced to boxing by her ex-con dad, Olympic gold medalist Shields KO’d adversity with diligence, excellence and moxie. “The best thing my coach taught me about being ferocious,” Shields says, “is if you’re going to go down, go down swinging!” Thousands followed her insightful training diary on NPR and felt a rush of joy when she triumphed at the Games.

Mark Blinch/Reuters/Landon

Golden girls

Tough to decide what was most satisfying about the gold-medal victory of beach -volleyball partners Kerri Walsh Jennings, 34, and Misty May-Treanor, 35, at the Summer Olympics in London. That their last performance as a team—May-Treanor is retiring—was such a heart-stopping fight to the finish? (Walsh Jennings attributes her tenacity to her mother, who taught her to “own it . . . whatever I loved, no matter what I committed to do, I should do it every single day without fail.”) That Walsh Jennings announced right after their last hurrah that she was preggers? That their ferocity in competition morphs off court into easygoing warmth and generosity? (“My motto,” May-Treanor says, “is ‘Play for all those who can’t, the sick, the disabled.’ My dad told me this all the time growing up.”) It’s all as good as gold.

Trunk Archives

Bye, partisan

After 33 years of working to create consensus and find middle ground in Congress, Senator Olympia Snowe, 66 (R–Maine), called it quits in 2012. Her reason: The Senateis now so dysfunctionally factional that the only way she can make healthy public policy is to work outside the institution. Declaring that “Americans must demand results from government,” she has launched Olympia’s List, a PAC that will rally voters to support moderates of both parties who will reach across the aisle.

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Case clothes

Chic, sleek minimalism made German designer Jil Sander, 69, a star. In 1999 she sold a majority share of her label to Prada, then resigned six months later to protest cost-cutting measures. Sander tried rapprochement in 2003 but again tangled with her bosses. She left, created a successful line for Japanese retailer Uniqlo—and last year returned to head her namesake company, now under new ownership, and deliver a knockout collection. Sander’s refusal to compromise her vision has paid off; we like her style.

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Top brass

Last summer Tammy S. Smith, 50, deputy chief of the Army Reserve and a 26-year veteran who served in Afghanistan, was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first openly gay general in the U.S. military. At the ceremony, Smith’s star was pinned on by her wife, Tracey Hepner, a cofounder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition, which supports gay and transgender service members. Smith’s motto: “Anyone who has ever busted through a glass ceiling got cut a little by the glass on the way through.”

Courtesy Of Brigadier General Tammy S. Smith

Her safe word is best seller

E.L. James, 49 (in real life, Erika Leonard), struck it rich and juicy with the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy (70 million copies sold worldwide). “God forbid that women have fantasies!” she has said (but maybe God allows; since Grey, sex-toy sales have soared). James considers the term mommy porn demeaning and has said women want “a good passionate story . . . and for our partners to do the laundry and the washing up.”

Wesley Mann/August

Rockin' Robin

Five years ago, Robin Roberts, 52, popular coanchor of ABC’s Good Morning America, beat breast cancer. This year she battled a related illness, myelodysplastic syndrome. The treatment was a grueling bone marrow transplant, which she handled with stalwart good nature; now she’s a powerful advocate for organ and marrow donation, focusing on the African-American community. In February docs gave the OK for Roberts to go back on-air after a five-month absence. It’s morning again in America!

Melanie Dunea/CPI Syndication

To infinity and beyond

Astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, achieved escape velocity last summer, dying at 61 of pancreatic cancer. Before joining NASA, she already had a degree in physics (and English) and was studying for a PhD at Stanford University. Her legacy: the chance for generations upon generations of women to reach unlimited heights.

NASA via New York Times/Redux

Flame and fortune

Jessica Chastain, 36, seemed to go from zero dark horse to A-lister in a snap (though she’d spent a dues-paying decade on stage and TV). She’s a chameleon, costarring in six movies in 2011, with an Oscar nomination for The Help; within a year, the wildly different Mama and Zero Dark Thirty were numbers one and two at the box office. For her quietly ferocious performance in the latter, as the driven CIA agent Maya, Chastain nabbed a Best Actress Golden Globe and another Oscar nomination. Made-up TV show of our dreams: Maya going mano a mano with Homeland’s Carrie on Who Wants to Catch a Terrorist.

Micaela Rossato

Not a fluke

Nothing like being called a slut by Rush Limbaugh to kick your career into high gear. The on-air insult came last year after activist Sandra Fluke, 32, then a law student at Georgetown University, testified before Congress about why her Catholic school should provide female students with affordable contraception despite the church’s opposition to birth control. Limbaugh’s tirade—he also called her a prostitute—cost him sponsors and boosted the national visibility of Fluke, now a lawyer focusing on women’s reproductive rights and fair-pay issues.

Courtesy of Sandra Fluke

Thats PM, not PMS, pal

Millions saw it on YouTube: a 15-minute speech by Australia’s first woman prime minister, Julia Gillard, 51, excoriating the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, for being a hater and baiter of women. Gillard’s elegant rant came after Abbott moved to castigate a colleague for sexism when he himself has a dismal record. (Just one example she cited: In 1998, Abbott suggested that men might be “by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority” than women.) Says the PM succinctly in her smackdown: “If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion . . . he needs a mirror.”

© 2010 Rex Usa

Writing wrongs

In Behind the Beautiful Forevers, winner of a 2012 National Book Award, Katherine Boo, 48, offers more than a gorgeous and nuanced account of life in a Mumbai slum; it’s a story as engaging, hopeful and harrowing as an epic novel. Her extraordinary reporting uncovers the hidden engines of inequality and corruption at every level, from government officials to street sweepers. Boo has said: “Seeing what’s wrong—seeing it clearly—seems to me a crucial part of beginning to set it right.”

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

She lived for the children

From unspeakable horror came an unforgettable act of courage. At the age of 47, Dawn Hochsprung, beloved principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was killed when she charged at gunman Adam Lanza, trying to prevent the deadly rampage that took the lives of 20 children and five of her colleagues. She was stunningly selfless and brave—as were the other adults who gave their lives in defense of their young charges: MarySherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D’Avino and Anne Marie Murphy.

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Two who talked back

It was a fierce way to start the day. Soledad O’Brien, 46, then host of CNN’s morning show Starting Point, talked tough to both Republicans and Democrats. O’Brien told former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani to “stop putting words in my mouth” (he’d said she was blaming George Bush for the Benghazi attack) and challenged then senator John Kerry (he touted economic gains; her reply was, “Sluggish, sluggish, sluggish”). Over at Fox News, feisty anchor Megyn Kelly, 42, twice tussled on the air with colleague Karl Rove—on election night, when he disputed his own network’s return figures (she famously traversed a hallway to check with Fox number crunchers), and later when he insisted Obama’s victory was insignificant. “You keep saying that,” she countered, “but he won.” Talk about great bluster-busting. 

From left: Getty Images, Ben Hoffmann

Cyber ivy

They get an A+ in transforming education: Last year Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust, 65, and then president of MIT Susan Hockfield, 62, launched edX, a nonprofit partnership offering free online classes taught by their schools’ professors to any interested human. In March 2012 the debut course drew almost 155,000 students. Since then, massive open online courses—aka MOOCs, the acronym du jour—have multiplied; they’re now offered by almost three dozen major universities and attract millions of people around the globe. Online participants can order certificates of completion, which already have growing cachet in the international job market.

From top: © Rose Lincoln/Harvard University Staff Photographer, Bloomberg via Getty Images

Targeted by the Taliban

She was gunned down for the crime of going to school and publicly urging other girls to join her. Malala Yousafzai, 15, survived being shot in the head last fall when a van carrying her and others home from school was ambushed by the Pakistani Taliban. Rushed to England for her initial treatment, she had further surgery in February and now has a steel plate in her head; she continues to recover in the U.K. with her family. The attack brought global condemnation of the Taliban, which has said Yousafzai remains an assassination target, as well as support for her mission: She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the government of Pakistan has pledged to have the nation’s three million school-age girls in class by 2015. Yousafzai, who began attending a private school in Birmingham in March, has said she is now living her “second life.”

Asim Hafeez

Cold-case crusader

Wayne County (Michigan) prosecutor Kym Worthy, 56, had a brilliant idea: Start running DNA tests on 11,000 police rape kits—swabs of semen and saliva and other evidence—found gathering dust in a warehouse. She landed a federal grant to begin logging and processing the kits and entering the results in a national DNA database. So far, 21 serial rapists have been identified, and two have gone to trial; more arrests will require more funding. Worthy vows to continue the quest. Meanwhile, she says, what the world needs is “people who sincerely, unapologetically want to see a safer America with much less crime.Give me more of them, and I’ll show you a safer Detroit.”

Bryan Mitchell

May the odds be ever in her favor

She may have tripped on the way to pick up her Best Actress Oscar, but Jennifer Lawrence, 22, has yet to make a career misstep. We love to watch her find vulnerabilities in the tough-girl roles she’s drawn to, whether in high-toned indies (as a wild widow in Silver Linings Playbook and a tenacious teen in Winter’s Bone) or global blockbusters (The Hunger Games). Asked if her rise to stardom was too sudden, Lawrence answered, “When you get a promotion at your job, you don’t go, ‘That was too fast. Can I stay in the mailroom a while longer?’ ”

Matt Holyoak/Camera Press/Redux

The struggles of Muggles

It took guts (and perhaps a tiny nip of Felix Felicis, the luck potion she invented for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) not to rest on the publishing world’s biggest, cushiest laurels. But J.K. Rowling, 47, put on her big-girl cloak and bravely wrote her first novel for adults. Ten points for Gryffindor! Her book The Casual Vacancy, about the married lives, political problems and dark secrets of nonwizards in a contemporary English village, was an instant best seller, though reviews were decidedly mixed. Whatever. We’ll always adore Rowling, Hogwarts and all.

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Pigskin princess

“Be the hammer, not the nail.” That, she tells us, is the motto of nine-year-old running back Samantha (Sam) Gordon, the first female football player to appear on the Wheaties box. Gordon, the only girl on her Salt Lake City team, gained fame last fall when a highlight reel posted by her dad went viral. “I wanted to prove girls can play. It’s not just a boys’ sport,” she once said. This year she has appeared on national TV and practiced with the San Francisco 49ers. Her “fierce” code: “If another player hits me hard and ends up [winning], I’ll at least earn his respect by giving it my all.”

Courtesy of Wheaties

Nurse power

When Superstorm Sandy knocked out electricity in lower Manhattan and backup generators failed, Margot Condon, RN, 57, and six other nurses at the NYU Langone Medical Center neonatal intensive care unit were ready. They rallied staff to help them carry their 20 tiny charges, IV lines and breathing tubes dangling, down nine flights of stairs, delivering oxy-gen to four of the babies with handheld pumps. Condon, a 36-year nursing vet, held a two-pound boy only eight hours old. Ambulances sped the infants to other hospitals. “It was a beautiful thing,” Condon
told reporters, “everyone helping each other.”

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Dis Putin

Russian punk rockers Maria Alyokhina, 24; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30—all members of the dissident feminist band Pussy Riot—were sentenced to two years in prison for staging a brief, unauthorized performance inside Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral to protest the policies of President Vladimir Putin. (Samutsevich’s sentence was later suspended.) Their trial drew worldwide criticism of government repression and showcased the young women’s brave, articulate defense of their right to freedom of speech. 

Ria Novosti/Camera Press/Redux

Screen saver

Ava DuVernay, 40, the first African-American woman to win the Best Director prize at Sundance (for her 2012 drama Middle of Nowhere), started out as a film publicist, a job in which she made one memorable rookie mistake. “I took on a client just for the money,” she told us. “It was disastrous and demoralizing and taught me to follow my heart, not the money.” She has also launched a groundbreaking distribution company, AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement), which organizes film festivals and theatrical releases for black independent filmmakers.

Liz O. Baylen/L.A. Times/Contour By Getty Images


Martha Raddatz, 60, and Candy Crowley, 64, who each ran a 2012 election debate—the vice-presidential and the presidential town hall, respectively—had the balls to do what the comatose fellas (moderators Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer) did not: keep the candidates on point and on their toes. Raddatz, ABC’s senior foreign affairs correspondent, insisted on specifics; Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent, practiced no word mincing. In the tense election season it was a pleasure, and a relief, to see tough, smart journos in action.

From Left: Getty Images, Washington Post/Getty Images.

Beauty and the brain

Call her the beauty fairy godmother. In the 1990s, Janet Gurwitch, 59, created a mega-success as the founder and CEO of Laura Mercier Cosmetics. Now she mentors other entrepreneurs. Shehas helped Urban Decay creator Wende Zomnir sell her edgy cosmetics line to L’Oréal for more than $300 million, and this spring she helped Ali Webb, founder of Drybar salons, roll out a line of Drybar products.Gurwitch confesses, “I don’t really wear muchmakeup.” Perhaps because she’s so busy making sure we do.

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

An end to eve teasing

The vicious gang rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi who died of her injuries prompted public soul searching in India, where violenceagainst women is prevalent and often goes unpunished. How to change a deeply misogynistic culture? Jasmeen Patheja, 32, is on the case. She’s the founder of Blank Noise, a volunteer organizationdedicated to creatively transforming attitudes toward the pervasive problem of “Eve teasing”—widespread street harassment of women, from ogling to groping. Launched in Bangalore 10 years ago as a class project when Patheja was an art student, Blank Noise has spread to seven other cities. The group stages “Take back the night”–style marches and encourages women to document harassment and post photos of their tormentors. Its “action hero” initiative urgeswomen to report onlinehow they confronted harassers. After the New Delhi rape, Blank Noise gathered and posted powerful photos of Indian men and women of all ages, classes and ethnicities holding hand-written signs declaring their opposition to sexual violence against women. Patheja is committed to ending Eve teasing one Adam at a time. 

Indian Photo Agency

Been there, Dunham that

Polytalented Lena Dunham, 27, has reaped rewards for insisting on being her own distinctive self. The star, writer, director and producer of HBO’s frank, funny, fraught series Girls, Dunham won two Golden Globes and scored a reported $3.7 million advance for her first book, an essay collection called Not That Kind of Girl. Her take on today’s twenty-something women delights some and depresses others. We like the way she dares to call ’em as she sees ’em. 

Gregory Harris/Trunk Archive

Vagina dialogues

It was another Pussy Riot. Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown, 46, was punished for using the word vaginawhile opposing a bill that would have required doctors to make sure a woman hadn’t been coerced before they provided an abortion. “I’m flattered you’re all so concerned about my vagina,” she said, “but no means no.” The (male) majorityfloor leader barred her from speaking the next day because, he said, she’d violated decorum. In protest, Brown and several of her female colleagues performed The Vagina Monologues with the play’s author, Eve Ensler, on the steps of the capitol building. Though the bill ultimately passed, Brown made her point—and thousands showed up at the capitol to support her. 

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Combat ready

Americans sent a record number of women to Congress in November: 81 to the House of Representatives and 20 to the Senate. (That’s 19 percent—nice, but not enough; women make up 53 percent of the electorate.) A notable addition: Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, 45 (D–Illinois), an Iraq veteran who lost both legs when the helicopter she was co-piloting was hit. The first battle-injured woman in the House, she applauds the recent reversal of the rule banning females from ground combat: “As a combat veteran, I know the inclusion of women in combat roles will make America safer.”

Alessandra Petlin/August

The rebuilder

As cofounderof the 15-year-old nonprofit Femmes en Démocratie, Danielle Saint-Lôt, 54, Haiti’sformer minister of commerce, industry and tourism, worked to support female political candidates, reduce domestic violence and train women as entrepreneurs. Then came thedevastating earthquake of 2010. Afterward, Saint-Lôt was instrumental in persuading Haitian President Michel Martelly to commit $3 million to women-orientedrecovery -projects—and to double the number ofwomen in his cabinet. 

Sebastian Podesta

Full frontal fabulous

For her rolein The Sessions as a sex therapist introducing a disabled man to the pleasures of eros, Helen Hunt, 49, appeared onscreen utterly, unselfconsciously, damn-she-looks-good-but-realistically nude. For that she earned an Oscar nomination and the cheers of middle-aged women everywhere. 

Eric Ogden/Corbis Outline

Rhymes for a reason

Soosan Firooz, 23, an actress who spent her childhood as a refugee in Iran and Pakistan, has become Afghanistan’s first female rapper. Her debut release, “Our Neighbors,” has feminist and social justice themes. Her father serves as her bodyguard because she has gotten death threats from fundamentalist extremists. 

Mònica Bernabé

Reproduction line

We salute three activists who work from dramatically different points of view to protect women’s right to choose. Because Mao Hengfeng, 51, refused to abort her second pregnancy as required by China’s laws limiting family size, she was sent to a mental hospital and then prison. Once freed, she became an advocate for reproductive rights, work that’s gotten her re-arrested and beaten. Candy Straight, 65, and Susan Bevan, 59, are cochairs of Republican Majority for Choice, an abortion-rights group representing what Straight calls “the often ignored but influential moderate majority.”Bevan’s motto: “ ‘They’redoing the best they can.’ I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.” Straight confesses to some secret weaknesses: “Coffee ice cream, rarely saying no and, as I get older, becoming more willing to say what’s really on my mind.”

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

A good sign

Lydia Callis, 30, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sign language interpreter, was highly visible before, during and after Superstorm Sandy and much praised for her grace and clarity, her vivid facial expressions and palpable emotions. Callis, whose mother and three younger siblings are deaf, has earned shout-outs on Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show and followers on Twitter. You got a problem with that? Talk to the hand.

Marcus Yam/New York Times/Redux

She shall overcome

Human rights activist Samar Badawi, 32, is the first Saudi Arabian woman to challenge in court her nation’s male-guardianship system, which considers adult women minors legally controlled by male relatives. At 25, fed up with being beaten by her father, Badawi fled to a women’s shelter. Her father took her to court for disobedience, and she served seven months in jail. Then she sued him for refusing to allow her to marry the man of her choice. Her bittersweet victory: Judges removed her father as her guardian, only to replace him with her uncle. Badawi is still fighting to change the law—and in another groundbreaking move has filed suit demanding that women be given the right to vote.

Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Yahoo's who

Yahoo president and CEO Marissa Mayer, 37, would have graced our list if all she’d done was become one of only 21 women—and the youngest person—to head a Fortune 500 company. But the former Google exec also made big news by taking a five-second maternity leave after giving birth to her first child, son Macallister, in September. OK, it was two weeks, but its relative brevity—and her later ban on telecommuting—launched a lively, prickly and ultimately healthy national discussion about corporate double standards, family leave and other issues vital to women in the workplace.

© Martin Klimek/

Blown away

She tore through seven countries, leaving nearly 300 dead, tens of thousands homeless, millions in the dark and billions of dollars’ worth of damage. Superstorm Sandy taught us a painful and powerful lesson: Climate change can’t be ignored. Experts invoked the ancient myth of Cassandra (Sandy for short?), the prophetess doomed to be always right but ever disbelieved: For more than two decades, climatologists have warned that unchecked global warming would cause catastrophic weather—scorching summers and mega-tempests. Will we heed Sandy’s roar?

© Star-Ledger/Aristide Economopoulos/The Image Works

Underground but unbowed

As a pro-democracy uprising grew in Syria, human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, 36, issued daily reports on police and army violence against civilians through her website Syrian Human Rights Information Link; the site was often the main source of news about the atrocities. She also risked passing along vital information to foreign journalists, despite a government ban on such contact. In 2011, Zaitouneh was accused of being a spy and went into hiding. The government reportedly tortured her husband to get her to turn herself in, then later released him; she remains underground. 

Khademian Farzaneh/Abaca/Newscom

Rape survivor/whistleblower

Kori Cioca, 27, was a seaman in the Coast Guard when she was allegedly raped and beaten by her commanding officer. (According to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, 3,191 sexual assaults were reported in the military last year.) Now Cioca is the lead plaintiff in a class action civil suit against the Department of Defense, claiming in court documents that higher-ups threatened her with court-martial if she pursued the rape charge. The mother of two, Cioca speaksout in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War. Her case, originally dismissed, is now under appeal. 

Ap Photo/Cliff Owen

Rebel without a doubt

Magnetically hilarious in the recent films Pitch Perfect, Bachelorette and Struck by Lightning, sly Aussie comedian Rebel Wilson, 26, is also a screenwriter; she’s working on a TV series. And living up to her (real!) name: The boldly chunky Rebel appeared at the 2012 Video Music Awards wearing a T-shirt dress designed to look like a bikini—with abundant fake pubic hair spilling out Down Under. 


Click here to read our fierce list from 2012.


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Tierney Gearon/Trunk Archive

Share Your Thoughts!



Does this fierce woman have a first name? All the other women represented had more information given about them, including their full name and even though short, the other stories seemed to be more detailed. All the women represented in this article should be represented equally, including giving their full names-unless she only has one name. Please correct this error.

Kaye 06.29.2013

Congratulations Ms. Windsor! DOMA STRUCK DOWN!

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