Somehow, ‘feminism’ has come to be associated with ‘man-bashing’. This completely takes away the achievements of the several women who made sacrifices in the past only so that the modern woman is considered as an equal in the society. But, to reach here, brave hearted women have struggled and fought the societal norms that existed in history which always consider women as belonging to the ‘weaker sex’. It’s time to take a look at a few of the inspiring women who changed the course of history to pave way for the much more progressive era we live in today.
- Susan B. Anthony
Born to a Quaker family on 15th February, 1820, Anthony was an abolitionist, feminist, suffragette, and an education reformer. She created quite the scandal by voting ‘illegally’ in Rochester, New York on 5th November 1872. This, her disappointment over the exclusion of women from those having voting rights after the thirteenth and fourteenth amendment, led her to lend her voice actively against the biases faced by women. She even pursued University of Rochester to admit women in 1900. She started a feminist magazine, campaigned aggressively against slavery and gender based restrictions on women until her death in 1906. She led the National American Woman Suffrage Association and fought for a cause which wasn’t ratified until 14 years after her death in the 19th Amendment on 8th August, 1920- finally giving women the right to vote.
- Coretta Scott King
Born Coretta Scott in Marion, Alabama 27th April, 1927, she was a civil rights activist, a feminist, an American author who was known widely for her support to husband Martin Luther King, Jr. Although she was deeply involved in actively supporting King’s activities, she carved a niche for herself in politics and the history of feminism and civil rights activism. Always an advocate for equality,peace and the right to live life with dignity, she campaigned for a life of equal opportunities and peace by using her immense talent in the field of music. She was an outstanding student in her school and went on to pursue a bachelor’s in music in Boston, where she met her future husband King. She took active part in the Montgomery bus boycott and after her husband’s death opened the Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. Scott became an active part of the Women’s movement and LGBT rights movement and demanded that they be included in the class of ‘Protected people’ as well.
- Betty Friedan
Born Bettye Naomi Goldstein on 4th February, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, graduated summa cum laude in 1942 from Smith college. After her first child was born, she went back to work but lost her job when she was having her second child. As a homemaker she got frustrated because even though her children made her happy, she wanted to be occupied doing something substantial. This prompted her to write her book The Feminine Mystique where she wrote about the romanticisation of domesticity and how college educated mothers were depressed because they had to let go of their individuality and desires to be a perfect wife and mother. She also fought for abortion rights by establishing the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws and became one of the founders of the National Women’s Organisation. She encouraged women to find substance in their lives and and became a driving force to make this come true.
- Barbara Walters
According to the Time magazine’s 1995 issue she is like “the autumn cherry tree in full flower”. Barbara Walters took her Bachelor’s degree in English from Sarah Lawrence College. She began as an assistant to the producer at an NBC affiliated show but soon became the youngest producer at the station. She made occasional appearances on Today and took the opportunity to make the feature stories impactful. Soon she took over as the Today Girl and became a hit. She went on to becoming the first ever co-host of a talk show ABC Evening Show. Her professionalism, intelligence and spirit and interviews with people like Robert Kennedy, Coretta Scott King established her as a serious interviewer. At one point she was the highest paid journalist, male or female, with an annual million dollar salary and a five year contract.
- Coco Chanel
Born as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in Samur, France on 19th august, 1833, she was famous for designing the Chanel suits, jewellery and the iconic ‘Little Black Dress’ or LBDs which made women ditch their uncomfortable corsets and skirts and opt for stylish comfort. She revolutionised the fashion scenario by taking inputs from men’s clothing and making dressing a luxury that doesn’t compromise on comfort. She started selling hats in a small shop and later expanded by selling clothes and perfumes. Her perfume ‘Chanel No. 5’ was the hot-selling product and made her name. Involvement with a Nazi man when Germans had occupied France tinted public’s opinion of her and she was compelled to live in Switzerland as a sort of exile. At the age of 70 she made a comeback into the fashion world where, although she received scathing reviews from a lot of critics, her bold, timeless, elegant designs won the hearts of the shoppers world over. She remained an iconic fashion leader for 60 years and will always remain the pioneer of women’s liberation from confining clothes.
- Mary Wollestonecraft
Born on April 27, 1959 in London, she was a philosopher, educational reformist, journalist and women’s rights activist. After living a life with her abusive father, she left her home in search of a way to survive on her own when her mother died in 1784. She eventually assisted to Joseph Johnson- publisher of radical texts and it was during these four years of working under him when she published her best known work A Vindication of the Rights of a Woman. In this book she iterates that women are not really inferior to men in intellect but only less educated as they don’t have access to similar opportunities as men. In the book she calls for equal opportunities to women and men. After her death, Memoir of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of a Woman which was quite the scandal, given her unusual and unfettered lifestyle. Nonetheless, twentieth century feminist movements reconsidered her writings and established her as one of the earlier liberal feminists.
- Bell Hooks
Born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952 she derived her pen name from her grandmother’s name Bell Blair Hooks. She is known for her writings that focus on intersectionality, race, capitalism and patriarchy. She wrote Ain’t I a women? : Black Women and Feminism where she explores the injustice that black women suffered being coloured as well as belonging to the ‘weaker sex’. This work of hers has been instrumental in contributing positively to the feminist thought. She gave the simplest answer to a very complex question to explain those who don’t know- what is Feminism? She replied that “it’s a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” She is widely noted for the magazine she published ‘Feminism is for everybody.’
- Amelia Earhart
Also known as ‘Lady Lindy’ she was born in Kansas and was the first female to get a pilot’s licence and first female aviator to fly across the Pacific Ocean. Her father’s inability to take care of her in her childhood prompted her to be independent as she didn’t want to rely on anyone to ‘take care of her’. She excelled in chemistry and sports in school and joined the Purdue University’s aviation team. In 1937 while circumnavigating the globe, she mysteriously disappeared. She was a cherished role model for women who were looking for someone to look up to when wanting to break away from the stereotypes and emerge as strong, independent people.
- Gloria Steinem
Perhaps one of the most easily recognised faces in the Feminist movement, Gloria Steinem has been vocal about women’s rights since 1960s. She studied Government at Smith college which itself was an unusual choice for a woman in that time. She had never wanted to conform to societal norms and had made that pretty clear from early on. Steinem joined other notable feminists such as Betty Friedan and formed the National Women’s Political Caucus. She first expressed her feminist views in ‘After Black, Women’s Liberation’. She recently stated that ‘women can’t be equal outside of their home unless men are equal inside it’ and advocated for sharing the domestic help equally. She continues to lecture widely on equality and has written several essays in support of Feminism.
- Simone de Beauvoir
Arguably one of the most influential writers, Simone de Beauvoir did not at first associate herself with feminism as she understood it. She perceived it to be a women’s movement outside of the scope of the structure of society and believed that a socialist outlook was required for good governance. However, when she saw that women in USSR and China weren’t particularly well-off, she lent her support to the movement as well. Her most notable book ‘The Second Sex’ is often used as ‘The Bible’ by many feminists today although she pointed out that rejection of women’s movement was the book’s biggest shortcoming. She emphasised on the need for women to work as it was the first condition for a women’s independence. She is famous for stating that ‘one is not born, but becomes a woman’ meaning that the concept of a ‘woman’ is just a social construct and shouldn’t be an identity to forced upon women from birth. From her point of view, Feminism is a way of transforming society and women’s position in it.
While disoriented people continue to lash out at Feminism, often not understanding the progress of the movement, Feminists world over are grateful for the transformation this movement has brought in the society and continue to spread the message. It has been a long and complex struggle which is still continuing and needs the support of every single individual so that we create a society where everyone is equal in every sense.