The Feminist theory is support of equality for women and men. Although all feminists strive for gender equality, there are various ways to approach this theory, including liberal feminism, socialist feminism, and finally radical feminism. Let’s take a look at the basic feminist ideas and various approaches to achieving gender equality.
Basic Feminist Ideas:
People who consider themselves feminist (both male and female) disagree on many things. That being said, most feminist agree on five basic principles:
- Feminists believe in working to increase equality. Feminist thought links ideas to action, insisting we should push for change toward gender equality (and not just talk about it).
- Feminists also believe in expanding human choice, the idea that both men and women should be able to develop their human traits, even if those go against the status quo. If a woman wants to be a mechanic, she should have every right and opportunity to do so.
- Another feminist principle, eliminating gender stratification, proposes that laws and cultural norms that limit the income, educational, and job opportunities for women should be opposed.
- The final two principles are fairly straightforward: ending sexual violence and promoting sexual freedom – that women should have control over their sexuality and reproduction.
Liberal feminism is rooted in classic liberal thinking that individuals should be free to develop their own talents and pursue their own interests. This approach sees gender inequalities as rooted in the attitudes of our social and cultural institutions. Liberal feminists do not see women’s equality as requiring a reorganization of society, but they do seek to expand the rights and opportunities of women.
A main focus is protecting equal opportunities for women through legislation. A big step forward for the agenda of liberal feminists was the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which in part states that Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Socialist feminism evolved from the ideas of Karl Marx, who blamed capitalism for increasing patriarchy by concentrating power in the hands of a small number of men. One main tenet is that the family form created by capitalism (women staying home, while men work) is the main source of women’s inequality, and that replacing the traditional family can only come about through a socialist revolution that creates a government to meet the needs of the family.
Feminists in history
The Suffragettes and Emmeline Pankhurst
Suffragettes were members of women’s organisations in the late-19th and early-20th centuries which advocated the extension of the “franchise”, or the right to vote in public elections, to women. It particularly refers to militants in the United Kingdom such as members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Suffragist is a more general term for members of the suffrage movement.
The term suffragette is particularly associated with activists in the British WSPU, led by Emmeline Pankhurst, who were influenced by Russian methods of protest such as hunger strikes. Although the Isle of Man had enfranchised women who owned property to vote in parliamentary (Tynwald) elections in 1881, New Zealand was the first self-governing country to grant all women the right to vote in 1893 when women over the age of 21 were permitted to vote in parliamentary elections. Women in South Australia achieved the same right and became the first to obtain the right to stand for parliament in 1895.
Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir was probably best known as a novelist, and a feminist thinker and writer, but she was also an existentialist philosopher in her own right and, like her lover Sartre, thought a lot about the human struggle to be free. As a philosopher trained in the analytic tradition, I have to admit, I don’t know a whole lot about existentialism, so I’m curious to discover on this week’s show with guest Shannon Mussett how Beauvoir’s feminist thought relates to her existentialist philosophy.
Beauvoir’s most famous work was The Second Sex from 1949, a hugely influential book which laid the groundwork for second-wave feminism. Where first-wave feminism was concerned with women’s suffrage and property rights, the second wave broadened these concerns to include sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, and so on. All that started with Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, where Beauvoir outlines the ways in which woman is perceived as “other” in a patriarchal society, second to man, which is considered—and treated as—the “first” or default sex.
One of the most famous lines from that work is: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” What I think Beauvoir means by this is that the roles we associate with women are not given to them in birth, by virtue of their biology, but rather are socially constructed. Women are taught what they’re supposed to be in life, what kind of roles they can or can’t perform in virtue of being of “the second sex.” Today we might express this idea using the distinction between sex and gender, where one’s sex is just a biological fact, but one’s gender identity is socially constructed. In 1949, this was a truly radical idea.
Drawing on ancient creation myths and the Bible, Simone de Beauvoir shows how women are labeled as the Other by being viewed as secondary, less perfect beings in relation to men. In creation myths, like the ancient Greek story of Helios and Semele, the sun and the moon were usually personified as a male god and a female goddess, respectively, with the female figure representing darkness. In Genesis, Adam and Eve reside in the Garden of Eden until Eve eats the forbidden fruit, implying an association between women and evil. Women in these stories embody a dark, sinful side of being. Another example presenting the Other as the half of being that transgresses or goes astray is the Ancient Greek myth of Pandora. According to the story, Pandora is the first woman on earth. Zeus, the ruling god, gives her a sealed jar containing all the evils of the world for safekeeping. Yet, Pandora opens the jar when she gives in to her own unrelenting curiosity. As a result, evil spills out into the world and Zeus blames Pandora for it. In this myth, the woman is portrayed as she who gives in to weakness and is responsible for bringing evil into the world. By using literary evidence, Simone de Beauvoir establishes the perceived role of inferiority into which men have cast women throughout history by defining that Other as the darker, inferior side of humanity.
Her work then focuses on the struggle women face in liberating themselves economically, politically, and sexually from the status of Other. Given the mistrust of women in the cultural imagination, the liberation of women is a difficult undertaking. Simone de Beauvoir believes a woman should embrace her identity as both a woman and as a human being. The concept of women and men being equal, while still different, was revolutionary in terms of the history of feminist theory. In spite of this, many women still believe they must act like men in order to gain a position of influence in the public sphere. For example, women in politics tend to wear pantsuits and act tough so that men will take them seriously. Simone de Beauvoir firmly rejects the notion that women must emulate men in order to be treated as equals or to be in a position of power because she believes that the biological difference between men and women must be acknowledged: “Women simply are not men” (The Second Sex, xiv). She discourages women, especially feminists, from getting caught up in this abstract notion that women are human beings and therefore are not women.
However, she also discourages women from embracing their status as the Other in society and remaining complacent towards men. Continuing the example of women in politics, some female interns use their status as the sex or the Other to have men assist them in reaching their goals by sleeping with powerful politicians. There are countless stories wherein a woman aspires to a smaller goal than a man normally would and then uses her stereotypical role as a sexual object to have a man in power make her goal become a reality for her. In a less extreme way, a woman, by acting infantile, has a man take pity on her and ease her path towards relative success because it makes him feel like an essential or a positive being, since he is making a difference in her life. Simone de Beauvoir condemns women who remain attached to the benefits of being inferior to men because they do not have responsibility for their own lives and futures: “It is an easy road; on it one avoids the strain involved in undertaking an authentic existence… Woman may fail to lay claim to the status of subject because… she is often very well pleased with her role as the Other” (The Second Sex, xxi). Women must resist the temptation to remain inferior by acting docile, complacent, or infantile.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was an American politician, diplomat and activist. She was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, having held the post from March 1933 to April 1945 during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s four terms in office, and served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. President Harry S. Truman later called her the “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements.
Roosevelt was a member of the prominent American Roosevelt and Livingston families and a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. She had an unhappy childhood, having suffered the deaths of both parents and one of her brothers at a young age. At 15, she attended Allenwood Academy in London and was deeply influenced by its feminist headmistress Marie Souvestre. Returning to the U.S., she married her fifth cousin once removed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1905. The Roosevelts’ marriage was complicated from the beginning by Franklin’s controlling mother, Sara, and after Eleanor discovered her husband’s affair with Lucy Mercer in 1918, she resolved to seek fulfillment in a public life of her own. She persuaded Franklin to stay in politics after he was stricken with debilitating polio in 1921, which cost him the normal use of his legs, and Roosevelt began giving speeches and appearing at campaign events in his place. Following Franklin’s election as Governor of New York in 1928, and throughout the remainder of Franklin’s public career in government, Roosevelt regularly made public appearances on his behalf, and as First Lady while her husband served as President, she significantly reshaped and redefined the role of that office during her own tenure and beyond, for future First Ladies.
Though widely respected in her later years, Roosevelt was a controversial First Lady at the time for her outspokenness, particularly her stance on racial issues. She was the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column, write a monthly magazine column, host a weekly radio show, and speak at a national party convention. On a few occasions, she publicly disagreed with her husband’s policies. She launched an experimental community at Arthurdale, West Virginia, for the families of unemployed miners, later widely regarded as a failure. She advocated for expanded roles for women in the workplace, the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans, and the rights of World War II refugees.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s evolution as a feminist forms an interesting parallel to the development of the woman’s movement in the twentieth century. Eleanor died the year before Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique discussed “the problem that has no name.” By reviewing how both Eleanor and other leaders supported women’s inclusion in American society as full political and economic partners in the years before 1963, teachers and students can appreciate the various forms and strategies supporters of women’s rights used before the modern feminist movement captured America’s attention.
Chanel changed the face of fashion by challenging gender restrictions in women’s clothing.
Famous for rebelling through fashion, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel broke down barriers in the fashion industry for women. She used masculine wardrobe to express herself. Taking the comfort of men’s clothing, she produced styles for women. Not all of her best inventions were instant classics. There were times when society didn’t understand or appreciate them until much later; however, Chanel is a recognized name, today.
Where Comfort meets Beauty
When Chanel was only Gabrielle or her nick-name “Coco,” men dominated the fashion business. Who knew that the key to her success was as simple as giving women the unusual ability to function in their own apparel? By altering the construction of women’s clothing to fit their bodies and not merely to attract the gaze of men, she achieved instant clientele from women.
Coco took men’s clothing and transformed it for women. Likewise, she took women’s clothing and made it flexible like men’s. Before Chanel, pants were not acceptable for women, but one cannot move well in a dress. The corset was another common item in a woman’s closet, but Coco challenged it by designing relaxing yet elegant dresses. Women wore large hats, causing an array of issues; therefore, she made them in smaller sizes like those for men. By taking men’s designs and revamping them for women, she prospered from social rebellion. She created both for corporate and social situations.
Fabric, Fabric, Fabric!
Jersey fabric was Coco’s first significant choice. This wasn’t embraced, immediately. At the time, it was used for items such as hosiery. As an ordinary fabric, it wasn’t attractive for runway models. Nonetheless, due to a variety of reasons, it became a success. There were limited options during the war and women were in the workforce; therefore, Jersey turned out to be perfect, both in alleviation for women’s bodies and for Chanel’s style. Jersey made the working women capable of doing the physical labor. Meanwhile, Chanel was able to make it enticing. Jersey was not only approved, but adored.
The Chanel Suit
Coco altered women’s suits for flexibility, as well. In typical Chanel fashion, the tight-fit design was out the window: No shoulder-pads, no emphasis for the bust, and the neckline allows the woman to breathe. Unlike most suits, the pockets were not only to look pretty, but to be used. She went the extra mile to ensure that her customers would be at ease in daily use; therefore, suits were to be altered as much as it took for each individual to be able to move freely.
“The Little Black Dress”
In 1919, Coco’s longtime believed soul-mate “Boy” Capel died in a car accident. After slipping into a deep grief, she had her housekeepers turn her room black. Coco dressed in black, as well. It only lasted about a minute, however. As soon as she saw the finished room, she had her bed moved to another location to get away from it until it was changed back:
“..She spent only a few minutes, however, in this mausoleum. ‘Quick, Joseph, get me out of this tomb and tell Marie to make me up a bed somewhere else,’ she told the butler,”(Madsen, p.105, para.4).
Chanel’s depression ultimately inspired one of her best-known creations, The Little Black Dress. It was designed to be appropriate for any occasion or class. Coming from an orphanage, she wanted to make something for the lower-class to wear that would blend in with the wealthy. Since the dress could be worn to weddings or funerals, its versatility made it popular, much later on. Breakfast at Tiffany’s was released in 1961 in which the star Audrey Hepburn wears a Little Black Dress. It was because of Hepburn that it became a classic, but Chanel invented it.
“Fashion changes, but style endures.”
“Great loves too must be endured.”
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”
Betty Friedan was a writer, feminist and women’s rights activist Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique (1963) and co-founded the National Organization for Women.
With her book The Feminine Mystique (1963), Friedan broke new ground by exploring the idea of women finding personal fulfillment outside of their traditional roles. She also helped advance the women’s rights movement as one of the founders of the National Organization for Women.
A bright student, Friedan excelled at Smith College, graduating in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Although she received a fellowship to study at the University of California, Berkeley, she only spent a brief time there before relocating in the mid-1940s to New York City. In New York, Friedan worked for a short time as a reporter. In 1947, she married Carl Friedan. The couple went on to have three children: Daniel, who was born in 1948; Jonathan, born in 1952; and Emily, born in 1956.
The “Feminine Mystique”
After the Friedans’ first child, Daniel, was born in 1948, Betty Friedan returned to work. She lost her job, however, after she became pregnant with her second child, Jonathan. Friedan then stayed home to care for her family, but she was restless as a homemaker and began to wonder if other women felt the same way she did—that she was both willing and able to be more than a stay-at-home mom. To answer this question, Friedan surveyed other graduates of Smith College. The results of her research formed the basis of her book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, throughout which Friedan encourages women to seek new opportunities for themselves.
The book quickly became a sensation, creating a social revolution by dispelling the myth that all women wanted to be happy homemakers, and marking the start of what would become Friedan’s incredibly significant role in the women’s rights movement. The work is also credited with spurring second-wave feminism in the United States.
Co-Founding NOW, NARAL and the National Women’s Political Caucus
Friedan did more than write about confining gender stereotypes—she became a force for change. Pushing for women to have a greater role in the political process, she co-founded the National Organization for Women in 1966, subsequently serving as its first president. She also fought for abortion rights by establishing the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America) in 1969. Additionally, with other leading feminists such as Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, Friedan helped create the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.
Born in Ohio, Gloria Steinem, 82, graduated in 1956 and became a writer. By 1972, when she founded Ms magazine, she was known as a political activist and feminist organiser. She is the author of many books and essays, including the bestselling My Life On The Road. Woman, her documentary series about violence against women, will air on Viceland UK on 8 March. She lives in New York.
“When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel. Taking to the road—by which I mean letting the road take you—changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories—in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.
Gloria Steinem had an itinerant childhood. When she was a young girl, her father would pack the family in the car every fall and drive across country searching for adventure and trying to make a living. The seeds were planted: Gloria realized that growing up didn’t have to mean settling down. And so began a lifetime of travel, of activism and leadership, of listening to people whose voices and ideas would inspire change and revolution.
My Life on the Road is the moving, funny, and profound story of Gloria’s growth and also the growth of a revolutionary movement for equality—and the story of how surprising encounters on the road shaped both. From her first experience of social activism among women in India to her work as a journalist in the 1960s; from the whirlwind of political campaigns to the founding of Ms. magazine; from the historic 1977 National Women’s Conference to her travels through Indian Country—a lifetime spent on the road allowed Gloria to listen and connect deeply with people, to understand that context is everything, and to become part of a movement that would change the world.
In prose that is revealing and rich, Gloria reminds us that living in an open, observant, and “on the road” state of mind can make a difference in how we learn, what we do, and how we understand each other.”
“If you could edit your past, what would you change?
Since hostile people still call me a former Playboy Bunny, even at 82, I probably shouldn’t have done that in my youth, even to write an exposé. And since a couple of times they’ve also referred to me as a former CIA agent, because I went to two Soviet-era communist youth festivals, I probably shouldn’t have done that, either. Yet if I hadn’t done both, I might have judged other people by such empty symbols, too.”
Gloria Jean Watkins (born September 25, 1952), better known by her pen name bell hooks, is an American author, feminist, and social activist. The name “bell hooks” is derived from that of her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks.
The focus of hooks’ writing has been the intersectionality of race, capitalism, and gender, and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She has published over 30 books and numerous scholarly articles, appeared in documentary films, and participated in public lectures. She has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media, and feminism.
Hooks’ teaching career began in 1976 as an English professor and senior lecturer in Ethnic Studies at the University of Southern California. During her three years there, Golemics, a Los Angeles publisher, released her first published work, a chapbook of poems titled “And There We Wept” (1978), written under her pen name, “bell hooks”. She adopted her maternal great-grandmother’s name as a pen name because her great-grandmother “was known for her snappy and bold tongue, which [she] greatly admired”. She put the name in lowercase letters “to distinguish [herself from] her great-grandmother.” She said that her unconventional lowercasing of her name signifies what is most important is her works: the “substance of books, not who I am.”
She taught at several post secondary institutions in the early 1980s, including the University of California, Santa Cruz and San Francisco State University. South End Press published her first major work, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism in 1981, though it was written years earlier, while she was an undergraduate student. In the decades since its publication, Ain’t I a Woman? has gained widespread recognition as an influential contribution to feminist thought.
Ain’t I a Woman? examines several recurring themes in her later work: the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women, devaluation of black womanhood, media roles and portrayal, the education system, the idea of a white-supremacist–capitalist–patriarchy, the marginalization of black women, and the disregard for issues of race and class within feminism. Since the publication of Ain’t I a Woman?, she has become eminent as a leftist and postmodern political thinker and cultural critic. She targets and appeals to a broad audience by presenting her work in a variety of media using various writing and speaking styles. As well as having written books, she has published in numerous scholarly and mainstream magazines, lectures at widely accessible venues, and appears in various documentaries.
From 1976 forward, Walters became a pioneer for women in journalism. She faced much criticism from many of her male counterparts, but she persevered and scored some of the most exclusive interviews of all time. Not only was she a professional, but she was a dedicated mother. Besides being the first female news anchor of an evening broadcast, she earned a salary that was renowned for a women in broadcast news. She produced and co-hosted the show, 20-20. Her interviews of politicians and entertainers became legendary on the Barbara Walters Specials. Many of those icons would not be questioned by anyone else but Walters herself.
In Walters’s more recent years, she developed and co-hosted The View, which includes an all-women cast who discuss the most important issues of the day. It is dubbed the “Place to be Heard.” On this show, the cast’s varied opinions are noticed and reported daily, sometimes with backlash but most often, all sides of the story are presented, as the view of each cast member is quite diverse.
In 2013, Walters retired, but not without paving the way for many other women journalists, or women in related fields. As she aged with the industry, she continued to open doors for women conquering on-air ageism as well. Other journalists follow in her footsteps like Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Lesley Stahl. It is about being smart, educated, and exceptional at the job, and not about the age or gender you are when you are doing it. At 60, I appreciate that advancement in the communications field. I enjoy watching and hearing the views of women near my age in deserved, successful positions!
As in many fields, there are still gender imbalances in the communications-related jobs. However, because of icons like Walters, many popular shows today are practically run by women. The Dr. Phil Show is staffed almost entirely by females. More women are creating shows, like Orange is the New Black, by Jenji Cohan. Women broadcasters are now seen regularly on all stations, where they report the news and/or offer their educated opinions.
There is still room for growth, but it is comforting to see women offering their insight in sports media. During the last Olympics, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Meredith Vieira host the televised show – the first woman to do so. Not too many years ago, women were not allowed in the locker rooms or on the sports fields. Progress is slow, but it is being made.
For me personally, while Walters’s career blossomed, I entered college and majored in English and Communications. It turned out my high school hours at the printer paid off, and my talents and interests were best suited to theproduction side of print journalism. Before becoming an English teacher, I had a 23-year lucrative career in the publishing and advertising industries.
Barbara Walters gave this ‘70s teenager a mentor to admire at a time when women were not highly-regarded in the communications field. I miss hearing her ideas, but as a woman approaching retirement age myself, one of her later quotes, after more than 50-years in the industry, makes me smile.
“I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain. I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women—and OK, some men too—who will be taking my place.”
You, Barbara Walters, in my eyes, are irreplaceable.
Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King was an American author, activist, civil rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1953 until his death in 1968. Coretta Scott King helped lead the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. King was an active advocate for African-American equality. King met her husband while in college, and their participation escalated until they became central to the movement. In her early life, Coretta was an accomplished singer, and she often incorporated music into her civil rights work.
King played a prominent role in the years after her husband’s 1968 assassination when she took on the leadership of the struggle for racial equality herself and became active in the Women’s Movement. King founded the King Center and sought to make his birthday a national holiday. King finally succeeded when Ronald Reagan signed legislation which established Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. She later broadened her scope to include both opposition to apartheid and advocacy for LGBT rights. King became friends with many politicians before and after Martin Luther King’s death, most notably John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Robert F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy’s phone call to her during the 1960 election was what she liked to believe was behind his victory.
In August 2005, King suffered a stroke which paralyzed her right side and left her unable to speak; five months later she died of respiratory failure due to complications from ovarian cancer. Her funeral was attended by some 10,000 people, including four of five living US presidents. She was temporarily buried on the grounds of the King Center until being interred next to her husband. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and was the first African-American to lie in State in the Georgia State Capitol. King has been referred to as “First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement”
During Kennedy’s presidency, she and her husband had come to respect him and understood his reluctance at times to get involved openly with civil rights. In April 1962, Coretta served as delegate for the Women’s Strike for Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Martin drove her to the hospital on March 28, 1963, where King gave birth to their fourth child Bernice. After King and her daughter were due to come home, Martin rushed back to drive them himself. After her husband’s arrest on April 12, 1963, King tried to make direct contact with President Kennedy at the advisement of Wyatt Tee Walker, and succeeded in speaking with Robert F. Kennedy. President Kennedy was with his father Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr, who was not feeling well.In what has been noted as making Kennedy seem less sympathetic towards the Kings, the president redirected Mrs. King’s call to the White House switchboard.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. She learned of the shooting after being called by Jesse Jackson when she returned from shopping with her eldest child Yolanda. King had difficulty settling her children with the news that their father was deceased. She received a large number of telegrams, including one from Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother, which she regarded as the one that touched her the most.
In an effort to prepare her daughter Bernice, then only five years old, for the funeral, she tried to explain to her that the next time she saw her father he would be in a casket and would not be speaking.When asked by her son Dexter when his father would return, King lied and told him that his father had only been badly hurt. Senator Robert Kennedy ordered three more telephones to be installed in the King residence for King and her family to be able to answer the flood of calls they received and offered a plane to transport her to Memphis. Coretta spoke to Kennedy the day after the assassination and asked if he could persuade Jacqueline Kennedy to attend her husband’s funeral with him.
Robert Kennedy promised her that he would help “any way” he could. King was told to not go ahead and agree to Kennedy’s offer by Southern Christian Leadership Conference members, who told her about his presidential ambitions. She ignored the warnings and went along with his request. On April 5, 1968, King arrived in Memphis to retrieve her husband’s body and decided that the casket should be kept open during the funeral with the hope that her children would realize upon seeing his body that he would not be coming home. Mrs. King called photographer Bob Fitch and asked for documentation to be done, having known him for years. On April 7, 1968, former Vice President Richard Nixon visited Mrs. King and recalled his first meeting with her husband in 1955. Nixon also went to Mrs. King’s husband’s funeral on April 9, 1968, but did not walk in the procession. Nixon believed participating in the procession would be “grandstanding.”
On April 8, 1968, Mrs. King and her children headed a march with sanitation workers that her husband had planned to carry out before his death. After the marchers reached the staging area at the Civic Center Plaza in front of Memphis City Hall, onlookers proceeded to take pictures of King and her children but stopped when she addressed everyone at a microphone. She said that despite the Martin Luther King, Jr. being away from his children at times, “his children knew that Daddy loved them, and the time that he spent with them was well spent.”[ Prior to Martin’s funeral, Jacqueline Kennedy met with her. The two spent five minutes together and despite the short visit, Coretta called it comforting. King’s parents arrived from Alabama. Robert Kennedy and his wife Ethel came, the latter being embraced by Mrs. King. Mrs. King and her sister-in-law Christine King Farris tried to prepare the children for seeing Martin’s body. With the end of the funeral service, Mrs. King led her children and mourners in a march from the church to Morehouse College, her late husband’s alma mater.
An acclaimed American poet, storyteller, activist, and autobiographer, Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Angelou has had a broad career as a singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood’s first female black director, but is most famous as a writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet. As a civil rights activist, Angelou worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She was also an educator and served as the Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. By 1975, wrote Carol E. Neubauer in Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, “Angelou had become recognized not only as a spokesperson for blacks and women, but also for all people who are committed to raising the moral standards of living in the United States.”
Her indomitable stance against racism, injustice and rape resonated with people from all walks of life.
Since the death of Maya Angelou last week, the scale of tributes pouring in shows just how much of a cultural idol she had become, but she did not stand for idolisation.
Her whole purpose was to express her own vulnerable humanity through a series of painfully honest autobiographies so that others would feel empowered to express their own.
Poet, activist and writer, Maya Angelou was probably best known for her first memoir, Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, for delivering the inaugural poem at Bill Clinton’s swearing-in ceremony in 1993 and for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, from President Obama in 2011.
She did not shy away from politics throughout her life, seeking out friendships with prominent activists such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Indeed she did not shy away from anything.
by Maya Angelou
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing of my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Alice Malsenior Walker is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist. She wrote the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1982) for which she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She also wrote the novels Meridian (1976) and The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), among other works.
“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” -Alice Walker
Womanism is a feminist term coined by Alice Walker. It is a reaction to the realization that “feminism” does not encompass the perspectives Black women. It is a feminism that is “stronger in color”, nearly identical to “Black Feminism”. However, Womanism does not need to be prefaced by the word “Black”, the word automatically concerns black women. A Womanist is a woman who loves women and appreciates women’s culture and power as something that is incorporated into the world as a whole. Womanism addresses the racist and classist aspects of white feminism and actively opposes separatist ideologies. It includes the word “man”, recognizing that Black men are an integral part of Black women’s lives as their children, lovers, and family members. Womanism accounts for the ways in which black women support and empower black men, and serves as a tool for understanding the Black woman’s relationship to men as different from the white woman’s. It seeks to acnowledge and praise the sexual power of Black women while recognizing a history of sexual violence. This perspective is often used as a means for analyzing Black Women’s literature, as it marks the place where race, class, gender, and sexuality intersect. Womanism is unique because it does not necessarily imply any political position or value system other than the honoring of Black women’s strength and experiences. Because it recognizes that women are survivors in a world that is oppressive on multiple platforms, it seeks to celebrate the ways in which women negotiate these oppressions in their individual lives.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton is an American politician who was the First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001, U.S. Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, 67th United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, and the Democratic Party‘s nominee for President of the United States in the 2016 election.
Born in Chicago, Illinois and raised in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Clinton graduated from Wellesley College in 1969 and earned a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1973. After serving as a congressional legal counsel, she moved to Arkansas and married Bill Clinton in 1975. In 1977, she co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. She was appointed the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation in 1978 and became the first female partner at Rose Law Firm the following year. As First Lady of Arkansas, she led a task force whose recommendations helped reform Arkansas’s public schools.
As First Lady of the United States, Clinton was an advocate for gender equality and healthcare reform. Her marital relationship came under public scrutiny during the Lewinsky scandal, which led to her issuing a statement reaffirming her commitment to the marriage. In 2000, Clinton was elected as the first female Senator from New York. She was re-elected to the Senate in 2006. Running for president in 2008, she won far more delegates than any previous female candidate, but lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama.
As Secretary of State in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013, Clinton responded to the Arab Spring, during which she advocated the U.S. military intervention in Libya. She helped organize a diplomatic isolation and international sanctions regime against Iran, in an effort to force curtailment of that country’s nuclear program; this would eventually lead to the multinational Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement in 2015. Leaving office after Obama’s first term, she wrote her fifth book and undertook speaking engagements.
Clinton made a second presidential run in 2016. She received the most votes and primary delegates in the 2016 Democratic primaries and formally accepted her party’s nomination for President of the United States on July 28, 2016 with vice presidential running mate Senator Tim Kaine. She became the first female candidate to be nominated for president by a major U.S. political party. Despite winning a plurality of the national popular vote, Clinton lost the electoral vote and the presidency to her Republican opponent Donald Trump. Following her loss, in 2017 she stated that she decided to focus on being a self-described “activist citizen”
Americans have been fighting about Hillary Clinton for more than 25 years. In her 2003 book Living History, she writes about realizing, during her husband’s first presidential campaign, that her life was being scrutinized in ways she couldn’t control.
“I was called a ‘Rorschach test’ for the American public,” she writes. “I was being labeled and categorized because of my positions and mistakes, and also because I had been turned into a symbol for women of my generation. That’s why everything I said or did — and even what I wore — became a hot button for debate.”
In fact, Hillary Clinton’s introduction to life as “a symbol for women of my generation” may have come through her name. After her husband lost reelection in 1980, she writes in Living History, “a few of our friends and supporters came to talk to me about using ‘Clinton’ as my last name.” She’d kept her maiden name after her 1975 marriage to Bill, “a small (I thought) gesture to acknowledge that while I was committed to our union, I was still me.”
“I was born right when everything was changing for women,” she writes. “Everything I am, everything I’ve done, so much of what I stand for flows from that happy accident of fate.”
But she was still born at a time when men dominated American politics, and over her long lifetime, that hasn’t changed very much. “Historically, women haven’t been the ones writing the laws or leading the armies and navies,” she writes. “We’re not the ones up there behind the podium, rallying crowds, uniting the country. It’s men who lead. It’s men who speak. It’s men who represent us to the world and even to ourselves.”
“That’s been the case for so long that it has infiltrated our deepest thoughts,” she explains. “It’s not customary to have women lead or even to engage in the rough-and-tumble of politics. It’s not normal — not yet. So when it happens, it often doesn’t feel quite right. That may sound vague, but it’s potent. People cast their votes based on feelings like that all the time.”
Pointing out the internalized sexism of the American electorate isn’t revolutionary, but Clinton’s diagnosis is as clear-eyed as any out there. Clinton is clearly a biased observer, of course, but she doesn’t shy away from pointing out the many reasons people have opposed her that have nothing to do with sexism. And there’s something powerful about witness testimony from someone who has been there and seen the knots into which a female politician must tie herself in order to seem likable.
Clinton vents her frustration with the question “Who are you really?” “I’m … Hillary,” she writes. “You’ve seen me in the papers and on your screens for more than twenty-five years. I’ll bet you know more about my private life than you do about some of your closest friends.” Looking back on the tearful moment on the 2008 campaign trail that supposedly “humanized” her, she writes, “I’m a little beleaguered at the reminder that, yet again, I — a human — required ‘humanizing’ at all.”
She describes consulting with a linguistic expert “after hearing repeatedly that some people didn’t like my voice.” He told her that she needed to keep her voice “soft and low” even when the crowd started shouting, because women couldn’t get away with yelling from the podium — but, pressed to offer an example of a female politician who had followed this advice, he came up empty.
“Other women will run for President,” Clinton writes, “and they will be women, and they will have women’s voices. Maybe that will be less unusual by then. Maybe my campaign will have helped make it that way, and other women will have an easier time. I hope so.”
“On Being a Woman in Politics” isn’t all about sexism — Clinton also writes about how her gender has informed her politics. “Life naturally pushed me” in the direction of issues that affect women and children, she writes. “A young mom interested in policy often ends up working on kids’ issues. A First Lady is often involved with women’s issues. That was okay with me.”
Being a woman has also meant that other women confide in her about their reproductive lives — about birth control, fertility struggles, pregnancy, and abortion. On the last, Clinton is as forceful as she’s been anywhere, and significantly more forceful than she was in 2005, when she called abortion “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.”
“At the end of the day, who decides whether a woman gets or stays pregnant,” Clinton asks in What Happened. “A Congressman who has never met her? A judge who has spoken with her for maybe a few minutes?”
“Someone’s got to decide,” she writes. “I say let women decide.”
“In the 1990s, I went to Beijing and I said women’s rights are human rights,” Clinton reminded audiences. Younger voters may not know how controversial that was at the time. But if that statement seems obvious now, it’s in no small part because Clinton had the ovaries to say it out loud then on a prominent international stage.
It took more than a year to get here, but finally Clinton got to be in a debate in which she was directly asked about abortion rights, and she offered a full-throated defense of reproductive rights.
She even reminded audiences that Trump doesn’t just oppose abortion rights but also access to reproductive health care generally: “Donald has said he’s in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood. He even supported shutting the government down to defund Planned Parenthood. I will defend Planned Parenthood.”
When moderator Chris Wallace tried to reframe the issue in terms of “late-term” abortion, a vaguely defined term, Clinton was quite clear exactly why women get these relatively rare abortions.
“I have met with women who toward the end of their pregnancy get the worst news one could get, that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy,” she said.
In response, Trump, who seems to take many of his talking points from the Breitbart comments section, demonized women who receive medically necessary abortions by saying, “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.”
Clinton did not recoil, though, and defended the honor of women whose personal tragedies are being used for demagoguery against women’s rights.
“You should meet with some of the women that I have met with, women I have known over the course of my life. This is one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make,” Clinton said solemnly.
“I’ve been to countries where governments either forced women to have abortions, like they used to do in China, or forced women to bear children, like they used to do in Romania,” she added, tying the anti-choice politics of this country to the anti-choice policies of more oppressive governments.
Another feminist hot topic came up later, in connection with the release of a tape with Trump’s bragging about sexual assault — and all the women who have since stepped forward and claimed they have been on the receiving end of the very behavior he bragged about.
“At the last debate, we heard Donald talking about what he did to women,” Clinton said, in full lawyer mode. “And after that, a number of women have come forward saying that’s exactly what he did to them.”
She continued, “Now, what was his response? Well, he held a number of big rallies where he said that he could not possibly have done those things to those women because they were not attractive enough for them to be assaulted.”
Clinton went on to offer some quick feminist analysis, saying, “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”
To be clear, any male politician who had an opponent such as Trump would likely make the same arguments. But as a woman and a feminist, Clinton was in a perfect position to really dig into this issue. When she said this really is something all women have experience with, it doesn’t feel abstract, as it would for a male politician. She has direct personal experience with this. She has the war stories to back this up.
Just last week it happened to her, when Trump made comments disparaging her looks. Hell, it happened in this debate, when Trump called her a “nasty woman” for daring to sound smarter than him on policy issues — not that it’s all that hard.
What can I say? As a fellow feminist, I’m proud of Hillary Clinton. She could have played it safe, offering minimal defenses of women’s rights but shying away from touchy subjects like abortion, sexual harassment and abuse. She’s ahead in the polls, so the temptation to play not to lose must have been sky-high.
Instead, Clinton sees the opportunity at this moment, when the country is mesmerized by this snarling and snorting misogynist, to not just win an election but push for feminist gains in the culture at large. She is not content to offer some pablum about how Trump’s words and deeds are inappropriate but has chosen to speak more broadly about how sexual harassment and sexist chatter about women’s bodies is used to put women in their place and reinforce male dominance. She may not use feminist buzzwords, preferring plain language that can reach all audiences, but her point is unmistakable.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton and took the oath of office on August 10, 1993. She is the second female justice to be confirmed to the Court (after Sandra Day O’Connor), and one of four female justices to be confirmed (with Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who are still serving). Following Justice O’Connor’s retirement, and prior to Justice Sotomayor joining the Court, Ginsburg was the only female justice on the Supreme Court. During that time, Ginsburg became more forceful with her dissents, noted by legal observers and in popular culture. She is generally viewed as belonging to the liberal wing of the Court. Notable majority opinions Ginsburg has authored include United States v. Virginia, Olmstead v. L.C., and Friends of the Earth Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc.
Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York to Russian Jewish immigrants. When Ginsburg was a toddler, her older sister died, and shortly before she graduated high school, her mother died. Ginsburg was a wife and mother before starting law school at Harvard, where she was one of the few women in her law school class. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School where she graduated tied for first in her class.
Following law school, Ginsburg turned to academia. She was a professor at Rutgers School of Law–Newark and Columbia Law School, teaching civil procedure as one of the few women in her field. Ginsburg spent a considerable part of her legal career as an advocate for the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights, winning multiple victories arguing before the Supreme Court. She advocated as a volunteer lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and was a member of its board of directors and one of its general counsels in the 1970s. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit where she served until her elevation to the Supreme Court.
Diane von Furstenberg
Diane von Furstenberg has long been an outspoken feminist in the fashion world, whose easy-wearing, iconic designs—the wrap dress, of course, which she invented over 40 years ago—helped define an entire generation of liberated woman. On Colbert, she did her best to represent her ideologies, both philosophically and style-wise: “All I do,” she said, “Is give women a little trick that is going to make them look sexy and feel empowered.”
Diane von Furstenberg is a statement maker. On Nov. 20, the illustrious fashion industry leader did not need a statement necklace to hold the attention of a packed audience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Her confident disposition and witty charm kept the predominantly female audience at Cemex Auditorium both entertained and enthralled. Hosted by Stanford Women in Business (SWIB), a pre-professional group of undergraduates who aim to establish a community of aspiring businesswomen across campus, von Furstenberg’s visit marked the first event this year of SWIB’s Executive Leadership Series.
Von Furstenberg did not go to business school, but that did not stop her from creating the international empire that is now “DVF.” As she described in relatable terms to her Stanford audience on Thursday, “I had my own start-up.”
This start-up refers to the 1974 introduction of her “wrap dress,” a garment that has come to “symbolize power and independence for an entire generation of women,” as stated on her website. Since then, von Furstenberg has developed a luxury brand available in over 55 countries.
Also known for her mentorship and work on the board of Vital Voices, an NGO that supports emerging female leaders and entrepreneurs, von Furstenberg declares women’s empowerment as her current “mission.” She did not originally plan for this, as she mentioned when she spoke of her early years.
“If you study business, chances are you don’t know what you’re going to do. So it is important that you think about the woman that you want to be,” she said.
Von Furstenberg reflected on this notion herself in her new memoir, “The Woman I Wanted to Be,” which came out this fall. In the first chapter of her memoir, entitled “Roots,” von Furstenberg pays homage to her mother as the key figure who influenced the woman she wanted to be. Her mother, a concentration camp survivor, taught her that “fear was not an option; you must be independent.”
Von Furstenberg echoed her mother’s words when she said, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be independent.”
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. Her advocacy has grown into an international movement.
Yousafzai was born in Mingora, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Her family came to run a chain of schools in the region. Considering Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto as her role models, she was particularly inspired by her father‘s thoughts and humanitarian work. In early 2009, when she was 11–12, she wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC Urdu detailing her life during the Taliban occupation of Swat. The following summer, journalist Adam B. Ellick made a New York Times documentaryabout her life as the Pakistani military intervened in the region. She rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television, and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by activist Desmond Tutu.
Yousafzai was injured on 9 October 2012 by a Taliban gunman when he attempted to murder her. She remained unconscious and in critical condition at the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology, but later her condition improved enough for her to be sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK. The murder attempt sparked a national and international outpouring of support for Yousafzai. Deutsche Welle wrote in January 2013 that she may have become “the most famous teenager in the world”.Weeks after her murder attempt, a group of fifty leading Muslim clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwā against those who tried to kill her.
Since recovering, Yousafzai became a prominent education activist. Based out of Birmingham, she founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit, and in 2013 co-authored I am Malala, an international bestseller. In 2015, Yousafzai was a subject of the Oscar-shortlisted documentary He Named Me Malala. The 2013, 2014 and 2015 issues of Time magazine featured her as one of the most influential people globally. In 2012, she was the recipient of Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and the 2013 Sakharov Prize. In 2014, she was announced as the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Kailash Satyarthi, for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. Aged 17 at the time, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. From 2013 to 2017, she was a pupil at the all-girls’ Edgbaston High School in Birmingham. In 2017, she was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship and became the youngest person to address the House of Commons of Canada. In August 2017, she gained admission to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford to study for a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
Oprah Winfrey is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. She is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Dubbed the “Queen of All Media”, she has been ranked the richest African-American, the greatest black philanthropist in American history, and is North America’s first multi-billionaire black person. Several assessments rank her as the most influential woman in the world. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and honorary doctorate degrees from Duke and Harvard.
Although Oprah Winfrey is not a publicly identified feminist, her comprehensive societal influence can be extrapolated to the United States women’s movement. To borrow a term from Patricia Misciagno, she is the nation’s foremost de facto feminist (Misciagno 1997). In the alternative, discursive social and political space created for women by The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah promotes feminist ideology and practice without explicitly acknowledging the fact that she is endorsing either feminism or the United States women’s movement; in doing so, Oprah promotes de facto feminism on a regular basis in the homes of millions of “everywomen” in the United States, all the while without directly acknowledging her own feminist identity. Consequently, Oprah becomes a living embodiment of the contradictions of de facto feminism. An emerging body of scholarship exists that analyzes the relationship between Oprah, her television show, and feminism. A primary theme of this burgeoning literature is the notion that The Oprah Winfrey Show blurs the boundaries of public and private, personal and political. Sujata Moorti states that “Oprah blurs our understandings of public and private issues, public and private spaces, and the characteristics differentiating the guests from the host and the participants . . . On daytime talk shows the personal is, indeed, political” (Moorti 1998, 86-87, italics in the original). Gloria-Jean Masciarotte continues this thread with her assertion that “in a real sense, then, on The Oprah Winfrey Show, there is no area of politics that is not personal and no space where the personal is exempt from politics” (Masciarotte 1991, 96). In its convergence of the personal and the political, The Oprah Winfrey Show shares a major tenet with the contemporary United States women’s movement. Oprah succeeds in blurring these boundaries in large part because she makes women feel as though she is their friend. Deborah Tannen claims that women, in particular, listen to Oprah because, in opposition to the early style of the talk show founded by Phil Donahue, whom she says relied on “reporttalk,” or the basic exchange of information typified by men’s conversation, Oprah utilizes a method of “rapport-talk,” which, in its focus upon confessional, intimate, personal conversation, is unique to women’s relationships (Tannen 1998, 198). In her discussion of Oprah’s personal exchanges with her audience members, Corinne Squire concurs that these examples of expressiveness “signify an empathy that is traditionally feminine, but also feminist in its insistence on the ‘personal'” (Squire 1997, 101). A second dominant theme of the recent scholarly literature about Oprah is that her television show is rooted in the feminist tradition of consciousness raising. Masciarotte claims that Oprah gives a voice to the mass subject-those who have been Othered in society-including women, working- or lowerclass people, and people of color (Masciarotte 1991, 103). The Oprah Winfrey Show, like talk shows in general, enables women to overcome their alienation as a result of talking about their specific experiences as women in society; by privileging the voice of women’s experiences and struggles over the “learned” voice of the expert, the talk show continues the traditions of consciousness raising formulated within the liberal American women’s movement (89-90). Recent scholarly literature about Oprah has also focused upon the ways in which her show creates an alternative social and political space for women. Moorti suggests that The Oprah Winfrey Show creates both a “protofeminist discursive space” and a “feminist counter public sphere” (Moorti 1998, 83, 93, 97). Resultantly, The Oprah Winfrey Show functions as a discursive site for women publicly to share their stories, by and for women, forming bonds with others who have had similar life experiences. Another thread binding emerging feminist scholarship about Oprah is the thesis that her show promotes the empowerment of women. Debbie Epstein and Deborah Lynn Steinberg remark that “Oprah’s stated intention for her show is, at least in part, to challenge prejudice and foster empowerment, particularly, for women” (1998, 81). Squire observes that feminism is most explicit on The Oprah Winfrey Show in its “often-declared commitment to empowering women . . . the show’s aim is to empower this shared womanhood,” creating a “televisual feminism” in the process (1997, 102). Some scholarly assessments of the treatment of racial issues on The Oprah Winfrey Show suggest that Oprah has managed to transcend race, a principal reason for her show’s success. In transcending race, Oprah “has been described as a comforting, nonthreatening bridge between black and white cultures”; she is successful at presenting racially charged issues precisely because she vacillates between “sometimes embracing, sometimes minimizing her blackness,” thus managing to depoliticize her race (Peck 1994, 90-91). Other academics, however, including Squire, argue against the notion that Oprah transcends race, suggesting instead that The Oprah Winfrey Show is as “permeated with ‘race’ as much as it is with gender,” and that “black feminism seems, as much as woman-centered feminism, to define the show” (Squire 1997, 104-6). The relatively modest amount of recent scholarship about Oprah has begun to address the ways in which issues of race, class, gender, and feminist identification are treated within the Oprah Winfrey enterprise. In this chapter, it is my desire to build upon this extant literature by utilizing Patricia Misciagno’s theory of de facto feminism as a framework through which to view Oprah’s feminist identification
Madonna — a global icon who extended her record as the highest-grossing female touring artist of all time in 2016 — was honored as Woman of the Year at Billboard’s Women In Music 2016 event on Friday (Dec. 9). And during her acceptance speech, she was fully ferocious, funny and brutally honest — in other words, she was the Madonna we’ve known and adored since she debuted more than 30 years ago.
Madonna, unsurprisingly, stole the show the moment she took the stage. Her weapon? Something you can’t contain, fake, reproduce or put a price on: Blunt, personal truth.
After opening with a joke — “I always feel better with something hard between my legs” Madonna said, straddling the microphone stand — she got candid very quickly.
“I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean, as a female entertainer,” Madonna said. “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse.”
“People were dying of AIDS everywhere. It wasn’t safe to be gay, it wasn’t cool to be associated with the gay community,” Madonna recalled. “It was 1979 and New York was a very scary place. In the first year I was held at gunpoint, raped on a rooftop with a knife digging into my throat and I had my apartment broken into and robbed so many times I stopped locking the door. In the years that followed, I lost almost every friend I had to AIDS or drugs or gunshots.”
From that, Madonna told the Women In Music crowd she learned a vital lesson: “In life there is no real safety except for self-belief.”
Madonna also talked about a lesson she thought she learned from David Bowie… only that lesson, it turned out, didn’t quite apply to her. “I was of course inspired by Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde and Aretha Franklin, but my real muse was David Bowie. He embodied male and female spirit and that suited me just fine. He made me think there were no rules. But I was wrong. There are no rules — if you’re a boy. There are rules if you’re a girl,” Madonna said.
Among those rules: “If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world. Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticized and vilified and definitely not played on the radio.”
Madonna also opened up about the time in her life when she felt “like the most hated person on the planet,” with her eyes tearing up and her nose running a bit.
“Eventually I was left alone because I married Sean Penn, and not only would he would bust a cap in your ass, but I was off the market. For a while I was not considered a threat. Years later, divorced and single — sorry Sean — I made my Erotica album and my Sex book was released. I remember being the headline of every newspaper and magazine. Everything I read about myself was damning. I was called a whore and a witch. One headline compared me to Satan. I said, ‘Wait a minute, isn’t Prince running around with fishnets and high heels and lipstick with his butt hanging out?’ Yes, he was. But he was a man.
“This was the first time I truly understood women do not have the same freedom as men,” she said.
Madonna also recalled that at one point in her life, during all the public vitriol, “I remember wishing I had a female peer I could look to for support. Camille Paglia, the famous feminist writer, said I set women back by objectifying myself sexually. So I thought, ‘oh, if you’re a feminist, you don’t have sexuality, you deny it.’ So I said ‘fuck it. I’m a different kind of feminist. I’m a bad feminist.'”
Madonna also looked back on the many pop icons lost during the last decade. “I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around. Michael is gone. Tupac is gone. Prince is gone. Whitney is gone. Amy Winehouse is gone. David Bowie is gone. But I’m still standing. I’m one of the lucky ones and every day I count my blessings.”
Closing out her speech, Madonna offered thanks to her haters and advice to other women in music.
“What I would like to say to all women here today is this: Women have been so oppressed for so long they believe what men have to say about them. They believe they have to back a man to get the job done. And there are some very good men worth backing, but not because they’re men — because they’re worthy. As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and enlightened by,” she urged.
“It’s not so much about receiving this award as it is having this opportunity to stand before you and say thank you,” Madonna said, closing out her speech. “Not only to the people who have loved and supported me along the way, you have no idea…you have no idea how much your support means,” she said, tearing up for the second time. “But to the doubters and naysayers and everyone who gave me hell and said I could not, that I would not or I must not — your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, made me the fighter that I am today. It made me the woman that I am today. So thank you.”
Before the speech, Anderson Cooper introduced Madonna with a heartfelt tribute to her ongoing influence. “Madonna is Billboard’s Woman of the Year, but as far as I’m concerned in terms of music and impact and culture, she’s been the Woman of the Year every year since she released her first single ‘Everybody’ in 1982.”
Hailing her as not only “relevant but revolutionary” up to present day, Cooper noted the importance of Madonna to him “as a gay teenager growing up… Her music and outspokenness showed me as a teenager a way forward. Through her music, she told me and millions of teenagers — gay and straight — that we are not alone. We are connected to each other.”
Rosie the Riveter
Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of World War II, representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who joined the military. Rosie the Riveter is used as a symbol of feminism and women’s economic power. Similar images of women war workers appeared in other countries such as Britain and Australia. Images of women workers were widespread in the media as government posters, and commercial advertising was heavily used by the government to encourage women to volunteer for wartime service in factories. Rosie the Riveter became the subject and title of a song and a Hollywood movie during WWII.