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Top 10 Firsts for Women in Pop Culture

VO: Lisa Yang
Script written by Dan Deeprose They say that behind every great man there’s a great woman, but these women weren’t standing behind anyone. Join MsMojo as we countdown down our picks for Top 10 Firsts for Women in Pop Culture.

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Top 10 Firsts for Women in Pop Culture

They say that behind every great man there’s a great woman, but these women weren’t standing behind anyone. Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 firsts for women in pop culture.

#10: First Woman to Write, Produce, Direct, and Star in a Major Studio Film (1983)
Barbra Streisand

Streisand’s talent has been recognized with multiple Oscars, Grammys, Emmys and Golden Globes, among numerous other awards, but she broke totally new ground with the movie “Yentl.” The movie tells the story of a Jewish girl who wants to study Talmudic Law, which is forbidden to women in her community. To that end, she dresses up as a man. It’s perfectly fitting that this story of a girl striving to overcome gender divisions was what made Streisand the first woman to write, produce, direct and star in a major studio film, not to mention the first woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Director.

#9: First Female Television Announcer (1936)
Elizabeth Cowell

Television was brand new when Elizabeth Cowell rushed onto the scene. She participated in the BBC’s initial experimental broadcasts, which were transmitted from Alexandra Palace studios to the RadiOlympia exhibition in London in 1936. When the experiment was a success, the service began broadcasting regularly that November, and Cowell went on to work as one of their announcers. It looks like the BBC was ahead of the game when it came to both television and the role of women in the media! That said, the channel didn’t have a female political editor until 2015, when Laura Kuenssberg joined the team.

#8: First Woman Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
Aretha Franklin

She began her musical career as a child singing gospel music in her father’s church, and she ended up with 18 Grammy Awards, selling over 75 million records worldwide, and named number one in Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list. It’s pretty clear that she was a talented and accomplished musician – but she also blazed a trail for other female artists when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To be inducted, candidates have to be nominated by a committee and then voted in by a group of experts in the field of rock music, and she was the very first woman to ever make the cut.

#7: First Woman to Win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (1946)
Muriel Box

Muriel and her husband Sydney Box helped promote women’s acting careers very early on, originally working in theater. They worked on dozens of plays with mostly female casts, before transitioning into film and starting their own production company. Together, they wrote the screenplay for “The Seventh Veil”, a deeply psychological film that follows a young woman named Francesca, who is institutionalized after attempting suicide. The film was incredibly successful, and Muriel and Sydney were jointly awarded the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. In the following years she produced multiple films dealing with the female experience and the role of women in society, despite rampant sexism in the industry.

#6: First Woman to Win the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival (1946)
Bodil Ipsen

Born in 1889, Bodil Ipsen had a huge impact on Danish and European cinema. She started off acting in both theatre and film, before becoming a director. Her film The Red Meadows, which she co-directed with Lau Lauritzen Jr., was awarded the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the equivalent of what is now called the Palme d’Or or the Golden Palm. Bodil was the first – and one of the only women – to win. With a film like “The Red Meadows,” though, it’s no surprise that she took home the award. Bodil specialized in intensely psychological films, and this World War II story of a Danish resistance fighter awaiting execution showcased her immense talent.

#5: First Woman to Attain Five No. 1 Singles in the U.S. from One Album (2011)
Katy Perry

Although Katy Perry’s first album, featuring Christian rock songs, was originally a bust, she went on to be one of the most famous pop stars of our time. With her album “Teenage Dream,” Katy Perry became the first woman to have five songs from the same album reach number on the Billboard Hot 100. Not only that, but she is in fact only the second person to achieve it, the first being Michael Jackson. So next time you listen to “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” “Firework,” “E.T.” or “Last Friday Night,” remember that they aren’t just catchy tunes – they made music history.

#4: First Woman to Win an Academy Award for Best Director (2010)
Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow made a great leap forward for women in the media when she won the Academy Award for her film “The Hurt Locker.” The movie, which follows a bomb disposal team in the Iraq war, is one of many action films Bigelow directed, which just goes to show how unintimidated she is by the male-dominated genre. She was also the first woman to direct a movie with a budget of $100 million dollars, with her submarine thriller “K-19: The Widowmaker.” Things are looking up for ladies in the media, though, as more women are getting to work on high-budget movies, including Patty Jenkins, who is directing the $100 million dollar “Wonder Woman.”

#3: First Woman to Produce a Sitcom (1951)
Betty White

In her youth, Betty White wanted to get a job in film, but no movie studios would hire her. They probably regretted it later, though, when she became a hugely successful television personality: acting, singing, writing and even producing. She was such a hit that before long, she was both producing and starring in her own sitcom, “Life With Elizabeth.” In the following decades Betty White continued to pioneer in television and take home award after award. In fact, she was also the first woman to receive an Emmy for Outstanding Game Show Host for her show “Just Men!”

#2: First Woman to Own and Produce Her Own Talk Show (1988)
Oprah Winfrey

Despite a harrowing childhood, Oprah Winfrey quickly made a name for herself as a television personality. Her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, began in 1986 and it was a success from the beginning, grossing $125 million in the first year alone. Capital Cities ABC originally owned the talk show, but two years later Oprah decided to buy the rights and assets, taking over ownership and production. This effectively made her the first woman to own and produce her own talk show – and it became more successful than any other syndicated daytime talk show in history, which led to her becoming the first female African-American billionaire.

Before we unveil our top pick, here is an honorable mention:

First Woman to Have Three Simultaneous Top 10 Singles as a Lead Artist in the Billboard Hot 100 (2012)

#1: First Woman to Become a Billionaire as a Novelist (2004)
J.K. Rowling

It’s probably not a shock that J.K. Rowling, one of the most successful writers of our day, author of the best-selling book series in history, is at the top of our list. She published the first Harry Potter book in 1997, after being rejected by multiple publishers who are definitely all kicking themselves now. She was living on state benefits when she finished writing the first book, but within a few short years her series had made her a billionaire. She didn’t remain a billionaire for very long – but only because she donated so many millions of dollars to charity.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite first for women in pop culture? For more delightful Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.


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