Today is Women's Equality Day, and though the fight for equality of any kind is ongoing, relentless movement, we're taking this opportunity to find inspiration from wise women. We can all use some words of hope, unity, compassion, and courage to empower us further. Though it was definitely difficult to hone in on a lean group of women to spotlight today, we selected 11 women whose words inspire us to be better to ourselves and our communities.
To celebrate this day and get motivated to continue pushing for social equality in its forms, read on for 11 inspiring quotes from women whose words have the power to teach us, connect us, invigorate us, and fill us with hope and inspiration. We also included corresponding prompts with each quote so you can take it a step further with self-reflection that will transform their words into actions in your own life. When you need a pep talk, just read these quotes from wise women instead.
About Joan Didion: Didion captures the essence of elusive and formative cultural moments with the precision and poignancy of her language in her collection of essays about the Golden State, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. It's is a great audiobook to listen to if you're from Northern California or driving through it. Didion also happens to epitomize California cool, so get ready to take note. She has a way of getting straight to the heart of things and bringing you there with her.
The Quote: "The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others—who are, after all, deceived easily enough… It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation. … People with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes… They know the price of things. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home."
The Takeaway: In her seminal essay for Vogue, "On Self-Respect," Didion wrestles with the notion to discover where self-respect comes from and what we lose when we don't have it. It's about holding ourselves accountable for our imperfections without holding ourselves.
The Prompt: What does self-respect look like to you? What's an example of a time you had it? What about a time you didn't? What was the difference?
ASHLEY C. FORD
About Ashley C. Ford: She's currently working on her memoir and has been published in a plethora of places, from New York Magazine to Elle and The Guardian. She's such an incredible speaker, you'll feel like you're having a deep one-on-one conversation with her when you see her speak. Ford has a way with words, and when she's not writing or speaking, she doing activist work.
The Quote: "You're the only person who has to wake up in your skin every day, so when you make decisions that will affect the rest of your life, make them for you… Choose to expose your wounds in safe spaces, choose to let the light in, choose to jump over the extreme obstacle of fear… Because you can."
The Takeaway: In this talk for Creative Mornings, Ford makes a distinction between physical acts of heroism and emotional strength—the latter requiring real, rare courage–and why we need it to live whole, fulfilling lives. Once she started facing her own fears of looking inward, "The look on my face in photos changed over the years. I look brighter. And my skincare routine is not that awesome," she jokes. It's not about looking brighter, of course, (though that doesn't hurt), rather, it's about emitting a true, authentic energy.
The Prompt: Have you ever felt too guilty and afraid of the outcome of admitting to a feeling or thought? What does "being exposed" feel like to you? Where is the guilt coming from? Do you have a safe space to reveal it? Can you find or build one?
About Yayoi Kusama: Not only does Kusama create visually striking, profoundly moving art, but it's also the way in which she creates her art that makes her a true force of nature. She's the brilliant artist behind the Infinity Mirrors Room installations and she revolutionized the polka dot. Despite obstacles ranging from child abuse to severe mental illness, she never stops creating and building a world for herself, quite literally with her installations. Her immersive installations and paintings are manifestations of her greatest fears and recurring hallucinations.
The Quote: "All I did was do what I liked… Since I find a refuge in my work, I cannot be bullied by men… Since I rely on my own interior imagination, I am not concerned with whatever they want to say about me."
The Takeaway: If one thing is certain, it's that Kusama displays unflinching integrity. Everything she does in life is intrinsically sourced, motivated, and driven. Some might call it monomaniacal, some might call it purpose, but she goes after the thing that gives her meaning no matter what anyone else says or does and no matter the sacrifice.
The Prompt: When was the last time you drew inspiration from your own imagination? What inspires you about your own imagination?
About Brené Brown: Brown had a life-changing realization when her research on human connection and fulfillment presented an impossible paradox: The purpose of the work itself is to control and predict, but through her work, she discovered that the best way to live if you truly want to connect and feel fulfilled is to suspend the need to control and predict. So she's a storyteller, speaking, writer, and professor who specializes in the power of vulnerability.
The Quote: "These folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others ... we can't practice compassion with others if we can't treat ourselves kindly. You're imperfect, and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging."
The Takeaway: In her famous Ted Talk, Brené Brown discusses the transformative power of vulnerability and that striving for perfection may not be all that worthwhile. Rather, it breeds detachment, pressure, and competition and creates a damaging definition of success rather than promoting compassion, innovation, and connection.
The Prompt: What achievements have you been measuring yourself against? Which ones do you want to release? Which ones are bringing you negativity? Why do we struggle with vulnerability?
About Dascha Polanco: As part of the charming cast of Orange Is the New Black, it's no surprise that Polanco's real-life personality is bright, inspiring, and dynamic (she plays Daya Diaz). Before being a career actress, she was a nurse. Even when she was working full-time, she never stopped chasing after her career aspirations and would spend her days off and sick days auditioning for roles.
The Full Quote: "I need to live it more and I'm starting to live it more and own it and say that I deserve it. And that I earned this, that I deserve this. And I'm no more special than any other person out there. I think everybody has a great thing that they can dedicate themselves to. And I was given the opportunity and the blessings to be able to walk in this journey and to trip and to fall and to stand up and keep on going. And to be proud of that. I'm part of this success. I'm part of it… Once I move forward, it's forward that I'm going."
The Takeaway: In a recent interview with Man Repeller, Dascha Polanco discusses the importance of nurturing your dreams and checking yourself to stay humble but also to be proud.
The Prompt: What accomplishment, choice, or creation would your younger self be proud of you for? Celebrate it.
JILL BOLTE TAYLOR
About Jill Bolte Taylor: Taylor was a neuroanatomist who studied mental illnesses before she suffered her own brain injury when a blood vessel burst and erased everything in the left hemisphere. "In the course of four hours, I watched my brain deteriorate in its ability to essentially process all information… I essentially became an infant in a woman's body," she explains. Now she speaks about the value in discovering our own elemental selves and immersing ourselves fully in the present moment.
The Quote: "Take responsibility for the energy you bring."
The Takeaway: In her Ted Talk, "My Stroke of Insight" and in this interview with Oprah, she explains that she became so much more perceptive when she lost functionality in her left hemisphere, as the only thing she could do was feel the energy people emitted. "Because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there," she says. And that energy was palpable, which just goes to show much much we shape other's experiences even just by sharing space. It's also about the importance of community and connection at a very visceral level.
The Prompt: What would your primal, pure energy look like if you could see it? What does it feel like? What do you want it to look and feel like?
About Janelle Monaé: An actress, singer, and creative genius, Monaé is known for her starring roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures and her newly released album, Dirty Computer. It's a truly epic album that tackles lofty topics and celebrates equality in every shape and form, all while featuring a buoyant, catchy sound.
The Quote: "When I started my musical career, I was a maid. I used to clean houses. My mother was a proud janitor. My stepfather worked at the post office, and my father was a trash man. They all wore uniforms… This is a reminder that I have work to do. I have people to uplift and people to inspire. I wear my uniform proudly. I want to be clear, young girls. I didn't have to change who I was to become a CoverGirl. I didn't have to become perfect because I've learned that perfection is often the enemy of greatness. Embrace what makes you unique even if it makes others uncomfortable. I believe its our uniqueness and our unique ideas that make us rock."
The Takeaway: Her BET award acceptance speech is all about the importance of being true to who you are and that it's our responsibility as people in a community to support, uplift, and celebrate the uniqueness in others.
The Prompt: What makes you unique? What do you want to do with that uniqueness? How do you want to inspire other people to do the same?
About Kamala Harris: Before Kamala Harris was elected to serve as a U.S. Senator, she was an attorney fighting for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Next, she became California's attorney general. Not only was she the first woman to hold the position, but she was also the first person of African American and South Asian descent to be elected to the Senate.
The Quote: "If you are fortunate to have opportunity, it is your duty to make sure other people have those opportunities as well.
The Takeaway: Having opportunities in life, no matter what they are, is a privilege. And with the privilege comes a responsibility to contribute to our communities and extend the opportunities we were given—to pay them forward. It's part of the social contract.
The Prompt: What opportunities did you have that led to your success today? How can you make sure other people have access to those opportunities?
Amar Daved for MyDomaine
About Teddy Quinlivan: Quinlivan is a fashion model who's walked the runway for countless designers, including Marc Jacobs, Monse, Jason Wu, Tory Burch, and Dior, but she's also more than that. This is a woman who knows who she is and does what she loves while using her talent and celebrity to create a liberating culture that celebrates beauty and individuality. She recently came out as transgender and has used her platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and equality.
The Quote: "Loving yourself will set you free, and it will make you stop giving a shit about what people think about you. You won't be so insecure anymore. Even on the days where I'm fighting with my friends and I feel so lonely, I always have myself and love myself."
The Takeaway: We hear a lot about self-love these days. And sometimes it can feel trite or saturated, but when it comes down to it, it's not just about slapping on a facemask. It's about discovering who you are, whatever the cost, and spreading love and kindness all around you. But it has to start with loving yourself.
The Prompt: What is your relationship like with yourself? Think of a time when you didn't like yourself. Now think of a time you did. What changed?
About Margaret Cho: Cho is a stand-up comedian, author, activist, burlesque performer, singer-songwriter, designer, and actress. In other words, you name it, and she has done it (successfully) in her career. She's also an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ+ communities.
The Quote: "Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think. It is vital to mourn… but not at the expense of losing our sense of humor. Our ability to laugh coincides directly with our ability to fight. If we can make fun of it, we can transcend it."
The Takeaway: A comedian and activist, it's no surprise that Cho believes in the healing powers of laughter and humor, even in the darkest moments, which she explains in her essay "Don't Despair, Act." In fact, she suggests it's even more powerful in the darkest moments.
The Prompt: Write down three things that happened this week that were less than perfect. Now try to find the light in them by finding something humorous in them.
About Tarana Burke: Burke started the Me Too" movement in 2006, which took off recently in the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. She has worked for nonprofit organizations that promote the health, wellness, and happiness of young women of color and is now working as the senior director of Girls for Gender Equity, which aims to improve policies and extend programs for the development of young women of color.
The Quote: "I think a lot of girl-centred programmes are like: 'We want to build your self-esteem by telling you that you're beautiful, and asking you to tell yourself you're beautiful every single day!' That rang false to me… I want girls to feel worthy just for existing, because for black and brown girls—and actually, just for girls—it's 'You're worthy if'; so, if you're the smartest girl, or if you're the prettiest girl, or if you run the fastest. There has to be something attached to it to add value to your life and that can become something you become consumed with—'I have to have this thing; I have to be beautiful'. So, for me, it was like, 'Let me teach you what the world thinks about us, and let me teach you what we've seen the world do to girls who look like us. And let me teach you why they're wrong.'"
The Takeaway: In an interview with The Guardian, she insightfully points out the ways in which even the most liberal of spaces can still internalize gender norms and expectations. In order to truly lift women and girls up and nurture healthier ideas of self-worth, we should not reinforce qualifiers and disclaimers. We are all enough as we are. With this mindset, the fight for equality and anti-rape activism will be so much more powerful and effective.
The Prompt: In what ways have you internalized the gender norms of self-worth? In what ways do you spread the same messages, unintentionally or otherwise? Do you want to free yourself from any?