Meet the New Generation of Feminist Icons
For whatever reason, identifying as a feminist still makes some people pause. But that’s usually a result of overthinking it—feminism has nothing to do with the dominion of women over men. Instead, it simply means equal access to rights and opportunities for all—without regard to gender. We already know full well that you do not need to be a woman in order to be a feminist (hello, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Aziz Ansari!). But what about the ladies? Who are the women in the limelight pushing the boundaries on topics of representation, opportunity, femininity, and strength? We’ll say this: It’s one fierce group of women, and we very much want to be a part of their squad. Read on to get acquainted.
The Hollywood Reporter
Riding high on a wave of many successes, comedian and actress Amy Schumer has actually long been creating content for and about women outside of the standard of ageless Hollywood beauty and bubbly persona. Her speech at the Gloria Awards and Gala knocked it out of the park: “I am a woman with thoughts and questions and sh*t to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story—I will.”
One of the most visible figures of a generation of young feminists, Tavi Gevinson, of Style Rookie and Rookie Magazine fame, is pure articulate power. “Feminism to me means fighting. It’s a very nuanced, complex thing, but at the very core of it, I’m a feminist because I don’t think being a girl limits me in any way,” she says. Speaking to Vogue, the fashion wunderkind doesn’t mince words. “I think the reason that so many people shy away from the term and prefer to call themselves humanists or whatever is because they think feminism is all about women, but it’s a lot about breaking down the social constructs and ideas about gender that oppress all of us, frankly.”
Emmy Award–winning actress Gina Rodriguez, who stars as Jane on Jane the Virgin, asserts that she ought not be defined by her looks nor her ethnicity. “I’m defined by my character,” she says, “and my character is a strong woman that’s independent, that’s following her dreams, that wants love, that wants a family, that wants to succeed just like anybody else in this world.” In an interview with Cosmopolitan, she laid down even more powerful statements: “I’m here, I’m present, I’m a contributor to society, I deserve to be part of this conversation, I have an opinion, listen to me roar."
Actress Emma Watson has long been loved for having a really good head on her shoulders. Speaking at a special event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City this spring, the newly appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador delivered a speech bursting with gems of wisdom calling upon everyone—men included—to become allies for equal rights for women. “If you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist. Sorry to tell you, you’re a feminist,” she summed up perfectly.
The 18-year-old New Zealander isn’t shy about identifying as a feminist. “I think I’m speaking for a bunch of girls when I say that the idea of feminism is completely natural and shouldn’t even be something that people find mildly surprising,” she stated in an interview with Gevinson published on Rookie. There you are—it’s as easy as that!
For actress Ellen Page, the fact that people shy away from the moniker points to the fact that the movement is as critical as ever: “But I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists. Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?” she asked in a Guardian interview. “Feminism always gets associated with being a radical movement—good. It should be. A lot of what the radical feminists [in the 1970s] were saying, I don’t disagree with it.”
After rising to fame as Patsy in Steven McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o ensured her presence was felt even for those who missed her poignant performance. Accepting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the 2014 Oscars, she spoke of the importance of finding strength and power outside of superficial beauty. “My mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty; it doesn’t feed you,” she told the audience. “I didn’t really understand [her words] until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume; it was something that I just had to be. And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you.”
Long lambasted for having a so-called “bad attitude,” Kristen Stewart is not buying it. “It’s much easier for a guy to say what he wants and not to be cute and funny all the time, but if you’re a strong sort of woman, you’re just, for lack of a better word, a b*tch.” Asked if she’s a feminist and why she thinks some of her contemporaries shy away from the title, Stewart reminds us that “there’s no one particular way you have to be in order to stand for all of the things feminism stands for.”
Artist and photographer Petra Collins, known for her collaborations and friendship with Gevinson, pushes people to grapple with conceptions of femininity, double standards, and issues of censorship of the female form. Her call to arms after having her Instagram account deleted for one particular post is searing: “To all the young girls and women, do not let this discourage you, do not let anyone tell you what you should look like, tell you how to be, tell you that you do not own your body.”
Lauren Mayberry, lead singer of CHVRCHES, confronts the imbalance between the sexes she experiences head-on. After coming under Internet and social media attack for drawing attention to the verbal abuse she was receiving online, Mayberry has been a vocal opponent of systemic misogyny that neutralizes violence toward women—both physical and implied. A reignited interest in feminism is fine by her: “From my point of view, that’s good because it’s promoting discussion.”
Having given up modeling after experiencing a marked rift between her views about feminism and the industry she was working in, Phoebe Collings-James now creates art that challenges perceptions of race, sexuality, and feminism around the world. “[Art] is still a bit of a boys’ club,” she says. “And anyone who is young, female, and at all desirable-looking is going to be passed over for not being serious, and I think you have to let the work prove people wrong.”
“As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities,” Swift told The Guardian. “What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.” Let’s hope this enlightened viewpoint reaches her legions of fans.
Shop modern-day feminist tomes below.