When you think of inspiring women in our current culture, who’s the first to come to mind? Maybe it’s the Silence Breakers, the women who weren’t afraid to say, “Me Too” and share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Or maybe it’s Oprah Winfrey and her stirring Golden Globes speech in January.
Regardless of who your personal favorite is, these female role models have a few things in common: They stood up for what they believed in and weren’t afraid to speak their minds — especially when it came to issues of gender equality and feminism. Now more than ever, we need to recognize these leaders and remember their words.
From gymnast Kyle Stephens, who, along with 155 other victims, bravely testified against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar (who was ultimately convicted for decades of sexual abuse) to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 concession speech that reminded “all the little girls who are watching” that they are valuable — here are 20 powerful quotes about feminism that will inspire and empower you.
Jada Pinkett Smith
"We just have to have the courage to be OK when we make mistakes," Smith told SheKnows. "It's not going to kill you. I've made tons of them. I fall. I get up. I brush myself off. I learn from them and I step forward. And I don't step forward in thinking, 'Oh, I'm not going to fall into another pit.' I step forward going, 'I just don't want to fall into the same pit.' It'll be a different one. But if it is the same one, then I'll keep falling into it until I learn not to do it anymore. We have got to just stop feeling as though we have to be perfect. We're not!"
"To all the little girls who are watching: Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams," Clinton said during her 2016 concession speech.
"I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights," Winfrey said at the 2018 Golden Globes. "So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, 'Me too,' again."
"We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead," Knowles said in her HBO documentary, Life Is But a Dream.
"We should encourage women to claim their power. Too many women are scared to speak out because we are taught in sometimes subtle and sometimes very obvious ways in the society that we are supposed to be quiet and polite, and we are supposed to be nice and sweet. All those qualities are great, but we should also be powerful," DeGeneres said.
"Society makes women feel like, oh, you’re getting old," Souza told SheKnows. "The patriarchal society has made women believe, first of all, you’re only valid and valuable when you’re young. All the products that are sold to us — those antiaging products — are telling us that there’s a due date. Wisdom and white hair might not be as valued as in different cultures. Our society really needs to take a better look at what we’re selling, because I think women being empowered will be as beneficial to men as it is to us. When we see society telling women that they have a certain time, that they make women compete with each other, the older generation competing with the younger generation. They’ve made us believe that there’s not enough men out there for us or that we’re only hired because of our looks and not because of our abilities."
"Do not live someone else's life and someone else's idea of what womanhood is," Davis said at the 2017 SAG Awards. "Womanhood is you. Womanhood is everything that's inside of you."
"The women we honor today teach us three very important lessons. One, that as women, we must stand up for ourselves. The second, as women, we must stand up for each other. And finally, as women, we must stand up for justice for all," Obama said at the State Department Women of Courage Awards in 2009.
"Little girls don't stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world," Stephens said during her testimony at the Larry Nassar trial.
"I love women who don't ask, 'Is that OK?' after everything they say. I love when women are courageous in the face of unthinkable circumstances…" Kaling said in a Q&A with Lena Dunham.
"I don’t think that one’s right and one’s wrong," Hathaway told Jezebel. "I think the way we exist together is by accepting each other and accepting the way people come at things.”
"We are not supposed to talk about money, because people will think you're ‘difficult' or a ‘diva.' But there's a willingness now to be like, ‘Fine. Call me a ‘diva,' call me a ‘feminazi,' call me ‘difficult,' call me a "First World feminist,' call me whatever you want, it's not going to stop me from trying to do the right thing and make sure that the right thing happens.' Because it doesn't just affect me, it affects all the other women who are in this with me, and it affects all the other men who are in this with me, too," Watson told Esquire.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
"Feminism isn't a cloak that I put on in the morning and take off at certain times. It's who I am. I look at the world through eyes that are very alert to gender injustice, and I always will," Adichie said in an interview with CBC Radio.
"More than ever, I am aware of the need to support and celebrate each other. I like to believe I am part of a global support group network of 3.4 billion," Kidman writes for Porter. "Imagine: If you can fall back on the 3.5 billion sisters, and the many good men who are with us, what could we possibly not achieve?"
"I want women's rights to be equally honored, and uplifted, and heard… But I want to see us fighting the fight for all women — women of color, our LGBTQ sisters, our Muslim sisters," Knowles said in an interview with Bust. "I want to see millions of us marching out there for our rights, and I want to see us out there marching for the rights of women like Dajerria Becton, who was body slammed by a cop while she was in her swimsuit for simply existing as a young, vocal, black girl. I think we are inching closer and closer there, and for that, I am very proud."
"Do not tell me that I am not pretty enough, skinny enough, tall enough, ‘this’ enough to be on the cover of anything or to accomplish the lead in a show or to be anybody I want to be because those are limitations we've created," Rodriguez told SheKnows.
"I raise up my voice — not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard… We cannot succeed when half of us are held back," Yousafzai wrote in her 2013 memoir, I Am Malala.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
"Women belong in all places where decisions are being made… It shouldn't be that women are the exception," Ginsburg told USA Today.
"I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I'm beautiful. I say if I'm strong. You will not determine my story — I will," Schumer said at the Gloria Awards and Gala in 2014.
"No man will ever fulfill what a woman can fulfill for me. Period. End of story," King told SheKnows. "Women need to be heard, men need to be acknowledged. And women know how to hear one another when they are at that space where they have chosen, when they realize there is room for more than one of us at the table."
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