Life

The top 50 most empowering feminist quotes of all time

Posted by
Abi Jackson
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Throughout history women have battled against inequality and discrimination, died for their right to vote, suffered gross misconduct and generally been sidelined because of their gender. And yet, along the way, they have continued to fight for equality and to make their voice heard, whatever the risks.

Nothing makes us prouder to be women than an empowering quote from an inspirational feminist who has struggled for the freedoms we know today.

From Maya Angelou to Emma Watson, from the funny to the moving; we've compiled 50 of the greatest feminist quotes from women throughout history.

Words: Bethany Barley / Images: Rex Features

  • Betty Friedan, writer & activist

    “No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor.” 

  • Madeleine Albright, politician

    “There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

  • Rebecca West, writer

    “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

  • Kate Nash, singer

    “Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a ‘bitch’ or ‘dyke’; it means you believe in equality.”    

  • Hillary Clinton, politician

    “I believe the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st Century.”

  • Ani DiFranco, singer

    “My idea of feminism is self-determination, and it’s very open-ended: every woman has the right to become herself, and do whatever she needs to do.”       

  • Maya Angelou, writer

    “I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”

  • Martina Navratilova, tennis player

    “I think the key is for women not to set any limits.”

  • Kathryn Bigelow, director & writer

    “If there's specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can't change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies.”

  • Emma Watson, actor & activist

    “It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are.”

  • Beyoncé, singer

    “Who run the world? Girls.”

  • Emmeline Pankhurst, suffragette

    “We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.”

  • Louise Brealey, actor & writer

    "I’d like every man who doesn’t call himself a feminist to explain to the women in his life why he doesn’t believe in equality for women.”

  • Mary Shelley, writer

    “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

  • Michelle Obama, lawyer

    “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens.”

  • Nancy Pelosi, politician

    “Women are leaders everywhere you look -- from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household. Our country was built by strong women, and we will continue to break down walls and defy stereotypes."

  • Helen Mirren, actor

    “I think every woman in our culture is a feminist. They may refuse to articulate it, but if you were to take any woman back 40 years and say, ‘Is this a world you want to live in?’, they would say ‘No.’”

  • Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister 1979-1990

    "If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

  • Lena Dunham, writer & director

    “The idea of being a feminist- so many women have come to this idea of it being anti-male and not able to connect with the opposite sex – but what feminism is about is equality and human rights.”

  • Taylor Swift, singer

    “My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet, is that they all realise their worth and ask for it.”

  • Rosalyn Yalow, medical physicist & 1977 Nobel Prize winner

    “We cannot expect in the immediate future that all women who seek it will achieve full equality of opportunity. But if women are to start moving towards that goal, we must believe in ourselves or no one else will believe in us; we must match our aspirations with the competence, courage and determination to succeed.”

  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, writer

    “There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver.”

  • Malala Yousafzai, activist & 2014 Nobel prize winner

    “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”

  • Yoko Ono, artist

    “There’s many women now who think, ‘Surely we don’t need feminism anymore, we’re all liberated and society’s accepting us as we are.’ Which is all hogwash. It’s not true at all.”

     

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton, US suffragette

    “The best protection any woman can have… is courage.”

  • Angelina Jolie, actor & activist

    “Women are still treated as secondary issues. It is still far too easy and accepted for leaders to ignore uncomfortable truths… Women, we know, are the first to be affected by war, and the last to be taken into account when it ends.”

  • Jane Austen, writer

    “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”

  • Karren Brady, businesswoman

    “I always say, women have brains and uteruses, and are able to use both."

  • Naomi Wolf, writer

    “For I conclude that the enemy is not lipstick, but guilt itself; we deserve lipstick, if we want it, AND free speech; we deserve to be sexual AND serious – or whatever we please. We are entitled to wear cowboy boots to our own revolution.”

  • Gloria Steinem, writer and activist

    “The best way for us to cultivate fearlessness in our daughters and other young women is by example. If they see their mothers and other women in their lives going forward despite fear, they'll know it's possible.”

  • Keira Knightley, actor

    “I think it’s great that the discussions are finally being allowed to be had, as opposed to anybody mentioning feminism and everybody going, ‘Oh, f***ing shut up.’ Somehow, it became a dirty word. I thought it was really weird for a long time, and I think it’s great that we’re coming out of that.”

     

  • Antonella Gambotto-Burke, journalist

    “It is only through my daughter that I have come to realise that a life without femininity – devoid of mystery, emotion, gentleness and the unerring power of a woman’s love – is no life at all.”

  • Evita Peron, politician

    “I know that, like every woman of the people, I have more strength than I appear to have.”

  • Caitlin Moran, writer

    “Do you have a vagina? And do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations – you’re a feminist!”

  • Diane von Furstenberg, fashion designer

    “I’ve never met a woman who is not strong, but sometimes they don’t let it out. Then there’s a tragedy, and then all of a sudden that strength comes. My message is let the strength come out before the tragedy.”

  • Ellen Page, actor

    “Feminism always gets associated with being a radical movement – good. It should be.”

  • Virginia Woolf, writer

    "As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world."

  • Zaha Hadid, architect

    “Women are always told, 'You're not going to make it, it’s too difficult, you can't do that, don't enter this competition, you'll never win it,' - they need confidence in themselves and people around them to help them to get on.”

  • Julie Burchill, writer

    "A good part - and definitely the most fun part - of being a feminist is about frightening men."

  • Sojourner Truth, activist

    “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

  • Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO

    “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

  • Marilyn Monroe, actor

    “I'm very definitely a woman and I enjoy it.”

  • Louisa May Alcott, writer

    “The emerging woman ... will be strong-minded, strong-hearted, strong-souled, and strong-bodied...strength and beauty must go together.”

  • J.K. Rowling, writer

    “Very early on in writing the series, I remember a female journalist saying to me that Mrs Weasley, 'Well, you know, she’s just a mother.' And I was absolutely incensed by that comment. Now, I consider myself to be a feminist, and I’d always wanted to show that just because a woman has made a choice, a free choice to say, 'Well, I’m going to raise my family and that’s going to be my choice. I may go back to a career, I may have a career part time, but that’s my choice.' Doesn’t mean that that’s all she can do. And as we proved there in that little battle, Molly Weasley comes out and proves herself the equal of any warrior on that battlefield.”

  • Aung San Suu Kyi, politician

    "The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all."

  • Simone de Beauvoir, writer

    “The point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hands, since that wouldn’t change anything about the world. It’s a question precisely of destroying that notion of power.”

  • Jessica Valenti, activist

    “Value yourself for what the media doesn't - your intelligence, your street smarts, your ability to play a kick-ass game of pool, whatever. So long as it's not just valuing yourself for your ability to look hot in a bikini and be available to men, it's an improvement.”

  • Annie Lennox, singer & political activist

    “We all fight over what the label 'feminism' means, but for me it's about empowerment. It's not about being more powerful than men - it's about having equal rights with protection, support, justice. It's about very basic things. It's not a badge like a fashion item.”

  • Amy Poehler, actor

    “I think some big actors and musicians feel like they have to speak to their audience and that word [feminism] is confusing to their audience. But I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.”

  • Margaret Sanger, activist & sex educator

    “A woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression."

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