Alice Walker is an American poet, novelist, short story writer, and activist. Her critically acclaimed novel, The Color Purple, snagged her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award. She went on to pen Meridian and The Third Life of Grange Copeland, as well as other pieces.
Alice met Martin Luther King Jr. as a student at Spelman College and credits King as the inspiration behind her decision to return to the American South and join the Civil Rights Movement. She was involved in the 1963 March on Washington and volunteered to register black voters in Georgia and Mississippi. Alice was arrested outside The White House on the 8th March 2003 (International Women’s Day), along with 26 others for crossing a police line during an anti-war rally.
Throughout her life Alice has been a feminist advocate with her own ‘Walker’ brand of feminism that includes advocating for of women of color. In 1983 she coined the term ‘womanism’ as a banner for ‘Black feminism’ intended to unite all feminists of colour, stating that “Womanism” gives us a word of our own.”
Over the course of her life and career, Alice Walker has been a rallying force for many and an inspiration to countless others (including me!). Her literary work frequently tackles difficult issues surrounding life for people (and especially women) or colour.
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
Essential Reading: The Colour Purple | Meridian
Caitlin Moran is an author, journalist, and broadcaster at The Times. She has three weekly columns, a TV review column, a column in their Saturday Magazine, and ‘Celebrity Watch’, satirical Friday column. Always an avid writer, Caitline won a Dillons young readers’ contest at the tender age of 13 for an essay on Why I Like Books and hasn’t stopped since. At 15 she won The Observer’s Young Reporter of the Year and began her career in journalism at 16 when she started writing for Melody Maker, a weekly music publication. The same year she wrote her first novel, The Chronicles of Narmo, which was inspired by life as a member of a home-schooled family.
Caitlin was the British Press Awards (BPA) Columnist of the Year in 2010, and both Interviewer of the Year and BPA Critic of the Year in 2011. In 2012 the London Press Club named here Columnist of the Year and Culture Commentator. She was named as one of Britain’s most influential women in the BBC Woman’s Hour power list 2014.
She launched her television career in 1992 as a host for the Channel 4 music show Naked City. Her TV drama/comedy series, Raised By Wolves, was first aired by Channel 4 in December 2013, and is also based on her upbringing and home schooling. This was followed by the release of her semi-autobiographical novel, How To Build a Girl, released in 2014, the first in a planned trilogy. Her non-fiction works include the wonderful How to Be a Woman, published in 2012 and selling more than 400,000 copies in 16 countries, as well as Moranifesto and Moranthology.
Caitlin is a rampaging feminist (in the best possible way) and a supporter of the Women’s Equality Party. In 2013 she organised a 24-hour boycott of Twitter to protest their failure to deal with offensive content that was being posted, sometimes anonymously, on the Twitter feeds of public figures. Her Twitter controversy didn’t stop there, however, as Caitlin’s own Twitter feed was added to the English A-Level set texts list in 2014, causing quite a stir. That same year, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism named Caitlin the most influential British journalist on Twitter.
But, of course, you might be asking yourself, ‘Am I a feminist? I might not be. I don’t know! I still don’t know what it is! I’m too knackered and confused to work it out. That curtain pole really still isn’t up! I don’t have time to work out if I am a women’s libber! There seems to be a lot to it. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?’ I understand. So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants. a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.
Essential Reading: How To Be A Woman | Moranifesto
Jenny Lawrence, aka The Bloggess, is a hugely successful internet star, blogger and author. Her site, The Bloggess, is one of the top blogs in America, and she’s a prolific blogger and Tweeter. Her memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, and her following book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, are perhaps two of the most sensitive, articulate, and side-splittingly hilarious accounts of depression and struggle with mental illness I’ve ever read.
You wouldn’t think there was much hilarity in such serious topics, but Jenny has a razor-sharp wit, which she wields with devastating accuracy to shine a light on some extremely difficult and very important issues. She has a wonderful way of making the inexplicable and decidedly dark realms of depression accessible, even to people who have never experienced such things.
Jenny has an astonishingly down-to-earth attitude for someone so successful and continues to be unassumingly genuine, brutally honest, and wonderfully funny with every new post she makes. Her world is a strange one, inhabited by taxidermy animals, full-sized wolf pelts (not kidding, she wore it to the opening of one of the Twilight films and, said pelt partly inspired one of my own novels, Bleizgeist. That wolf pelt is actually the reason I found Jenny, as I was searching for images of women wearing wolf pelts – don’t judge me, it was writing research! – and I found the photo of her at the Twilight premier wearing ‘Wolf Blitzer’).
When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.
Essential Reading: Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
[Tweet theme=”tweet-box-shadow”]@TheBloggess wields her razor-sharp wit with devastating accuracy, shining a light on #MentalIllness. [/Tweet]
The author of the hugely popular and seriously fabulous Harry Potter series needs little introduction. But JK Rowling is far more than simply a successful children’s author. She’s never made a secret of her personal struggles, and the difficulties she had getting her books published, and writing them to begin with. She’s spoken openly about her struggles with depression, money issues, and time spent on the dole while struggling to support herself and her daughter, and finish her books.
Rowling’s Commencement speech at Harvard University is one of the most inspiring and oft-quoted considerations of the benefits of failure I’ve ever heard. Not only has this woman reconnected people of all ages with the Fantasy genre and the wonders of magic and mythology, but she continues to speak and act about very real issues facing people in the everyday world.
Rowling is also a tremendous humanitarian, and despite earning billions of pounds from her writing and other work remains astonishingly grounded. She actually lost her place on the various lists of successful billionaires because she was no longer worth that much (in monetary terms), having given so much money away to charity.
We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.
Essential Reading: Very Good Lives | The Harry Potter Series
Essential Viewing: Harvard University Commencement Speech On Failure
Lena Dunham is an American writer, actress, producer, and director, best known for being the creator, writer, and star of HBO series Girls. She’s received multiple Emmy award nominations and two Golden Globe awards for the series, and her work on the show led to her becoming the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Comedy Series in 2013. The same year, Lena was on the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world, and in 2014 she released her first book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”.
Lena is also the founder of Lenny Letter, a feminist online newsletter supported by Hearst Corporation advertising, and created with her good friend and Girls show runner Jennifer Konner.
When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself. You are not made up of compartments! You are one whole person! What gets said to you gets said to all of you, ditto what gets done. Being treated like shit is not an amusing game or a transgressive intellectual experiment. It’s something you accept, condone, and learn to believe you deserve. This is so simple. But I tried so hard to make it complicated.
Essential Reading: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She Has Learned
Essential Viewing: Girls
Lindy West is an American writer, feminist, film criticism editor, and fat acceptance movement activist. Lindy began working as a film editor in 2009, for The Stranger, an alternative weekly newspaper based in Seattle. Lindy has worked as a staff writer for Jezebel, where she wrote extensively on sexism, fat shaming, and racism. She’s also been published in the Daily Telegraph, New York Daily New, GQ, Vulture.com, Cracked.com, Deadspin, and The Guardian. In 2013, Lindy won the Women’s Media Center Social Media Award.
In 2015 Lindy co-founded Shout Your Abortion, a social media campaign on Twitter, giving women a forum for sharing their abortion stories without ‘sadness, shame or regret’ – the purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness of the issue and destigmatise it so that women could be free to chose what was best for them and their child without shame.
Lindy’s book, Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman, is the wonderfully uplifting and often hilarious story of how Lindy went from being a socially anxious, quite-as-a-mouse nerd to a powerful, vocal, and decidedly loud advocate for women and women’s issues.
The narrative for girls is that you just hang around and wait to be “chosen” and then you belong to somebody and you live happily ever after. There isn’t room for more nuanced concerns about the creepy proprietary nature of that relationship model, or the breadth of what fulfillment really means for women.