A Gallery of Feminist Icons to Inspire You

Deeds, Not Words”

was the suffragette movement’s mantra that drove its members towards the achievement of their goal: equal voting rights for women. And here are ten women whose names are synonymous with feminism, whether through words or deeds. Some are still alive, others are no longer with us;  all are women who refused to be cowed into supine submission and took a stand for what they believed in. Many of them achieved great things under seemingly insurmountable odds; for that, they are true inspirations. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Malala Yousafzai (above picture)

All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.” Malala Yousafzai

Pakistani-born Malala Yousafzai is the world’s youngest ever Nobel Prize Laureate and a feminist icon, lauded for her bravery in the face of an oppressive regime.

2. Emmeline Pankhurst

Trust in God – she will provide”. Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst was born in Manchester, England, to politically active parents who introduced their daughter to the women’s suffragette movement. Pankhurst eventually became the leader of the movement. So committed was she to the movement that she went as far as smashing windows and going on hunger strike; both unheard of at the time. Pankhurst went to her grave knowing that her cause had been won.

3. Margaret Fuller

If you ask me what office women should fill, I reply – any... let them be sea captains if you will. I do not doubt that there are women well fitted for such an office". Margaret Fuller

Sarah Margaret Fuller was born in Massachusetts, United States. She became a journalist, critic and activist, and is widely viewed by many as being America’s first feminist – her magnum opus, Women in the 19 Century (1843) is widely believed to be America’s first feminist work. In addition to being a strong advocate for women’s rights, she was actively engaged in societal reform, particularly prison reform and the emancipation of slaves.

4. Betty Friedan

Men are not the enemy, but the fellow victims. The real enemy is women’s denigration of themselves.” Betty Friedan

Born Bettye Naomi Goldstein to Jewish parents in Illinois, United States, Friedan was an activist and writer who became prominent in the women’s movement in the US. Her influential book, The Feminine Mystique (1963), confronted the myth that women simply want to be homemakers and is largely viewed to have ignited the “second-wave” of 20 century American feminism.

5. Mary Wollstonecraft

Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience.” Mary Wollstonecraft

Writer and women’s rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft’s book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) argued – somewhat radically for the times – that women are not inferior to men, only less well educated. She had no qualms about challenging social norms: she was quite happy to leave her job as a governess to become a writer (unheard of at the time), and even persuaded her sister to leave her husband.

6. Naomi Wolf

A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience.” Naomi Wolf

Naomi Wolf was born in the United States and is the author of two bestselling books: The Beauty Myth and The End of America.  She has enjoyed global fame as a “spokeswoman” for the “third-wave” of feminism.

7. Doris Lessing

Iranian-born Doris Lessing is a novelist, poet, playwright and Nobel Prize winner. Her most famous work is undoubtedly her book, The Golden Notebook (1962), which is widely regarded as a seminal feminist text.

8. Aung San Suu Kyi

Frankly, if you do politics, you should not be thinking about your dignity.” Aung San Suu Kyi

Burmese-born Aung San Suu Kyi is Chairperson and General Secretary of the National League for Democracy. She has devoted her life and sacrificed numerous freedoms to achieve democracy for the people of Burma.

9. Angelina Jolie

When other little girls wanted to be ballet dancers, I kind of wanted to be a vampire.” Angelina Jolie

Born to a French mother and an American father, Angelina Jolie is an actress and human rights campaigner; the latter role sees her campaigning all over the globe for equal rights for women and children.  Her public announcement of her decision to undergo a double mastectomy was widely lauded and helped to publicise the genetic risks of breast cancer.

10. Katherine Hepburn

I never realized until lately that women were supposed to be the inferior sex.” Katherine Hepburn

American actress Katherine Hepburn was as unconventional as they come. She is well known for her love of wearing trousers – at a time when this was frowned upon – and her razor-sharp wit.

I hope you enjoyed viewing this list – let me know which ’feminist icons’ would make your list!