Feminism has commonly and largely been defined as the political, economic and social equality of the two sexes. This movement has its roots in the 19th-century women’s rights movement that advocated for the suffrage rights of women, which catered to the need for women to attain political equality with men. However, before the collective revolutionary actions of the 19th century by women, history has shown that there were women who led feminist inclined lives and although they did not identify as feminists, they were famous feminists in their own rights.
Feminism in its attempt to create a world of gender equality seeks the elevation of women from the position of the ‘second sex’ that the world has pushed women to by empowering them to lead better lives and use their voices in situations where they are expected to be silent. Feminism is a war against the structure of patriarchy that considers men superior to women.
As a movement, Feminism has experienced three waves and some critics say it is currently in its fourth wave, with a new rise of women seeking justice for the sexual crimes that have been committed against them. Feminism has evolved in a special way from its original form of protests for the equality of the sexes and has become theorized, being studied in educational institutions globally.
The global impact that this movement has had would not have been possible but for the work of people; mostly women who decided to lend their voices and dedicate their lives to see to the growth and propagation of feminism in public spaces and the lives of women, these ones identify as feminists. This article is about people who have made sure that in everything they do, they remind the world that women matter too.
10 Famous Feminists Who Have The World As We Know It
Simone de Beauvoir
First on the list of famous feminists is Simone Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir a French philosopher, writer, and feminist. Her book The Second Sex which was published in 1949 is a discussion of women and how they had been treated in different points in time in history. With this book she looked at the rights of women in terms of the philosophies of existentialism, the center of her existentialist feminism is set in this statement which she wrote in the text; ‘one is not born but becomes a woman’.
It was the first time there was an attempt to draw the lines of diversion between the concepts of gender and sex. Reactions to the book bordered on the extreme as the fear of what it would incite in the hearts of women terrified men at the time it was published. One of the places it was banned from was The Vatican City. She is one of the pioneer feminists of what has come to be considered as French feminism and is considered as one of the main people who lined the path of what feminism is today.
Making a statement in support of feminism can be done in diverse ways and for the German-born American singer and actress; Marlene Dietrich, changing the narrative of what women could wear was how she made bold her statement for feminism. Dietrich was neither the most conventional of the famous feminists who went on rallies nor was she an intellectual who penned books that attacked the patriarchy but her defiance of this system was by choosing to wear clothes that women not allowed to wear, these clothes were trousers and suits which in her time was considered sacrilegious for a woman to wear.
Davis has always been a thorn in the side of the government, unrelenting in the pursuance of her goals. She was a civil rights activist, a supporter of the communist party, a member of the Black Panther Party and an activist for feminism.
Feminism for Davis started in the early sixties and by the time she became an assistant professor at the University of California she was a well-known radical feminist. Her works were targeted at African American women and how racial issues came to play in their oppression as women.
Gloria Jean Watkins popularly known as Bell Hooks, which is her maternal grandmother’s name, is an author, professor, feminist theorist and activist. Her first book on feminist theory; Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984) was birthed out of the lack of diversification in feminist theory. Her theory focuses on the way racial differences affects gender relations. She is one of the first feminist theorists to incorporate the concept of intersectionality in feminist discourse.
Intersectionality is the consideration of how powerful systems affect those who are marginalized in society. Hooks also theorizes on how the media and film contribute to the objectification and oppression of women. Some of her other feminist publications are; Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (1989), Sisters Of The Yam: Black Women And Self-Recovery (1993), Reel To Real: Race, Sex, And Class At The Movies (1996) among many other titles.
One would expect the list of famous feminists to be inclusive of just women, but feminists are not primarily women, there have existed men who understand that women’s liberation is beneficial to all, one of such men is the French philosopher; Charles Fourier. He is believed to have coined the name Feminism. His thoughts on the rights of women centered on the kind of job opportunities that should be available to women and how marriage affects the lives of women. He was a man who was ages ahead of his time; the world finally caught up to some of his positions long after his time.
The thrust of Miss Lorde’s feminism was in the rights of lesbian black women, who in the hierarchy of women have the lowest ranks. She echoed the thoughts of fellow feminist and writer; Alice Walker on the womanist approach to feminism which sought to define feminist concerns within the framework of the black woman’s identity. Lorde was a critic of the first wave of feminism which concerned itself with only the predicaments of the white heterosexual woman, and just like Bell Hooks, seeks for intersectionality in feminism.
Her poetry and other writings are reflective of the ideas of intersectional relation that concern her, some of her literature include; The Black Unicorn (1978), Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives (1997) and Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power (1981).
Using the tool of journalism Steinem sought to eradicate the power of patriarchy and one of the ways she did that was with the creation of the feminist magazine Ms. what gave her a name among famous feminists as a writer and an activist were her writings which were biting criticisms of patriarchal practices by men. In the 70s she was a national voice for women, conducting rallies and protests.
She has expressed her opposition to pornography citing it as a debasement of pornstars; she has also critiqued academic feminist writing as a load of jargon that is inaccessible to the common public. She wrote the book Revolution from Within in 1992, it is not her only publication.
Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King was the wife of civil rights activist Martin Luther King; she is an embodiment of the endless struggle for equal treatment as she had borne on her shoulders the burden of feminism as well. When her husband died, she took up the struggle for Civil rights and decided to become a feminist as well, she was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women and this group is also interested in the intersectional aspects of feminism. She is the first woman who was given the opportunity to give the class day address in the Ivy League Harvard and she did this to make a statement regarding the rights of women.
Eltahawy is an Egyptian journalist who gives social commentary on global events particularly as they affect Arab countries and women, especially Arab women. She has lent her voice to the epidemic that is Female Genital Mutilation and seeks for a way to end it in regions of the world where it still occurs. Eltahawy is active on social media where she constantly airs her views to the ire of a lot of people. There may not be famous feminists in the Arab world, but Eltahawy is blazing the trails.
Of the most recent famous feminists, Adichie has achieved fame in the least unlikely ways; she is a writer who has had the opportunity to work with one of the biggest stars in the world and her discourse on feminism is to thank for this. This Nigerian-born writer and feminist activist is one of the most popular feminists from not just Nigeria but Africa as well, she achieved global renown for her seminal essay; We Should All be Feminist which is a treatise on how feminism benefits both men and women.
She exposes the restrictions that patriarchy imposes on everybody and preaches that feminism is the only way to break free from its binds. Dear Ijeawele is another essay by Adichie that teaches how to raise a daughter as a feminist. Adichie is not just an essayist but a multiple award-winning author who even in her fictional narratives manages to let her feminist trait shine through.