International Women’s Day: Who can you celebrate this year?

inspiring women

Audre Lorde

Who is Audre Lorde?

Self-described as “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde’s work against the forces of sexism, classism, racism, and homophobia have cemented her position as an icon of the 20th century.

Born in 1934 in New York, poetry was a fundamental tool to Lorde’s communication style. She learned to use poetry to express herself and her feelings on the important issues of the day. After making a name for herself as a respected writer and leading activist, Lorde moved to Berlin to take on a professorship at the Free University. In fact, Lorde traveled the globe as a popular guest speaker and educator on ideologies and social movements.

After years of influential work, Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer and died at the early age of 58 in Saint Croix, where she had been living with her partner, the artist Gloria I. Joseph.

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. – Audre Lorde

Why is Audre Lorde a feminist icon?

Audre Lorde is one of the key feminist heroes of all time. Through her work in poetry and social activism, she created a new form of feminist theory and political concepts. Initially turning from the term “Feminist”, Lorde found it was too concerned with the oppression of white, cis-women. Although intersectional feminism would soon arise, Lorde did not feel represented by these early ideologies and instead coined the term “womanism”. This term encompassed the experiences and needs of women of color and was much more inclusive.

If you identify as an intersectional feminist, you have been influenced by Audre Lorde’s work – whether you knew it or not!

Works to Know:

  • The Berlin Years: 1984–1992
  • The Black Unicorn
  • Sister Outsider

Clara Zetkin

Who is Clara Zetkin?

Leading Communist icon and feminist thinker, Clara Zetkin was born in a small village in Saxony, Germany in 1857 and enjoyed a fairly quiet childhood. However, she showed a strong interest in politics from an early age and bloomed by the time she was studying to be a teacher at university. Following a relationship with Marxist Ossip Zetkin, she became more engaged with the Social Democratic Party than ever.

Zetkin focused increasingly on women’s rights within the party, especially suffrage. She founded the SPD newspaper, “Die Gleichheit” or “Equality.” Zetkin’s beliefs moved more and more left, and she eventually left the party to become a Communist. After being exiled for this, Zetkin died in Moscow in 1933 and was given the funeral befitting a hero of the Communist movement.

clara zetkin

Why is Clara Zetkin a feminist icon?

Well, first things first, International Women’s Day has its roots in Clara Zetkin’s initial idea in 1911 to celebrate the day. Although this was with women from the working class in mind, the day has grown to include women of all origins and identities.

Known as a fiery orator, Zetkin paved the way for women participating in political change. Her impact lasted generations and not only influenced people within her own time, like Rosa Luxembourg, but also women after her.

Demet Demir

Who is Demet Demir?

Born in Yalova, Turkey in 1962, Demir is a leader of the modern intersectional feminist movement and a prominent activist for LGBTQIA+ rights. As a transwoman, Demir faced persecution at the hands of the government over a long period of time.

In 1980, she was arrested for participating in a Labour Day protest and subsequently suffered violence at the hands of the state for 15 months. After years of discrimination, Demir found support in more progressive organizations and has become a global icon for transwomen, as well as an instrument for change in Turkey.

demet demir

Why is Demet Demir a feminist icon?

After the violence and oppression of those early years, Demir found little support in the Leftist organizations she had previously supported. Realizing that it was up to her to forge a new path, Demir worked at breaking down barriers in both politics and society.

Joining the Human Rights Organization in the 1980s, Demir became a representative for trans people in Turkey, and in 1999, she even ran for city council. Although unsuccessful in her bids for public office, Demir has shone the light on the progress still necessary in Turkey and she has also become an inspiration for people across the world.

Judith Butler

Who is Judith Butler?

Born in 1956, Judith Butler is one of the most important philosophers and gender theorists of the 20th century. Their work is fundamental to the growth of third-wave feminism and has also shaped modern gender theory discourse. Butler grew up in Ohio and showed an interest in political theory from a young age. After graduating from Yale, Butler got to work on writing about gender and its role in everyday society.

Soon, their first groundbreaking piece was published. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” arrived in 1988 and suggested that gender is performed for a wider social audience and that this is particularly the case for women. Over the next 30 years, Butler has continued to create important works and dialogue around the issues of gender and other social issues.

women's day

Why is Judith Butler a feminist icon?

As a leading philosopher and critic of traditional gender identities, Butler paved the way for not only a more inclusive idea of feminism but also a more open version of what identities are.

Building on the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Butler’s notion that gender constructs are based on historical ideas means that they can change. There is no inherent quality or value that women must identify with and this removes any credibility behind the concepts of what a woman should be expected to do or be like.

Works to Know:

  • Gender Trouble (1990)
  • Bodies That Matter (1993)

Kerry Washington

Who is Kerry Washington?

Born in 1977 in New York, Washington’s creative spirit took the reins from an early age. She joined a theater troupe and took dance classes, and eventually went on to study at George Washington University. After a few years of making her name in Hollywood as an actress, Washington had her big break with the Shonda Rhimes show “Scandal.”

With her power-dressing and assertive demeanor, Washington’s character quickly became an iconic vision of a woman in a position of power. This sense of agency was behind the scenes too, when Washington became a key supporter of the Democratic Party and even went on to emcee the DNC in 2020.

women's day

Why is Kerry Washington a feminist icon?

From her characters to real life, Washington embodies the spirit of political agency and activism. This is especially important as a Black actress in the lead role of a globally popular TV drama. Alongside the awards and recognition, she has also won influence.

Washington is also one of the supporters of V-Day, a global movement that works to end violence against women and girls across the world. She has also been honored by LGBTQIA+ organizations for her work in raising awareness on issues on discrimination and the importance of equal rights across communities.

Rita Banerji

Who is Rita Banerji?

As a leading photographer, author, and activist in India, Rita Banerji has been one of the faces of the global movement against gender-based violence. From her early career as an environmentalist, Banerji began working with eco-feminists and began to focus more and more on gender-related issues.

In 2008, she published her groundbreaking work Sex and Power: Defining Histories, Shaping Societies, which looked at how different groups in power influenced social mores and attitudes to sex. She also created the 50 Million Missing campaign, which raised awareness of the issue of violence and murders faced by women in India.

women's day

It is about the recognition of women as individuals with certain fundamental rights, including that of safety and personal choices, which no one, not even the family, can violate – Rita Banerji

Why is Rita Banerji a feminist icon?

The 50 Million Missing campaign has had a far-reaching impact. With the use of photos and personal stories, Banerji put faces to the crimes against women rather than treat them as statistics. Over the years, Banerji has continued the call for dramatic changes in India and even advocates a feminist revolution.

Simone de Beauvoir

Who is Simone de Beauvoir?

Born in 1908, de Beauvoir grew up in a bourgeois household in Paris. With access to education and open-minded dialogues, she soon became politically active and engaged. After studying at the Sorbonne, de Beauvoir became a teacher until she could live solely off her writing work. After becoming romantically involved with fellow philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, they began to critique and offer feedback on each other’s theories and works.

Although they never married, the two were in a long-term, non-exclusive partnership for the rest of their lives. This both shocked society and provoked interest in their lifestyle. During her life, de Beauvoir published a number of works, but the most famous is “The Second Sex” in 1949.

women's day

“One is not born but becomes a woman” – Simone de Beauvoir

Why is Simone de Beauvoir a feminist icon?

As one of the most influential works of the feminist movement, “The Second Sex” has shaped feminist theory in the century after its publishing. Working on a deconstruction of gender identity and the social expectations of womanhood, de Beauvoir took apart many of the justifications for established gender roles. Her work also went on to influence later philosophers like Judith Butler.

kimberlé crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Who is Kimberlé Crenshaw?

Modern intersectional feminism as we know it is so young that its creator is just 61 years of age today. Born in 1959, Crenshaw is one of the most influential feminists alive today. Her groundbreaking work on the role of gender, race, economic status, and sexuality intersecting with feminist theory not only developed the movement’s ideology but made it more inclusive.

After years of studying law and teaching, Crenshaw became fundamental in developing the concept of critical race theory. Since then she has worked with think tanks around the world on shifting the lens of identity politics.

Why is Kimberlé Crenshaw a feminist icon?

Intersectionality is a core tenet of modern feminism. Encouraging people to look beyond the boundaries of their own personal experience is vital to creating an inclusive movement that is more likely to generate effective change. From her works in the 1980s and 1990s to the My Brother’s Keeper campaign, Crenshaw is a formative voice in the ongoing growth of the feminist movement.

Marielle Franco

Who is Marielle Franco?

Journalist, sociologist, feminist, politician, and human rights activist – Marielle Franco was a lot of things and was an icon of the Brazillian feminist movement. Born in a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Franco began working at the age of 11 to help support her family. The economic stress of her childhood became fundamental in shaping her drive and dedication to equality for all.

After studying at university in 2000, Franco began working for politicians and local committees. Eventually, she ran for office herself in 2016. After her election, Franco became a representative for women and the slums. She also became a voice against racial violence and spoke out on gender issues and reproductive rights.

In 2018 she criticized the police and their tendency towards violence. Soon after, she and her driver were fatally shot in their car after leaving a meeting on the rights of Black women. Two former police officers were eventually convicted of her murder.

Why is Marielle Franco a feminist icon?

Coming from the humble beginnings of working as an 11-year-old, Franco understood the imbalance of power structures at a personal level. Her work to overcome the barriers put in her way and eventually fight against them as a political representative is something like a Hollywood movie.

Unfortunately, there was no happy ending for Franco, who was murdered as a result of her efforts to fight the institutional misogyny and racism in her home country. For her bravery and strength, Franco is now a feminist icon across the globe.

Trinh T. Minh Ha

Who is Trinh T. Minh-ha?

Born in 1952 in Hanoi, Trinh T. Minh-ha is a Vietnamese icon of filmmaking, literature, and composition. She is also a professor at UC Berkeley. Growing up in southern Vietnam, Minh-ha had an incredible thirst for knowledge and excelled at a number of different fields. She then went on to study at a number of universities across the globe and has become a global leader in feminist theory and gender studies. Her work, “Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism” in 1989, was groundbreaking and has become a keystone element of modern feminism.

women's day

Being merely “a writer” without a doubt ensures one a status of far greater weight than being “a woman of color who writes” ever does. – Trinh T. Minh-Ha

Why is Trinh T. Minh-ha a feminist icon?

With her work as wide-ranging as her past, Minh-ha has created a new perspective from which to analyze modern feminism. Her work against considering things as simply one of two things not only advocates the inclusion of multiple views and experiences but also contends that binary opposition supports the patriarchal structures feminism works to end.

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