Some of you may not know this, but March is Women’s History Month! This month is meant to celebrate and draw attention to the contributions of women throughout history, a primarily overlooked component of our shared history. It also perfectly aligns with International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8 every year and has been ever since the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference.
Since this Friday is International Women’s Day, I thought I’d do my own celebrating through a week (well, four days - I had a pre-scheduled review on Monday!) of posts related to women. For my first post, I wanted to share 10 of my favourite quotes by women, from either distant or near history. These women are often noted as being “powerful” women, although I think it must be said that all women are powerful. These are just the ones who history has noted, though so many stories and influential figures have been left to slip through the cracks over time. With each of the quotes, I’ve put a little sentence or two about the woman who was quoted, so that maybe you might learn something new about women in history today that might just encourage you to look deeper into the lives of these fascinating women!
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“I ask no favour for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” - Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933) is currently serving as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As one of few women in her class, she attended first Harvard University and then Columbia University for law school, where she graduated first in her class. Her career has been marked by significant advocacy for the rights and equality of women, perhaps most controversially supporting abortion rights in a time where abortions were particularly scandalized. She has been a justice on the Supreme Court since 1993.
“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn. We are filled with the popular wisdom of several centuries just past, and we are terrified to give it up.” - Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) is a journalist, feminist, and activist who has spent the majority of her life on the road. Creator of the liberal feminist magazine, Ms., she has spent her career actively fighting for gender equality, travelling across the nation in order to speak to and learn from a wide variety of American groups. She has also been involved in a number of political campaigns, from the late 1960s onwards.
“Here’s what I think. Feminism is not here to dictate to you. It’s not prescriptive, it’s not dogmatic. All we are here to do is give you a choice.” - Emma Watson
Emma Watson (b. 1990) is mostly known for her decade-long role as young witch Hermione Granger in the popular Harry Potter movie series. After filming the final instalment of the series, she continued her education at Brown University where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. She has since been appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, has travelled globally to promote education for girls, and has spoken at the UN Headquarters to launch the HeForShe campaign.
“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” - Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 - 1797) was an English writer and early women’s rights advocate. Her most well known work is her feminist writing, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) in which she opposed the presumption that women have a natural inferiority to men. This position was extremely controversial in an era where women had prescribed roles in society which placed them below men. She was also mother to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of the Gothic novel Frankenstein (1818) and another boundary-pushing woman of her time.
“No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.” - Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai (b. 1997) is a Pakistani woman who is an activist for education of girls. In 2012, while on a bus after an exam, Malala was shot in an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman who opposed her activism. Although she was hit in the head with a bullet, she recovered fully and now continues her activist work, despite further threats from the Taliban. She has since written a bestselling memoir called I Am Malala and in 2014, she became the youngest Noble Peace Prize laureate at 17 years old.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.” - Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë (1816 - 1855) was an English novelist and a third of the famous Brontë sisters. Charlotte lived a short life plagued with tragedy - she watched her sisters pass away before succumbing to a pregnancy-related illness herself. While she wasn’t outspoken about women’s rights or equality, her famous novel Jane Eyre was driven by progressive ideas, such as the right for women to have an occupation and inner beauty. This quote from Jane Eyre is quite personal to me, and I think it really embodies women’s independence.
“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” - Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou (1928 - 2014) was an American poet and civil rights activist. Her work, particularly her autobiographies, have raised awareness of racism and sexism, through her own experiences of both throughout her lifetime. In 1993, she became the first female poet (and second poet ever) to recite poetry at an inauguration of a president. Her writings displayed the importance of intersectionality - she was not a feminist, nor a civil rights activist, but rather a combination of both.
“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes.’ They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.’” - Clare Boothe Luce
Clare Boothe Luce (1903 - 1987) was an American author and politician who was the first woman to be appointed as a U.S. Ambassador to another country. While she was not entirely feminist in her thinking, expressed most prominently through her belief that all women must marry and have children, her determination in progressing in her career, despite possible discrimination against her gender, made her a strong female role model in that sense.
“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.” - Jane Austen, Persuasion
Jane Austen (1775 - 1817) was an English novelist who wrote six main completed novels in her lifetime, two of which were published posthumously. Her novels analyzed and critiqued the English landed gentry, as well as place importance on a marriage for love rather than marriage for financial purposes. In her novels, she portrays women as being strong, independent and often courageous, which has led many scholars to view her writing as early feminism.
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” - Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde (1934 - 1992) was an American writer, feminist, and civil rights activist. Throughout her career, she brought issues of race, sexuality, and gender to light through her writing, most specifically her poetry. She simultaneously attended Hunter College and worked to fund her education, and then after her graduation in 1959, she got her master’s degree in library science at Columbia University.