The 21st Century’s new wave of feminism has brought the historic issue back to the forefront but has unfortunately brought a bit of a bad name with it too.
It seems as feminism grows in popularity with some people, it becomes more condemned by others, who brand feminism as sexist, unfair and a man-hating movement. Today’s women and girls should be told that this is not the case, and that in fact feminism is for everyone’s benefit and is not about hate but about inclusion.
Modern day feminism has come a long way since the days of the suffragettes, moving through cultural waves like birth control, women in the workplace and the explosion of social media.
Today, female celebrities often take their fame as an opportunity to speak out about the issues that matter – here are six women flying the flag for feminism.
1: Malala Yousefzai
The youngest and perhaps most deserving woman on the list is seventeen year old Malala Yousefzai, a former schoolgirl from Pakistan who was shot in the face by the Taliban for her advocacy of girls’ rights to education.
As a student, Malala blogged for the BBC about her life as a female schoolgirl in Pakistan and gave speeches at her school about her right to education. At age 14, she was issued a death threat by the Taliban and in 2012, she was shot on her way home from school.
Since recovering from the injury, Malala resumed her education in Birmingham and continued her advocacy for women’s education, this time on a global scale. Last year, she became the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the western world, we can often find ourselves focusing on the problems that just affect us and can become oblivious to the problems of people worldwide. We forget that, while we make our way through our day to day struggles, there are millions of girls fighting for the chance at an education – something that we sometimes take for granted.
“Extremists have shown what frightens them most: a girl with a book.”
2: Emma Watson
Ms. Watson obviously rose to fame with the massive success of the Harry Potter movies, in which she played the fierce and fabulous Hermione Granger, but didn’t let this distract from her other goals, receiving her Batchelor’s degree in English Literature from Brown University in 2014.
That same year, she was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and helped launch the hugely successful and influential HeForShe campaign, which aims to engage more men and boys in the mission towards gender equality.
Her speech at the launch of the campaign has racked up almost 7 million hits on YouTube, with many men citing it as the reason they changed their minds about what they believed feminism to be. She continues as an activist for women and girls everywhere, using Twitter as a platform to speak to young people looking for advice on issues that affect them.
Emma latched onto a huge issue within the feminist movement today with her speech, which is that many people find it to be synonymous with man-hating and misconstrued its real meaning. Her speech was well-informed, articulate and honest and is definitely a must-see.
In my moments of doubt, I’ve told myself firmly: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
3 & 4: Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj
Perhaps not as active in terms of philanthropy and activism as the previous two women, Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj certainly have brought feminism to the forefront of pop culture and contemporary society in ways that no one else could. They both stand for speaking your mind, being in charge of yourself and your work and encouraging other young women to be the best they can be.
It all started with Beyoncé’s iconic VMA performance last year, in which the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech on feminism played over glaring letters spelling out FEMINIST behind Queen B’s silhouette.
She then treated us to an epic performance of the self-love anthem “Flawless” but that wasn’t the best part of the show. People don’t really seem to grasp how important this action was and how it achieved far more for feminism than people realise. Beyoncé showing herself as a sexy, powerful and brilliant woman who also identified as a feminist made the movement sexy, cool and a viable option for girls everywhere to identify with. All in a few minutes’ work.
Nicki Minaj sends the same message with her monologues on what it means to be a woman in the rap industry, of which there are plenty to be found online. You may not agree with the type of music or the image that Nicki sends out to the world, but you can’t fault her messages that she constantly preaches to young girls – “Stay in school”, “Speak your mind”, “Love yourself”. No stranger to hardship, Nicki moved from Trinidad to New York at a young age and lived under an abusive father, but built her way up through years of work.
Favourite quote from Beyoncé: “Make sure you have your own life before becoming someone else’s wife.”
Favourite quote from Nicki Minaj: “For all the women, stop feeling like you shouldn’t speak your mind cause somebody’s gonna call you a bitch.”
5: Caitlin Moran
A personal favourite of mine, Caitlin’s book “How To Be a Woman” taught me everything I needed to know about waxing, babies and bras all while my sides hurt from laughing.
She began working as a music reporter at sixteen and has since worked for Channel 4 and the Times. She’s written three books and tours Britain and Ireland, meeting women and girls who love her writing as much as I did.
For a young girl who doesn’t know much about herself, who she wants to be or what feminism even is, How to Be a Womanis a great guide for figuring the pressing issues out. For example, how do you know when a relationship isn’t right? When should you start having babies? Should you wax or shave or do anything to the hair on your body? How do you know if you’re a feminist? I think Caitlin answers it quite concisely: “Do you have a vagina? And do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered yes to both then congratulations! You’re a feminist”.
“I’m neither ‘pro-woman’ nor ‘anti-men’. I’m just thumbs up for the six billion.”
6: Mary Robinson
For the month that’s in it, who better to finish the list than an Irish woman who sets the bar pretty high for the rest. Most young women nowadays don’t have a great understanding of the work done by our first woman president, but she made great waves for Irish women during her presidency and oversaw many important developments both at home and abroad.
Elected in 1990, Mary became the first serving Irish president to visit the U.K and meet Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and also controversially met with Gerry Adams on a visit to Belfast, showing her willingness to improve relations with Northern Ireland and Britain.
Mary met with an array of different groups not normally invited to Áras an Uachtaráin, including G.L.E.N, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, and also signed the bill which decriminalised homosexuality into effect in 1993.
She was an advocate for human rights across the world throughout her career and eventually resigned from the presidency to take up her new role as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – not before signing the bill to liberalise the availability of contraceptives to the public. She was and still is an icon for Irish women.
“I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”