22 Fierce, Feminist Celebrities Who Use Their Fame for Good
Though there's still a lot of work to be done, the tides of equality appear to be changing in the entertainment industry. Thanks to inclusion riders, vocal allies and activists, and the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, women are becoming an increasingly visible part of the picture. In honor of International Women's Day, here's a look at just some of the many influential feminist celebs who have spoken out for women's rights and equality. (Photos via Getty Images)
Jessica Chastain: The Zero Dark Thirty star is one of the most vocal proponents of equality in Hollywood, not just for women in general, but also, importantly, for women of color, who face an even steeper uphill battle when it comes to wages and opportunities. Last year, Chastain's friend and colleague Octavia Spencer revealed that the actress fought for her to receive equal pay on a project they were doing together, which resulted in Spencer earning five times what she was initially offered. "I love that woman because she's walking the walk and she's actually talking the talk," Spencer said during a Women Breaking Barriers panel at Sundance. (Photo via Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Critics' Choice Awards)
Shonda Rhimes: As the writer and producer of some of TV's biggest and most beloved shows — including, of course, Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder — Rhimes not only creates worlds where women are in charge, but also strives for representation of racially diverse and LGBTQ-inclusive story lines. She puts women in positions of power off-screen, too, through her company, Shondaland, which recently teamed up with SeriesFest to launch an initiative supporting female television directors. With a new multi-year, multi-million-dollar development deal at Netflix, we're hoping to see even more of that leadership and vision in the coming years. (Photo via Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Emma Watson: Now as famous for her activism as for her acting, Watson uses her platform to fight for women's rights every chance she gets. After being named a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in 2014, she led a gender-equality campaign called #HeForShe, which challenges men to commit to standing in solidarity with women in the fight against sexism. She also isn't afraid to speak out in interviews and on social media — or to confront her own biases and privilege, as she did in a January 2018 letter acknowledging her "white feminism."
"When I gave my UN speech in 2015, so much of what I said was about the idea that being a feminist is simple! Easy! No problem!" she wrote to her book club. "I have since learned that being a feminist is more than a single choice or decision. It's an interrogation of self. Every time I think I've peeled all the layers, there's another layer to peel." (Photo via Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Emma Thompson: Thompson, a self-proclaimed "radical feminist," continues to walk the walk in Hollywood and beyond. Recently, she quit the animated film Luck after the company, Skydance, hired John Lasseter, who left Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2018 over sexual harassment allegations.
"I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women's bodies, whether they like it or not, is not going to change overnight. Or in a year," Thompson wrote in an open letter. "But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out — like me — do not take this sort of a stand, then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter's generation." (Photo via Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Disney)
Anne Hathaway: Through her work as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Hathaway has championed affordable child care services and paid parental leave for men and women. On International Women's Day in 2017, she gave a speech explaining that it's "not about taking days off work; it is about creating freedom to define roles, to choose how to invest time, and to establish new, positive cycles of behavior."
That means "shifting our language — and therefore our consciousness — away from gender and toward opportunity," she said. "Let us honor our own parents' sacrifice by creating a path for a fairer, farther-reaching truth to define all our lives, especially the lives of our children. Because paid parental leave does more than give more time for parents to spend with their children. It changes the story of what children observe, and will for themselves imagine possible." (Photo via Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Lili Reinhart: The Riverdale star frequently speaks out about the damaging double standards women face in Hollywood and beyond. Whether she's calling out unrealistically Photoshopped images and impossible beauty standards, or fighting back against the toxic culture of body-shaming, Reinhart is a constant voice of reason, and we love her for it.
"I think about when I have kids in the future," she said in a speech at Glamour's 2018 Women of the Year summit. "Will my daughter be self-conscious about gaining weight? Will she feel the need to explain her body or justify it to anyone as it changes? Will she feel the same need that I do now — to apologize to her peers and say, 'My body doesn't usually look like this,' or 'I'm just a little heavier than usual right now'? How utterly ridiculous is it that we even think about explaining the nature of our bodies to other people?" (Photo via Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
Jennifer Lopez: In addition to her work as a singer, actress, TV personality, and producer, Lopez is committed to making positive change in the world. Back in 2009, the multi-talented star teamed up with her sister Lynda to start the Lopez Family Foundation, which aims to improve access to quality health care services and education for women and children. Six years later, in 2015, she was named the UN Foundation's first-ever Global Advocate for Girls and Women.
"Becoming a mother has made me more aware of the struggles of women and children throughout the world," she said when the news was announced. "While some progress has been made, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done for gender equality and universal access to medical care. I am happy to be joining the UN Foundation and eager to lend my voice and ensure that all girls and women are safe, healthy, educated, and empowered." (Photo via Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Variety)
Amy Poehler: Poehler practices the sort of no-nonsense feminism that we would have hoped would be the norm by 2019. From producing women-led projects like Broad City to amplifying female voices through her Amy Poehler's Smart Girls organization, the Parks and Recreation star puts her money where her mouth is. In an interview in 2013, she said that being a feminist is "just who I am, in the same way that I'm a woman, or I'm 5'2" or whatever." Leslie Knope would be proud. (Photo via Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Hulu)
Amandla Stenberg: Although just 20, Stenberg has been speaking for years about difficult and complex issues, particularly those that affect marginalized people. In 2015, as part of a school project, the Hate U Give star created a viral video called "Don't Cash Crop My Cornrows," which explored the problem of cultural appropriation. Since then, Stenberg has become a well-known social activist and an influential voice in the Black and LGBTQ+ communities. (Photo via Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MTV)
Angelina Jolie: Although she's still a force on-screen, Jolie's acting is second to her philanthropic work, which includes causes that focus specifically on helping young girls and women. In addition to working with the Council on Foreign Relations and founding the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation to aid conservation and infrastructure efforts in Cambodia, the Maleficent star does a lot of work on behalf of refugees and survivors of sexual violence. She's also an advocate for women's rights and female empowerment in Hollywood and around the world.
"Equality is not about us all being the same," she told French Vogue in 2018. "It is about the freedom to make our own choices and live our own lives fully, not at the expense of men, but alongside men. It is not about taking each other down but building each other up." (Photo via Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)
Mariska Hargitay: Not unlike her Law & Order: SVU character, Olivia Benson, Hargitay fights to protect survivors of sexual abuse and violence. In part because of her work on the show and what she learned in preparing for it, she started the Joyful Heart Foundation, which aims to "transform society's response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse; support survivors' healing; and end this violence forever." (Photo via Michael Tran/Getty Images)
Oprah Winfrey: As any Oprah Show viewer knows from watching her epic audience giveaways, Winfrey has never been shy about sharing her good fortune. These days, though, instead of handing out cars, she hands out opportunities. In 2007, she founded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a school in South Africa that provides education and opens doors for "academically gifted girls who come from disadvantaged backgrounds." The students, in turn, pay it forward and help support their communities.
"My hope was that I would give them an opportunity to see the best of themselves reflected through an open mind, an open heart, to what is possible," Winfrey told Variety when the Academy celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2017. "I can honestly say I have achieved that." (Photo via Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
Ellen Pompeo: On International Women's Day in 2018, Pompeo called out the sexist suggestion that two of her fellow Grey's costars were written off the show in order to accommodate her pay raise — a claim that incorrectly and unfairly pit the women against each other. Showrunner Krista Vernoff also defended the actress, noting that Pompeo has always "advocated passionately for her fellow cast members" and championed the empowerment of women worldwide.
Indeed, the Grey's Anatomy star has been known to wield her hard-earned position of power in the industry to help out other women, and particularly women of color, for whom representation and equal pay remain more difficult to achieve. "As Caucasian people, it's our job, it's our task," she said in one memorable panel in 2018. "It's our responsibility to make sure that we speak up in every single room we walk into. … It's our job because we've created the problem." (Photo via Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for InStyle)
Mindy Kaling: Kaling has the kind of unabashed confidence in real life that her Office character, Kelly Kapoor, had on the show. And why shouldn't she? Kaling has released two comedic memoirs; created and starred in her own successful sitcom, The Mindy Project; and appeared on the big screen in movies including Ocean's 8 and A Wrinkle in Time. She also wrote the upcoming feminist comedy Late Night, starring another woman on our list, Emma Thompson. In short, Kaling is a boss.
She's also proof that feminism isn't about doing or being any one thing; it's about the option to do or be anything. "I was not someone who should have the life I have now, and yet I do," she said in a commencement speech at Dartmouth in 2018. "I was sitting in the chair you are literally sitting in right now and I just whispered, 'Why not me?'" (Photo via Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Reese Witherspoon: In addition to her fierce on-screen feminist heroics as Legally Blonde's Elle Woods (who will return to the screen for a third movie in 2020), Witherspoon is actively working to amplify more female voices — and more diverse female voices — with her film, TV, podcast, and book projects through Hello Sunshine, her women-centric production company.
She's also involved in various women's advocacy organizations, including the YWCA, UN Women, and Time's Up, which she helped launch in 2018. "We have been siloed off from each other," she told the New York Times of teaming up with the likes of Shonda Rhimes and Eva Longoria on the project. "We're finally hearing each other, and seeing each other, and now locking arms in solidarity with each other, and in solidarity for every woman who doesn't feel seen, to be finally heard." (Photo via Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Turner)
Meghan Markle: Markle's activism has become more high-profile since she married Prince Harry in 2018, but her passion for philanthropy and humanitarianism began long before she joined the royal family. Prior to her relationship with Harry, she served as the UN Women's Advocate for Women's Political Participation and Leadership, visited the Gihembe refugee camp in Rwanda, and worked as a counselor at One Young World summits in both Ireland and Canada. She also wrote a 2017 article called "How Periods Affect Potential," which highlighted the ways in which a lack of access to tampons or pads can impede a woman's opportunities and success.
Now, as the Duchess of Sussex, Markle is making support for women a cornerstone of her royal duties. One of her first charity initiatives was a cookbook by and for women affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. And in January 2019, she announced her patronage of Smart Works, an organization that helps women re-enter the workforce. "Women don't need to find their voice," she said at a royal engagement last summer. "They need to feel empowered to use it and people need to be encouraged to listen." (Photo via Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Gemma Chan: Back in 2014, Chan joined the No More Page 3 campaign, which fought to have non-contextual topless photos of women removed from the British tabloid The Sun. "A picture of a naked woman isn't in itself a sexist thing, but it's the context of having those pictures in the most ubiquitous newspaper and the culture that creates," she said at the time. "It influences boys and girls growing up as to how they view a woman's place in society."
The Crazy Rich Asians star is also a vocal proponent for more substantial, diverse, and complex roles for Asian actors in Hollywood. And she's done a lot of work with the UK branch of the Time's Up movement, which now has a Justice and Equality Fund to match the US project's Legal Defense Fund. (Photo via Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)
Kerry Washington: A real-life gladiator, Washington frequently tackles topics such as equal pay, reproductive rights, education, affordable health care, and domestic violence. "The truth is, actors are activists no matter what, and we embody the worth and humanity of all people," she said at the 2017 SAG Awards, in response to critics saying actors should stick to acting and not get political. Perhaps not coincidentally, that moment came just a couple of weeks after the inaugural Women's March, where Washington gave a memorable speech telling people that their voices matter, regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or any other distinction people might use against them. (Photo via Noam Galai/Getty Images for New York Magazine)
Beyoncé: "Feminist" isn't just a word on an LED sign that Beyoncé projects onstage during the VMAs — it's a defining principle of her life and work. Her entire career is a case in point, from songs like "Flawless," which samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "We Should All Be Feminists" TED Talk, to performances like the aforementioned 2014 VMAs set and her 2017 Super Bowl Halftime Show, which also incorporated Black Lives Matter activism. Who run the world? Girls. And, specifically, Beyoncé. (Photo via Mike Coppola/Getty Images for People.com)
Brie Larson: Some of the most memorable moments from recent Oscars telecasts have been thanks to Larson and her support of women. Who could forget when she hugged each woman who participated in Lady Gaga's 2016 performance of "'Til It Happens to You"? Or, even more notably, when she showed solidarity for survivors in her refusal to clap for Casey Affleck, who was previously accused of sexual harassment, after presenting him with the Best Actor Oscar in 2017?
Now starring as Captain Marvel in the MCU's first female-led superhero movie, the actress has said she's proud of the film's intersectional feminism and depiction of female friendships. "There's just no question that we would have to show what it means to be all different kinds of women," she told Entertainment Weekly. Amen. (Photo via Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)
Alicia Keys: Keys, who received Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for her activism, created a feminist anthem in 2012's "Girl on Fire." A few years later, she took an unprecedented step when she publicly declared that she was ditching makeup. "I don't want to cover up anymore," she wrote in a Lenny Letter at the time. "Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing."
Although she has since clarified that she will "wear red lipstick and put eyelashes on" if she wants, it's exactly that condition — that it be on her own terms — that makes her stance so powerful. (Photo via Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Ariana Grande: The "Thank U, Next" singer has always been critical of sexism in the music industry and continues to publicly call out people like Piers Morgan for their unsolicited opinions on how women should dress and act (even if it appears the two have since made up). Grande also spent much of 2018 speaking out against people who blamed her for the behavior of her ex-boyfriends — and we have a feeling 2019 will only bring more empowering messages from the young singer. (Photo via Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
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