What do Viola Davis, Kamala Harris, Janelle Monae, Naomi Wadler and 97-year-old park ranger Betty Reid Soskin have in common? Well, aside from all being incredibly dynamic and inspirational black women, they’ve been named Glamour’s 2018 Women of Year—alongside Chrissy Teigen; the other young female activists of March for Our Lives; Saudi Arabian women’s right activist Manal al-Sharif; and Judge Rosemarie Aquilina and the gymnasts who brought down former U.S. gymnastics doctor and sexual predator Larry Nassar.
It’s hard to believe she’s only become a household name within the past decade (since her Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for Doubt), but Viola Davis, The Icon Woman of the Year for 2018, continues to use her own story of struggle-turned-success to shine a light on the disenfranchised, telling writer Carvell Wallace that her own deeply impoverished upbringing “was ripe ground ... to have empathy for human beings.”
Perhaps that’s what makes Davis such an incredibly important and transformative actress, defying the odds of race, color, age and gender, simultaneously. Now an undeniable success, she leverages her power wherever possible—including when deciding to take on the role of Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder, a role she accepted on condition that her character could occasionally be seen sans wig, as she told a panel prior to the 2015 Emmys.
“I wanted to see a real woman on TV. I wanted to see who we are before we walk out the door in the morning and put on the mask acceptability, ‘Please see me as pretty. Please love me.’”
The effect wasn’t lost on us—or on her HTGAWM costar and onscreen protégé, Aja Naomi King, who told Glamour:
“First of all, to be a black actress, and to have watched the evolution of her career, it’s altered the way I look at this entire industry. Every time she wins, it feels like success for all of us. Because here’s the face of this beautiful, tall, striking, dark-skinned, natural hair-wearing black woman who is basically saying, ‘I dare you to tell me no.’”
As The Advocate Woman of the Year—and unapologetically outspoken—Senator Kamala Harris (Ca.) may not always have unilateral approval, but she certainly never shies away from asking hard questions, or, well, advocating for those less powerful than herself. “My mother always told me, ‘You may be the first to do many things. Make sure you’re not the last,” she tells writer Yamiche Alcindor.
As both the only African American woman in the Senate and its first ever Indian American, Harris—who grew up with activist parents, attended Howard University and considers “Young, Gifted and Black” one of the anthems of her childhood—insists that her seemingly fearless demeanor isn’t posturing, but a genuine passion for justice.
“I don’t believe my time is to sit here and spew poetry,” she says. “It’s not for some kind of performance art. It’s not about grand gestures.”
Of her at times controversial stances, Harris tells Glamour, “One of the things that all leaders need to do is speak truth, even if it’s an uncomfortable truth. I think it is really important that we are fighting for the best of who we are as a country, and I do believe we are better than this.”
Janelle Monae peeled back a new layer on her enigmatic image this year when she revealed that she is, in her words, “queer.” But with the release of this year’s Prince and Bowie-inspired Dirty Computer and her increasing activism, she showed that she has many, many more layers to share.
“I knew that I wanted to embrace all of me,” she told Glamour. “The good, the bad, the complicated, the humble, the cocky, the many dimensions of who I was.”
As The Visionary Woman of the Year, she also tells the magazine that her nonconformist style emerged early in life: “I’ve always taken issue with people trying to place an image on what a young girl could be,” she says. “Early on I told my parents that I was going to decide that for myself.”
Later, she continues. “We can pull down the fake wallpaper, break the mirror that has been lying to us and making [us] believe that we need to be perfect,” she says. “We don’t need to be perfect to be respected.”
But if she’s always followed her own path, it leads right back to her legacy as a daughter of a working class family in Kansas City, Kansas. “Just knowing that I come from a place where people were trying to be free and fighting for their survival, it makes me feel like I have a lot of people to make proud,” she tells the magazine. “I don’t want their work and their blood and their sweat and their tears and their sacrifices to go in vain.”
At 97, Glamour’s Women of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree Betty Reid Soskin has wisdom to spare, especially when it comes to history.
“History has been written by people who got it wrong, but the people who are always trying to get it right have prevailed,” she tells Farai Chideya, later adding, “What gets remembered is determined by who is in the room doing the remembering.”
Soskin is the oldest park ranger in the United States, serving as a permanent National Park Service Ranger at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Ca.—a post she took at age 85. She has also produced a memoir; stars in two upcoming documentaries about her life; has been awarded the Silver Service Medallion by the National WWII Museum; and was presented a coin with the presidential seal by President Barack Obama.
Most important, she’s still aware of how she continues to change the narrative for others, just by her presence—always in uniform.
“When I’m on the streets or on an escalator, I am making every little girl of color aware of a career choice she may not have known she had,” she says.
Amid the most significant midterms in recent history, Soskin’s sage words are a reminder that we are more resilient and powerful than we know.
“Democracy has been experiencing these periods of chaos since 1776,” she says. “They come and go. And it’s in those periods that democracy is redefined.”
The Glow Up tip: Glamour’s 2018 Women of the Year issue is on stands now. The 28th Women of the Year Awards and Summit annual celebration will take place from Nov. 10 to 12 in New York City at Spring Studios, with L’Oréal Paris and Mercedes-Benz USA as sponsors. The three-day event will feature panels, discussions, and performances, and an intimate awards ceremony. You can purchase tickets here.
Corrected: 11/8/18, 12:41p.m., EDT: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Betty Reid Soskin as a forest ranger in the opening paragraph. She is a DOI National Park Service ranger.