When Divergent actress Shailene Woodley told an interviewer recently that she didn’t call herself a feminist because she “love[s] men,” many people were outraged. But there’s another side to this story: Shailene Woodley doesn’t understand what feminism is, and it’s not necessarily her fault.
The fact is, our educational system is still hopelessly biased towards men. But we need women’s history in the classroom if we want feminism to flourish. “Feminists don’t spontaneously happen,” Soraya Chemaly poignantly responded in Ms. Magazine. It takes education — about women’s achievements throughout history, the patriarchy and the myriad socioeconomic and political hurdles women still face — to help engender a concept of feminism. Without it, we are left to rely on the media’s portrayal of women and gender parity.
Make no mistake: Women were — and are — strong, if overlooked, forces in American history, having influenced politics, medicine, science, literature and much, much more. For decades, researchers have noted such a gender bias in study after study. But while this representation has improved, our educational system still often fails to properly educate our youth about women. Here are a few women probably not discussed at length (if at all) in classrooms across the country, but definitely should be. (Please note, this list is nowhere near exhaustive.)
You wouldn’t necessarily think of 19th century poet Lord Byron’s daughter as the world’s first “programmer,” but as it turns out, that’s exactly what she is. Ada Lovelace, born in 1815, was an English mathematician primarily known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Who says women can’t code in style?
A slave in Alabama, the faceless woman known now only as Anarcha, became the medical guinea pig for Dr. Marion Sims, the so-called Father of Gynecology in the mid-19th century. According to Sims’ own records, Anarcha regularly underwent surgical and gynecological experiments, sans anesthesia — as many as 34 times. Because of Anarcha, and other enslaved women like her, doctors were able to make medical advancements in repairing fistula, a condition that affects approximately 1 million women worldwide today. This revolutionized gynecology.
Harriet Tubman was one of the Underground Railroad’s most well-known “conductors.” She helped more than 300 slaves escape to the North during the Civil War. But “Moses,” as she became known, was also a Union spy, soldier and nurse. Talk about your Jane of all Trades! While Tubman’s incredibly courageous life — she endured brutal beatings as a field hand before eventually escaping her masters in Maryland — seems straight out of a Hollywood movie, you won’t see her as the star of the silver screen anytime soon.
Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 on a Louisiana plantation, Madam C.J. Walker is one of the 20th century’s greatest success stories you’ve never heard of. An uneducated daughter of former slaves, in 1905 Walker founded her own company and began selling a scalp conditioning and healing formula, aptly named Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. Three years later, she opened Leila College to train “hair culturists,” and later built a factory to manufacture her products. Walker proved that women could be moguls even when they didn’t have the right to vote.
Long before there was Nancy Pelosi, there was Jeannette Rankin, the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress. Notably, Rankin was also one of the few suffragists elected to Congress and the only congressperson to vote against U.S. participation in both world wars. We also have her to thank for this quote: “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” Amen, sister.
We can thank Hollywood powerhouse Mary Pickford for all the great films that have come out of United Artists film studio. She co-founded the institution in 1919 with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. Eight years later, she helped establish the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As critics and moviegoers continue to debatefemale representation in contemporary cinema, it’s important to note that the film industry might not be where it is today without Pickford’s vision and dedication.
Hedy Lamarr, frequently called “The Most Beautiful Woman in Film,” was a talented actress who starred opposite some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men of her day, including Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart. But this silver screen titan wasn’t just easy on the eyes; she was also very smart. In fact, Lamarr patented an idea that later became an essential aspect of both secure military communications and mobile phone technology.
Originally from Alabama, Barnard-educated Zora Neale Hurston left an indelible mark on theHarlem Renaissance. Over the span of three decades, she published four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography, numerous short stories and several essays, articles and plays. Her masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the 20th century’s most important pieces of literature, as it is a sumptuously-written story “of black female survival in a world beset by bad weather and bad men.”
Eleanor Roosevelt is perhaps best known for being the wife of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But she was much more than the president’s wife. The other Roosevelt transformed women’s political participation, proving women could wield influence in matters of both domestic and international importance. Eleanor spent years kicking ass and taking names as an international human rights advocate, serving as chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission and helping write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Her example forged a path for the assertive first ladies who would succeed her, from Betty Ford to Michelle Obama.
Known as the “First Lady of Physics,” Dr. Wu’s work on nuclear fission proved invaluable during World War II. After moving to the U.S. from China to go to graduate school at U.C. Berkeley, the U.S. government asked Wu to join the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, the U.S. Army’s secret project to develop the atomic bomb, where she helped develop a process that produced large quantities of uranium as fuel for the bomb. After the war, Wu became the first woman elected to the American Physical Society, the first woman to receive the Cyrus B. Comstock Award of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the first woman to be awarded an honorary doctorate from Princeton University.
If you’re in any way involved in today’s environmental movement, you have Rachel Carson to thank. A scientist and writer, she began to warn the public about the long-term effects of misusing pesticides after World War II. Her book Silent Spring (1962) catapulted her to center stage — and made her an enemy of the chemical industry in the process — as it challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government.
If you’re one of the millions of women who currently, or ever has, used birth control, you oweMargaret Sanger. She campaigned tirelessly for the legalization (yes, it was once illegal) and wide availability of birth control for women (which was also illegal, not so long ago). Her collaboration with Gregory Pincus resulted in the first FDA-approved oral contraceptive. Controversial due to some of her ideas regarding eugenics, many of the criticisms leveled at Sanger by conservative politicians have been dubunked.
Ella Baker helped shape the American Civil Rights Movement. She co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was headed by Martin Luther King, Jr., and helped create the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. One of the many unsung heroes of a movement better known for leaders such as King, Julian Bond and Roy Wilkins, Baker’s efforts, as well as those of her female compatriots, were instrumental in the struggle for equal rights.
Like Jeanette Rankin, Shirley Chisholm made congressional history when she became the first African-American congresswoman. She represented New York State in the House of Representatives for seven terms, and went on to run for the Democratic nomination for presidency in 1972. Championing minority education and employment opportunities, Chisholm also campaigned against the draft. During her presidential nomination campaign, she survived three assassination attempts and went on to leave behind a long legacy of outspoken advocacy. “I’ve always met more discrimination being a woman than being black,” Chisolm told the Associated Press in 1982. “When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men.”
Betty is one badass mother — of feminism. Her book The Feminine Mystique ignited the feminist movement in the ’60s and ’70s, forever changing the feminist cultural landscape. She also co-founded the National Organization for Women, which is still alive and kicking today and advocates for such high-profile causes as abortion access and closing the pay gap.
Who says girls don’t dig STEM? Dr. Sally Ride defied this stereotype in a big way. She was an astronaut and physicist, perhaps most famous for being the first woman in space and the youngest American to ever orbit Earth, at age 32. After her astronaut career, Ride foundedthe Sally Ride Science to inspire young women interested in science and math. Touting an impressive list of awards, Ride was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, which gained special significance when it was revealed that she was a lesbian. Not too shabby, eh?
Maya Angelou is one of the greatest voices of contemporary American literature. Her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings quickly became a best-seller and was nominated for the National Book Award. But she’s much more than a writer. A master of French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti, Maya is a well-traveled poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, professor and civil rights activist. And here’s another fun fact: She was he first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco.
Lilly Ledbetter is the face of the fight for equal pay. After discovering that she had been paid less than her male colleagues at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Lilly filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and a lawsuit, which made its way to the Supreme Court. Although she ultimately lost that case, Ledbetter’s example continues to inspire those working to close the pay gap.
Sandra Day O’Connor shattered the legal profession’s glass ceiling in 1981 when she became the first female Supreme Court Justice. Her seat on our nation’s highest court has opened the door for other female justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elana Kagan. Among her many accomplishments, the moderate conservative O’Connor was known for carefully considering the facts and staying above the partisan fray. She tended to vote in line with her politically conservative nature, but she still considered her cases very carefully. For example, as Republicans called on the court to reverse the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, O’Connor’s vote in favor of upholding the landmark case was the deciding factor.
Angela Davis is a scholar, civil rights activist, women’s rights activist, author and rabblerouser. A member of the U.S. Communist party, she was once jailed for charges related to a prison outbreak, though was ultimately cleared of the charges. One of Davis’ most well-known books is Women, Race & Class, but Davis has spent the second half of her life working for gender equity and prison reform. Davis currently teaches at University of California, Santa Cruz.
A preeminent leader in the feminist movement for decades, bell hooks is the author of numerous books on the politics of race, gender, class and culture including familiar with her work Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, which Publishers Weekly named one of the “20 most influential women’s books of the last 20 years” in 1992. Outspoken and at times controversial, hooks’ advocacy is a testament to the impressively long-lasting influence of the feminism movement’s academic luminaries.
Dolores Huerta is a labor leader and civil rights activist, who alongside César Chávez, founded the National Farm Workers Association. At 83-years-old, she’s still fighting and advocating for the working poor, women and children. In 2012, President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Speaking about the influence of Huerta on women, especially Hispanic women in America, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis noted in a statement that Huerta’s “passion for justice has expanded to include women’s equality, reproductive rights and LGBT issues. Her dancing eyes and sweet voice continue to inspire people across the country and around the world, just like they did for a young girl from La Puente who grew up to be the first Latina in a president’s cabinet.”
Grace Lee Boggs is an author, feminist and lifelong social justice activist. A daughter of Chinese immigrants, she developed a decades-long political relationship with the Marxist,C.L.R. James, and was very active in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Grace’s life is the subject of the award-winning documentary American Revolution.
Ann Dunwoody is the U.S. Army’s first four-star general. She joined the Army in 1974, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps in 1975. Since then, she served at every level of command, until she retired in 2012. Dunwoody’s success serves as a reminder that women are every bit as integral to the armed forces as men are. Women can also rise to the top of the military hierarchy — which is exactly what opponents seek to prevent.
Although more of a household name than many other women on this list, Gloria Steinem is a reminder that young people still don’t understand the important legacy of feminist advocates. As an organizer, journalist and activist, Steinem has played an integral role in the women’s movement for decades. In 1963, she made waves when she went undercover as a Playboy bunny and exposed the exploitative working conditions and sexual demands often made of the “bunnies.” The founder of Ms. Magazine and the Women’s Media Center, where she works to achieve equality for all people, not just women. And a better understanding of the women from this list can only help further this goal.
Soccer stadiums may be open-air, but there’s still a glass ceiling to break when it comes to professional men’s teams’ coaching staffs. Now, however, thanks to the France’s Clermont Foot, there’s a crack in that roof. The second-division team hired Portugal-native Helena Costa on Wednesday to replace Regis Brouard, and said ”this nomination should help Clermont enter into a new era,” The Associated Press reports.
Costa, 36, previously coached the women’s national teams of Qatar and Iran, and also worked as a scout for Celtic in Scotland. Now, she will become the first female head coach of a Top 2 division team in Europe’s five major leagues when she takes over next season, TeamTalk.com reports.
One other woman has been hired to coach a professional team in a third-tier league. Carolina Morace coached the Italian team Viterbese in 1999, but quit after just two matches because of “constant media pressure,” FirstPost.com writes.
I enjoy “going out.” I like dancing, I like music, I like drinking, I like spending time with friends. And I like meeting new people, chatting with them and making friends. I also understand that many people (men and women) go to bars and clubs in hopes of meeting a romantic/sexual partner, and of course, there is nothing wrong with this, in theory.That’s why, if someone attempts conversation with me, I try not to immediately write them off as a “creep.” I welcome conversation and believe that the more people in my life with whom I can converse, the better off I’ll be.However (as most women know) there sometimes comes a point in a conversation with a man where it becomes necessary to draw the line and indicate that you are in no way, by any means, at all interested in pursuing anything further. There are also times when it is clear that friendly conversation is not in the cards (i.e., those men who substitute grabbing your hips and attempting to “dance” with you for a polite introduction). This is about those times.If you do a Google search for “How to avoid being hit on at a bar,” you’ll get several articles with “helpful” tips on skirting conversation with men you are not interested in. The majority of these list pretending to have (or actually having) a boyfriend/fiance/husband as the number one method for avoiding creeps (second to “pretending to be a lesbian” or “pretending to be crazy,” a la Jenna Marbles).In response to my complaints about men creeping on me at dance clubs in college, an ex-boyfriend of mine used to get cranky that I refused to whip out this cure-all excuse (one of many reasons he is an ex).Yes, this may be the easiest and quickest way to get someone to leave you alone, but the problems associated with using this excuse far outweigh the benefits. There is a quotation that I’ve seen floating around Tumblr recently (reblogged by many of my amazing feminist Tumblr-friends) that goes as follows:
Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.This amazingly puts into one sentence what I have been attempting to explain to ex-boyfriends and friends (male and female) for years, mostly unsuccessfully. The idea that a woman should only be left alone if she is “taken” or “spoken for” (terms that make my brain twitch) completely removes the level of respect that should be expected toward that woman.It completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends. It is basically a real-life example of feminist theory at work–women (along with women’s choices, desires, etc.) being considered supplemental to or secondary to men, be it the man with whom she is interacting or the man to whom she “belongs” (see the theory of Simone de Beauvoir, the story of Adam and Eve, etc.).And the worst part of the whole situation is that we’re doing this to ourselves.This tactic also brings up the question of the alternative. If the woman in question was boyfriend-free, would she automatically be swooning in the arms of the creep harassing her? Unlikely. So why do we keep using these excuses? We’re not teaching men anything about the consequences of their behavior (i.e., polite, real conversation warrants a response while unwanted come-ons do not). We’re merely taking the easy exit, and, simultaneously, indicating to men that we agree, single girls are “fair game” for harassment.So what can we do? I think the solution is simple — we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you (and you are not interested — if you are, go for it, girl!), respond with something like this: “I’m not interested.”Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist — ”No, I said I’m not interested.”“Oh, so you have a boyfriend?”“I said, I’m not interested.”“So you’re a lesbian, then?”“Actually, I’m not interested.”“You seem crazy.”“Nope, just not interested.”Et cetera. You could even, if you were feeling particularly outspoken, engage in a bit of debate with the man in question.“Why is it that you think that just because I’m not interested, there must be an excuse? Why is it not an option that I’m simply not looking for a sexual encounter and/or something about the way that you approached me indicated to me that you have very little respect for women and therefore I would never be interested in having a sexual encounter with you regardless of my sexuality or relationship status?” (Or, ya know, switch it up as you see fit.) Questioning them back (if you have the energy) puts you back on an even playing field.I’m not saying this is easy. I’ve gotten into my fair share of arguments with men during what were supposed to be fun nights out with friends over whether or not I have the “right” to tell them to buzz off, boyfriend notwithstanding. However, there are a few reasons I continue:1. So that maybe, possibly, the man I’m speaking to, or other men observing the encounter, may learn something about the agency of women,2. So that maybe, possibly I might be inspiring other women observing to do the same so that one day, we can be a huge kickass collective of ladies standing up for our right to go crazy on the dance floor without being hassled, and3. So that I can go home that night, sweaty and tired and happy, and know that I gave myself all the respect that I deserve.
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of feminist-centered publications advocating for this absolute freedom of choice, like feminism is a completely value-free bubble in which we are supposed to judge every decision (made by a woman) as equal to all other decisions. I disagree with the author of this post on many (most) of her other points—a quick look at her list of articles should tell you why—but I have to begrudgingly admit that she has a point here. Why are women being asked—by other women—to support someone, regardless of her choices, just because she is another woman? The same is certainly not asked of men.
I find this idea infuriating beyond belief for the simple fact that without discrimination between “good choices” and “bad choices” (based on sociological facts and not arbitrary cultural values), the movement cannot and will not progress. I’m not talking about whether or not to shave your legs or change your last name when you get married—those personal choices are mainly inconsequential to the larger movement of feminism (in today’s world). But in larger ideological conversations, this “all ideas are good ideas!” attitude just doesn’t work.
Take, for example, Michelle Goldberg’s recent article on the state of “Twitter feminism.” (If you follow a single feminist on Twitter, you’ve probably already heard about it. Essentially, Goldberg argues that the environment of online feminist activism has become fraught with hostility and preoccupied with the struggle to claim the least privilege—or the most victimhood, depending on how you look at it. These arguments have erupted mainly along racial lines, but this “call out culture” is alive and well in conversations apart from race as well—for proof, I point to nearly everything published by Jezebel. It seems that in lieu of participating in the reprehensible “tone-policing,” we’ve become (or are expected to be) supportive of all speech by women, including that which is hateful, angry, malicious, ill-informed or presumptive.
Many have claimed that Goldberg intended to “silence” the voices of angry feminists and black women with this piece, but I disagree. Her thesis was not that people do not have the right to speak out angrily and hatefully—of course they do. Her point, and mine as well, is that we should value more highly civil, understanding, mutually educational conversation because it’s beneficial—and I would say necessary—for the greater good. Calling out a fellow woman on her ignorance is a good choice, and doing so in a way that can educate her instead of isolating her is a good choice as well. If you can get your message of equality across to a larger number of people with your words, you are doing better for the movement than someone who is using Twitter to hate-blast everyone with which they disagree. And yet, it seems we’re afraid to say that, because we’ll be upsetting the delicate balance of “support” that we’ve been slowly building up.
But here’s the thing. By focusing solely on supporting individual choices and freedoms, and shying away from critiquing the choices of other women, we’re ensuring that we don’t make progress for the larger movement. Maybe I’m a “bad feminist,” but my type of feminism is more like a set of principles—best practices that we should hold as the ideal. Obviously, ideals are not always attainable. But much like the Kantian idea of a moral act, we must at least attempt to do our feminist duty.
Let’s take, for example, the debate over whether or not it’s necessary to report one’s rape or sexual assault. Clearly, reporting a rape is an extremely traumatic experience—at times, just as traumatic as the attack itself. Every situation is different, and everyone experiences stress differently, so of course individual circumstances—the identity of the attacker, the support system in place within the law enforcement or university system—will affect how difficult it is for a person to report their attack.
However, I firmly believe that reporting rape and sexual assault is the undoubtedly better choice, sociologically speaking. More reported rapes means a better chance of law enforcement being able to identify a pattern, a better chance that an attacker will be caught, convicted, and prevented from attacking again, and more accurate rape statistics. This is the better option from the standpoint of the women’s movement, and it baffles me that many of late are hesitant to say so.
I say this not to shame those who are uncomfortable reporting their rapes, but to point out that once we identify an “ideal” choice—all women (and men, for that matter) reporting their attacks—we can focus on changing the systems in place that make it difficult to achieve that ideal. Installing rape advocacy counselors in hospitals and police stations, ensuring that a female officer is available at the victim’s request, holding mandatory training on sensitivity to sexual assault victims, and enforcing punishments when an officer ignores protocol are all ways that the process can be improved. But if not reporting is equally as “good” as reporting, there is no pressure to improve these things. If the question on which we are focusing is “should we report or should we not?,” we’re getting nowhere.
In response to my first-ever Luna Luna article, way back in September—I was such a baby feminist then!—I got a lot of feedback from women who simply didn’t want to have this conversation with men during their fun night out. This is understandable, completely, especially since it sometimes feels like we could spend every waking moment explaining (mostly to men) why the status quo is problematic. And yes, “I have a boyfriend” will end the situation quickly. This is the type ofpatriarchal bargaining that women deal with on a daily basis.
However, there needs to be some women who are able to see—and willing to stand up for—the “greater good” of feminism, even when it’s inconvenient, even when it’s uncomfortable, and even when it requires us to take a stance and say “there is a better choice, and this is it.” Even if this makes us lose a few “followers” in the meantime. Because, otherwise, we’re stagnant.
The “not all men” defense against feminist arguments is infuriating and unhelpful, but it also represents a weird kind of progress
Water is Life, an organization working to provide clean drinking water, released “The Girl Who Couldn’t Cry” — a PSA that tells the tragic story of a young girl born in the slums of India.
The story shows that the girl cannot cry despite the endless hardships she endures all her life, like being raised in a brothel, working as rag picker, and being forced into child marriage.
The shocking reveal is that the girl could not produce tears because of extreme dehydration due to lack of clean drinking water.
The PSA depicts an extreme storyline to emphasize that dehydration can worsen desperate situations.