International Women’s Day is upon us, and if you’ve ever felt like you need a running list of of exceptional feminist icons to lift you up in times of need, you’ve come to the right place.
In honour of #IWD2019, we’ve profiled 30 modern day feminists who inspire us on the daily with their deeds, words and legacies. From groundbreaking legends who have long been battling to secure basic freedoms, to rising stars who are introducing a brand new generation to the movement, these leaders are paving the way forward for women and girls around the world.
1. Michelle Obama, lawyer, activist, former-US First Lady
Could there be anyone the world loves more than Michelle Obama right now? Since stepping out of her First Lady role back in 2017, she has written a bestselling memoir; Becoming, the tour for which has seen her break the internet in crotch-high Balenciaga disco boots and officially shutdown the Grammy’s when she stepped on stage. Her popularity has always been stratospherically high thanks to her fearless intellect and her passionate support of women; making her one of the strongest and most outspoken First Ladies in US history- and a global feminist icon. It’s little wonder that one of the most popular Instagram posts the day after Trump won the US election, was: ‘Michelle for President: 2020.’ She’s got our vote.
2. Jameela Jamil, actress, activist, TV presenter
She was once just ‘that girl off T4’ (remember T4?) but she has, over the last few years, become more synonymous with fierce feminism and body positivity than she has with her acting of presenting gigs. She is extremely vocal on issues from feminism and sex education to anti-dieting ads. She has launched frequent (and successful) social media assaults on dieting pills, flat tummy teas and more and with her body positive ‘I Weigh’ movement, seeks to – radically – make women feel good about themselves. Hell yes.
3. Munroe Bergdorf, model and trans activist
Consistently at the forefront of trans-awareness, Munroe is a British model and activist who has also fronted beauty campaigns based around gender fluidity. She is a strong and outspoken feminist, unafraid to call our injustices or hypocrisies where she sees them, or to stand up for what she believes in, even if it costs her a job, as it infamously did with her lucrative L’Oreal gig in 2017.
4. Andy Murray, tennis player, feminist
The tennis star is not just a champion on the court, he’s a grand slam feminist too. Using his platform as a force for good, Murray has called out casual sexism wherever he finds it, challenged sexist timetables and reporting in tennis and has encouraged more women to get into sport as well as fighting for equal pay. He penned an essay on gender equality for the BBC and stood up for his female coach after she received online backlash, writing a column in French newspaper L’Equipe, proudly declaring himself a feminist; “If being a feminist is about fighting so that a woman is treated like a man then yes, I suppose I have become one.”
5. Adwoa Aboah, model and activist
The British model has been admirably outspoken about her struggles with mental health and drug addiction and has opened the door for many other famous faces to break taboos and talk frankly about these issues. She is a prominent activist for feminist issues, founding online community Gurls Talk, to give girls and young women a safe space to discuss the issues they care about.
6. Margaret Atwood, author
Little did literary giant Margaret Atwood know that, when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale back in 1985, she was not writing a sci-fi dystopia, but an unsettling blueprint for the modern day. The adaptation of her critically-acclaimed novel into a Hulu series starring Elizabeth Moss back in 2017, chimed brilliantly- but auspiciously- with the inauguration of President Trump, leading to a million think pieces on the similarities between female oppression in fictitious Gilead and real-life USA. It’s second season launched a million memes, when it unsettlingly paralleled the Brett Kavanaugh hearing and, throughout it all, 79 year old Atwood has proved herself a feminist icon of our times, tweeting politically and fiercely about female oppression. She is currently writing a long-awaited follow up to the original novel. We wonder where she’ll get her inspiration from…
7. Ryan Coogler, filmmaker
The Black Panther director not only champions women on screen (think Wakanda’s fierce female warriors) but off screen too, with his many female crew members and his outspoken feminist views. He recently spoke out on the Oscar’s continual failure to nominate and award female directors: “I feel like women are better filmmakers than men. They’re infinitely more complex than we are. Stronger and sharper. So, you know, we’re going to get better movies [if we have more female filmmakers]”
8. Gloria Steinem, feminist activist
Gloria Steinem is probably synonymous with feminism. If you haven’t heard of her, get thee to your google now and be amazed. Gloria has been everything from a writer, journalist and magazine editor (she founded one of the first ever feminist magazines, Ms, in 1971) to an actual Playboy bunny. She is considered the leader of the American feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s and is still a leading advocate of women’s rights, still campaigning at the age of 84.
9. Emma Watson, actress and activist
Not content with bossing it at Hogwarts, the former Hermione Granger has become a leading feminist voice. She was named a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in 2014 and, later that year, launched the HeForShe UN campaign- encouraging men to advocate for gender equality. She launched the feminist Instagram book club Our Shared Shelf and continues to fight the good fight, both globally and in Hollywood with the Times Up movement. Fifty points for Gryffindor.
10. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US politician, congresswoman, activist
She’s the most exciting thing to come out of US politics since that dude Obama decided he wanted to run for President, and her presence is being felt on this side of the pond. The 29 year-old is an outspoken flame-torch to the Trump administration, and has thus far used her office (she was elected to Congress in January 2019) to challenge the status quo, seek out corruption and, yes, to champion women and minorities. She wore Suffragette white to Trump’s state of the union address and brought feminist activist Ana Maria Archilla as her date, both of them wearing badges which read: ‘Well behaved women seldom make history.’
11. Sadiq Khan, London mayor
Ever since he took office, our London mayor literally can’t shut up about his support for women. Hooray! He has marched on countless feminist protests, taking to the stage on 2018’s #March4Women to announce “As a proud feminist in City Hall, I’m committed to doing everything I can to remove the barriers to success women in London face today.”
12. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, writer
Never has a speech launched so many high-fashion t-shirts. The Nigerian author was already a mammoth success thanks to her stunning literary and non-fiction output, but it was her 2012 TEDx talk ‘We Should All be Feminists’ which put her on the map. She truly hit the mainstream when samples of her talk were featured in Beyoncé’s 2013 song ‘Flawless’, she published her talk in longform in 2014 and then Dior truly made it iconic in 2016, with the timely and spot-on ‘We Should All be Feminists’ t-shirts. Chimamanda’s brilliant and erudite feminism is, and should be, remarkably separate from the merchandise and songs around it, but thanks to the fanfare, a lot more people have been introduced to her amazing work.
13. Angela Davis, political activist, author and academic
Long before Dior told us ‘We Should All Be Feminists,’ the original feminist tee was ‘Free Angela’- part of a mass cultural movement to free political activist and university lecturer Angela Davis from her wrongful imprisonment in the early 1970s. Since then, she has been a rallying figure for both the civil rights and feminist movements, unafraid to challenge everyone from the FBI to the US president. She remains famous for her tireless activism which continues to this day.
14. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, actress and writer
The Killing Eve and Fleabag writer is dishing up some of the best women we’ve seen on TV for a long time: murderous, unlikeable, vulnerable, strong, brittle and brilliant. Her avowedly feminist stance comes through in all her work, analysing what it means to be a feminist, looking at issues from porn and body image to the messy and beautiful intricacies of female friendship. Long may her dominance over our screens continue.
15. Roxane Gay, writer, professor and social commentator
One of feminism’s best and brightest voices today, Roxane is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the author of several books, including the essay collection Bad Feminist and her powerful memoir on body-image; Hunger. She is outspoken in her activism and her work delves into feminist and racial issues in a way that has made her a timely champion of both women’s rights and body positivity.
16. Billie Jean King, tennis player, activist
Not only an amazing sportswoman but a pioneer for gender equality, Billie Jean King was recently immortalised in film by Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes; based on her real life, record breaking tennis match, in which she beat male tennis player Bobby Riggs. She made it a life’s effort to fight for equal rights on and off the pitch; founding the Women’s Tennis Association and speaking out on issues from LGBTQ rights to abortion rights, something she continues to do to this day.
17. John Legend, musician
Mr Chrissy Teigen is every inch a feminist. Speaking back in 2013, he said “All men should be feminists. If men care about women’s rights the world will be a better place.” He was back at it again in 2017, calling out men who only support women once they have a daughter: “ I thought of myself as a feminist before I had a daughter and before I was married. Having a daughter might reinforce that, but it shouldn’t be the only reason I care about women’s rights.” We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, Chrissy is a lucky gal.
18. Laura Bates, writer and feminist activist
Laura founded the Everyday Sexism project back in 2012 and it quickly spawned a phenomenon- encouraging women to call out the daily sexism that came their way, and directly challenging the notion that sexism had been eradicated in modern life. She wrote a book of the same name, in 2014, and her acknowledgement of the pervasiveness of sexism struck a huge cultural nerve. She continues to work as a prolific feminist writer and was awarded a British Empire Medal for her work on gender equality in 2015.
19. Laverne Cox, actress and trans activist
Laverne Cox has a lot of firsts under her belt. She is the first openly-transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in the acting category, is the first to win a Daytime Emmy and to feature on the cover of Time and Cosmopolitan magazines. Besides her fab acting skills, of course, she is a leading figure in the trans community and is frequently on the frontlines, fighting for LGBTQ issues and gender equality.
20. Reese Witherspoon, actress, producer and entrepreneur
OK, so she could get this accolade just for playing the feminist icon that is Elle Woods, but, in real life, Reese has done a lot to prove her feminist credentials- particularly for women in Hollywood. Sick of seeing a lack of interesting roles for women, she decided to create her own; forming her own production company and greenlighting films featuring strong female characters, often based on novels by female authors. She is the drive behind TV juggernaut Big Little Lies, and great female-led films from Wild to Gone Girl as well as being one of the leaders of the Times Up movement. Elle Woods would be proud.
21. Barack Obama, former US President
Could you really be married to Michelle Obama and not be a feminist? We didn’t think so. But beyond his excellent taste in First Ladies, the former US president has consistently advocated for gender equality in all his work, before and after the White House. In 2016, he wrote a feminist essay for US Glamour outlying his dedication to feminist causes, as well as the vital role that men must also pay: “’It is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too. And as spouses and partners and boyfriends, we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.”
22. Malala Yousafzai, female education activist, student, Nobel Prize winner
Brave is a word often attributed to activists, but nowhere does this seem more appropriate than when discussing Malala, who quite literally nearly died for her cause. Shot by the Taliban in 2012 on her way home from school, Malala became an international sensation for having courageously maintained her fight for female education, frequently banned by the Taliban, in her native Pakistan, despite such real threats. Post recovery, she continues her fight to this day, founding the Malala fund, which supports female education around the world. She became the youngest Nobel Prize recipient and is currently studying at Oxford.
23. Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement
A lifelong activist and grassroots community organiser, Tarana Burke finally got the recognition she deserved when her #MeToo movement went stratospherically viral in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. She was named one of Time magazine’s people of the year in 2017 and the world woke up to her tireless feminist organising and support of victims of sexual assault. She is currently Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equality.
24. Lena Waithe, actress, writer and producer
One of Hollywood’s brightest young pioneers, Lena became the first African American to win an Emmy award for writing; for the Netflix show Master of None. She is responsible for creating and producing some of the most exciting and diverse shows and films out now, from Dear White People to The Chi. She is an outspoken gay rights activist and champions representation in the media, saying her work on screen is important: “I don’t know if we’ve seen a…snapback-hat-wearing lesbian on TV before.”
25. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, supreme court judge
You may know her as ‘the notorious R.B.G’- and for good reason. The lawyer turned supreme court judge is a ground-breaking feminist force to be reckoned with. She was one of the only women in her class at law school and went on to become a leading advocate for gender equality, winning numerous significant victories for women’s rights before the US Supreme Court- of which she is now one of its most eminent judges. She maintains her reputation as a fearless feminist and refuses to step down, even at the grand age of 85.
26. Oprah Winfrey, actress, presenter, media mogul
Often cited as perhaps the most influential woman in the world, Oprah is so famous that there’s no need for her last name, she’s just: Oprah. Her life is inspirational: one of tragedy and hard graft resulting in phenomenal success. The Oprah Winfrey Show was the highest-rated television show of its kind in history and Oprah, who grew up in rural poverty in Mississippi was the USA’s first black multi-billionaire. She is a strong and vocal feminist, a civil rights and LGBTQ activist and many people’s favourite choice for the next US president…
27. Prince Harry, royal and charity worker
The Duke of Sussex (as is his official title, after all) is the epitome of the fresh, modern and relatable direction the royal family is taking. He has consistently been open about his mental health struggles and has worked tirelessly on women’s rights issues, speaking up about the need to support women in his 2013 Chime for Change speech and recently introduced himself on a royal engagement as a feminist. Oh, and did we mention his wife is as feminist as they come, yeah you may have heard of Meghan Markle.
28. Beyoncé, singer, actress, potential queen of everything
Let’s face it, it’s Beyoncé’s world, and we just live in it. The music superstar has been a loud and proud feminist from the beginning of her career, with women-power anthems from Independent Women to Flawless, embracing the many complications and contradictions of what it means to be a feminist along the way; both Sasha Fierce and Mrs Carter. Who runs the world? Exactly.
29. Serena Williams, tennis player
She is the greatest female tennis player of our generation and she is also one of the most proudly feminist. Outspoken, powerful and unashamed of calling our sexism when she sees it, she is as open about motherhood as she is about grand slams. She is a huge advocate for gender equality, particularly about the rights of women of colour and also works to raise awareness for breast cancer, recently stripping off to remind women to check their breasts. She may be a singles champion, but that’s what you call a team player.
30. Mark Ruffalo, actor
The actor has been a passionate feminist throughout his career particularly when it comes to reproductive rights. He shared his mother’s illegal abortion story back in 2013, at a pro-life rally, frequently calls out sexism in Hollywood, partnered with The Centre for Reproductive Rights for many of their campaigns and spoke out publicly against ‘Women Against Feminists’ online movements. More Ruffalo please and thank you.