Say the word “mom” and you’ll probably—depending how much terrible television you grew up with—think one of the following: khaki pants, roomy jeans, school lunches, air conditioned cars, supermarket u-hauls, coupon collections. Of course, these are all miserable stereotypes, but they exert real influence, conscious and unconscious, on the American imagination. The media has mothered our vision of mothering.
That’s why it’s important to highlight the moms of this world that aren’t just challenging exhausted stereotypes, but doing real, hardcore, social justice work in their communities and families. Activism typically (in our cultural imagination) belongs to boys and their fathers—yet it’s often women who serve on the frontlines.
Here’s a look at some of the most badass moms in America doing some of the hardest work in America—compassion, with a vengeance.
1. The Mothers Against Senseless Killings
Every summer, hundreds of young kids in Chicago die due to gun violence. While the problem has lessened somewhat in recent years, it’s a brutal reality for many of the youth living in the Englewood neighborhood. So a group of moms known as MASK (Mothers Against Senseless Killings) recently decided to start patrolling the Chicago city streets, hoping to keep their kids safe from violence. Founded by Englewood resident Tamar Manasseh, moms hit the streets every day from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m, checking in with neighborhood kids, cooking hot dogs and hamburgers, and looking for potential trouble. The police alone have been unable to keep the neighborhood safe, so these moms stepped in. “I’m a mom who hasn’t lost her kids, and I don’t want to,” Manasseh told ABC7.
2. Michelle Obama
First lady, supermom, and outrageously instrumental in the (now successful) fight against American obesity. Is there anything Michelle Obama can, or has done, wrong? Short answer: no.
3. Tina Fey
Not only is she seen as one the “funniest women alive in America,” Tina Fey is also a proud mom of kids she’s not too private to make fun of. She’s making huge inroads for women in public life and women in comedy, and continues to be jaw-droppingly successful.
4. Shonda Rhimes
Producer, director, writer, and badass mom Shonda Rhimes was listed as one of TIME Magazine’s “100 People Who Shaped The World” in 2014. Not only does Shonda successfully manage multiple jobs, multiple programs (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) and three daughters, she was the mastermind behind Scandal, rated the most “highly addictive show on television” by pretty much everyone who saw it.
5. Vanessa Howard
Vanessa Howard is a mom, and a formerly homeless woman. For her, taking control of her fashion and body was critical to moving out of homelessness. That’s why she decided to subsidize a free spa day for other mothers and their children, hoping that the free makeovers will give women confidence. “I was once not having a place to stay with children and having no hope and having no dignity and so that’s what’s inspired me,” Howard said.
6. Jenny Morretter
Jenny Morretter’s daughter, Mackenzie, struggles with Sotos syndrome, a disorder that makes it difficult for her to build relationships. When Morretter recently decided to throw her daughter a 10th birthday party, no one responded to her invite. Morretter was heartbroken, but instead of falling into despair, she decided to take action. She went on Facebook and shared Mackenzie’s story with a few select groups, hoping to get more responses. After posting her stories, hundreds of people not only replied, but showed up to Mackenzie’s party, rewarding a 10-year-girl with a brand-new community of friends.
7. Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America
31 Americans die every day at the hands of a gun, and 55 kill themselves with a firearm. Over one in three Americans know someone who has been shot. To help stop the epidemic of violence, a group of mothers got together to organize against gun violence by hitting the phones and slamming the streets. Some like to say that “these women are the NRA’s worst nightmare.”
8. Alice Dreger
By now, it’s clear that for many teenagers, abstinence-only education simply doesn’t work. That’s why Alice Dreger, mother of a son in an abstinence-only sex class, decided to take action. Dreger sat in on her son’s class and chose to live-tweet it, posting such juicy nuggets as, “You’ll find a good girl. If you find one that says “No,” that’s the one you want. HE ACTUALLY JUST SAID THAT.”
Dreger, a writer already, obviously, and deservedly, went viral.