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#DisruptTheDefault: Catalyst’s Top Disruptors of the Year

December 30, 2014This year at Catalyst we’ve been talking lots about the concept of disruption. But what truly defines a disruptor? Disruption is the art of challenging the status quo and taking bold action to create change for women and men. 

To celebrate those who are making impact, we’ve compiled a list of Top Disruptors of 2014--notable people, suggested by our staff and crowdsourced on social media, who have used their platforms to bring attention to societal issues that matter worldwide. They inspire us to disrupt the status quo when and where we can, and believe they will inspire you too.

Click on the images to see these disruptors in action.

Kara Walker

California-bred visual artist Kara Walker has utilized her artistic expression as an avenue to initiate conversations about race, gender, sexuality, and violence. One of her most recent pieces of work, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, drew thousands of people, including Jay-Z and Beyoncé, to the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to take in a massive sphinx sculpture made out of sugar. Her piece paid tribute to the slaves who worked and died on sugar plantations.

Terry Crews

When actor Terry Crews first got into the entertainment industry, he was typecast in a lot of macho roles based on his imposing physique. But the former NFL player isn’t letting art imitate life: not only is he taking roles that are outside of the norm, he’s using his platform to speak up on feminism, modern-day masculinity, and gender criticism. Crews recently added “author” to his resume by publishing a book titled Manhood: How to Be a Better Man—or Just Live With One.

Amy Poehler and Meredith Walker

In an era defined by social media and reality television, there is a lack of positive outlets for women who are coming of age. Comedian Amy Poehler and Meredith Walker saw a need to create a community to build self-confidence among young girls. A project that started off as a web series called Smart Girls at the Party evolved into a website that has become an online movement to inspire young women. Amysmartgirls.com features resources for young women, parents, and educators to empower girls to “change the world by being themselves.”

Laura Bates

After struggling to speak up about sexism on her own, British writer Laura Bates created The Everyday Sexism Project as a platform for both women and men to submit everyday examples of sexism around the world. Since its inception in 2012, the Every Day Sexism Project has grown to become a social media phenomenon, and has played an integral role in pushing the issue of sexism to the forefront of a global conversation. This year Bates expanded her mission to combat sexism by releasing her first book, Everyday Sexism.

Malala Yousafzai

Two years ago Malala Yousafzai was the victim of an assassination attempt in the northwest Pakistani district of Swat. The activist not only survived the horrific encounter, but has used her experience as a way to bring attention to social issues that affect both children and women globally. This year, Yousafzai was recognized as the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. At 17 years old, she became the youngest person ever to receive the award. A bullet to the head made her stronger instead of weaker.

Emma Sulkowicz

Campus sexual assault has been an ongoing issue at educational institutions. While many of these cases get overlooked, or in some instances covered up to protect the reputation of the school, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz wanted to make sure that her story was heard and taken seriously. Sulkowicz carried the dorm mattress she was allegedly raped on around campus after the school decided to allow her attacker to continue to attend school with no consequences. The mattress she lugged around campus symbolized the weight she was carrying on her shoulders from the incident and not only caught the attention of the school’s faculty, students, and locals, but of the nation as well.

Mo'ne Davis

Mo'ne Davis is only 13 years old, and she’s already broken barriers for women and girls in sports. The Philadelphia teen gained national attention after leading her Little League team, the Taney Dragons, to a 2014 Little League World Series win. Davis became the first girl to pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history. She also became the first Little League baseball player to be on the cover Sports Illustrated, and garnered their Sports Kid of the Year Award. Through her accomplishments Davis has overcome gender, age-related, and racial stereotypes.

Dale Hansen

Michael Sam’s decision to become the first openly gay NFL player sparked a lot of controversy. In the midst of the negative backlash that followed his announcement, reporter Dale Hansen stepped up to the plate and became an advocate for Sam. He used his platform on television to come to Sam’s defense, addressing the NFL’s subliminal prejudice against the gay community and speaking out about homophobic criticism in the realm of professional sports, where being gay is still taboo.

Chris Rock

Comedian Chris Rock is known as the funny guy, but this year while promoting his new movie, Top Five, he decided to take a serious approach and address race relations in America. Rock penned a pivotal essay earlier this month for The Hollywood Reporter that focused on the racial issues that plague Hollywood. The piece garnered a lot of attention and gave readers a look into the entertainment industry from a black male perspective. Rock credits his two daughters as inspiration for shining a light on different issues that affect women and the black community.

Emma Watson

This year Paris-born actress Emma Watson has made headlines for lending her voice to the feminist movement. Over the summer Watson was named a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador. She delivered a moving speech at the U.N. Headquarters for the launch of the “HeForShe” campaign, where she shared her perception of the word feminist and attempted to debunk the stigma surrounding the term.

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes, the woman behind shows like Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, has broken barriers not only for black people but for women in the entertainment industry as well. She’s used her career as well as the characters in her shows to combat harmful stereotypes of black women. She’s received many accolades for her work and has become the first black woman to create and executive produce a Top 10 network series.

Aamir Khan

When he’s not in front of the camera, Bollywood star Aamir Khan uses his platform to speak out about the violent crimes against women in Delhi, India. Khan is fighting for a higher rate of convictions of men who rape women. He has publicly stated that “swift” convictions will help reduce the crime rate. In a culture where many believe that women should remain submissive and subservient, Khan’s decision to publicly speak out in favor of women’s rights was a game-changing move.

The Hon. Howard I. Wetston, Q.C.

Chair & CEO of Ontario Securities Commission Howard I. Wetston, Q.C., has dedicated his career to being a champion for diversity. With a strong belief that it’s important for women to be represented at the executive level, Weston has practiced what he’s preached by ensuring that women are strongly represented at the helm of his own organization. Thirty-eight percent of the OSC’s Commissioners are women, as well as approximately 61% of its executive management team. He is also the driving force behind a new government initiative to diversify boards listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).


The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.