Emma Watson, Beyonce, 23 More Stars on Embracing Feminism and Empowering Women

9:55 AM 3/8/2017

by Meena Jang

In honor of International Women's Day, a look at the powerful female voices who have spoken out for women's rights and gender equality.

emma watson beyonce angelina jolie split - getty - H 2017
Steve Granitz/WireImage; Kevin Mazur/Getty Images; Omar Havana/Getty Images
  • Uzo Aduba

    Aduba readily agreed when asked by BUST if she considers herself a feminist, telling the outlet she can't imagine why someone wouldn't be.

    "All that [feminism] is trying to do is [make sure] people are being treated equally and not discriminated against because of their gender. I love that a lot of young women are taking it up and carrying the banner that was left for us," the Orange Is the New Black actress said. "I love this neo-feminist idea — defining yourself as whoever, whatever you want to be today, and it can change tomorrow, and it can change the day after that."

    She continued, "It is your definition and it’s fine to be strong, it’s fine to stand tall, it’s fine to speak up for yourself, it’s fine to not stand in the back, it’s fine to challenge whatever status quo is laid out for you without fear of consequence even though that’s what’s been dictated to us in the past. I love it. To me, it’s standing up for yourself and not being afraid to speak up. I think it’s powerful."

  • Patricia Arquette

    Arquette, who recently participated in the Women's March on Washington, notably used her platform to rally for wage equality while accepting the Oscar for best supporting actress in 2015.

    The Boyhood actress ended her speech with a call for equal rights: "To every woman who gave birth, to every tax payer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights, it's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

    At a UN conference just one month later, Arquette expanded upon her Oscars plea, saying, "Women make less than men for the same work in nearly every profession and industry, from entry-level positions to high-powered executives, no matter if you have a high-school diploma or a Ph.D. It's insidious, it's devastating."

  • Beyonce

    The Lemonade singer, in a rare 2016 interview with Elle, explained her decision to define the word "feminist" within the lyrics of her single "Flawless" and embrace the term throughout her Mrs. Carter Show tour (during which she performed in front of a backdrop with "feminist" in big, bold letters).

    "I put the definition of feminist in my song and on my tour, not for propaganda or to proclaim to the world that I'm a feminist, but to give clarity to the true meaning. I'm not really sure people know or understand what a feminist is, but it's very simple. It's someone who believes in equal rights for men and women," she told Elle. "I don't understand the negative connotation of the word, or why it should exclude the opposite sex. If you are a man who believes your daughter should have the same opportunities and rights as your son, then you're a feminist. We need men and women to understand the double standards that still exist in this world, and we need to have a real conversation so we can begin to make changes."

  • Emily Blunt

    In a THR cover story, Blunt explained how her character in The Girl on the Train, a woman who struggles with alcoholism, comments on gender roles and society's expectations.

    "A woman is a drunk, a whore, whereas the guy's like a partyer, a player," she said. "I've been around both women who drink too much and guys who drink too much and it's just as ugly on the guys. It makes me crazy. I don't think that women should be seen as any less sexual than a guy. And maybe she doesn't want to settle down, and that's OK. And maybe she doesn't want a kid, and that's OK. And she's just happy playing the field. There's so much judgment with women."

  • Zooey Deschanel

    The New Girl star defended herself against critics of feminism, telling Glamour in 2013, "I'm just being myself. There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can't be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f—ing feminist and wear a f—ing Peter Pan collar. So f—ing what?"

    When asked by the magazine if she planned to have kids, she added, "That is so personal, and it's my pet peeve when people press you on it. And it's always women who get asked! Is anybody saying that to George Clooney?"

  • Lena Dunham

    The Girls creator revealed to Paper magazine that she has identified as a feminist since early childhood. "I grew up with a mother who had come of age in the '70s and feminism was a huge part of her formative identity, and so for as long as I can remember words holding power in our household, that was one of the most powerful ones," she explained.

    "I think that she instilled it in me so deeply and I sort of thought, 'OK, she did the job and now the job is done and I just get to call myself a feminist and revel in what my mom did.' And until I came to Hollywood and started witnessing the subtle but totally systemic sexism that pervades our industry, that's when I really turned my attention to it again in a powerful way and it became a huge part of my adult identity and not just my inherited identity."

  • Jane Fonda

    Fonda penned a personal essay for Lenny Letter detailing her 30-year journey to becoming an "embodied feminist."

    In the essay, the actress admitted that she once developed an eating disorder trying to live up to society's "perfect" standard for women and often sought validation from men. At age 60, she realized, "I needed to heal the wounds patriarchy had dealt me."

    "I worry that the word patriarchy makes people's eyes glaze over with the assumption that it means 'Men are bad, and we need to change to a matriarchy,'' Fonda wrote. "But this is not about replacing one '-archy' with another, it's about transforming social and cultural norms and institutions so that power, violence, and greed are not the primary operating principles. It's not about moving from patriarchy to matriarchy, but from patriarchy to democracy. Feminism means real democracy."

  • Ariana Grande

    In a 2016 interview with Billboard, the Dangerous Woman singer spoke out against the industry's double standard in defense of women who are often criticized for showing skin.

    "If you're going to rave about how sexy a male artist looks with his shirt off, and a woman decides to get in her panties or show her boobies for a photo shoot, she needs to be treated with the same awe and admiration," said Grande. "I will say it until I'm an old-ass lady with my tits out at Whole Foods. I'll be in the produce aisle, naked at 95, with a sensible ponytail, one strand of hair left on my head and a Chanel bow."

    Grande has also publicly expressed her disdain for being defined by her romantic relationships and, for a long period in 2015, constantly being referred to as rapper Big Sean's ex-girlfriend. "I am tired of living in a world where women are mostly referred to as a man's past, present or future property/possession. I…do not. belong. to anyone. but myself. and neither do you," the singer wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.

  • Chelsea Handler

    Handler led the Women's March in Park City to protest President Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20 and fight back against the Republican party's plan to defund Planned Parenthood services nationwide.

    "America, this isn't 1957; it's 2017," the Chelsea host wrote in a column for THR about her decision to spearhead the march. "There is a movement happening. There is a groundswell of passion and conviction rising among women and men. We have an opportunity right now to stand together and use our voices to fight for the very rights women fought for and won years ago. ... We all have to stand up and fight for equal rights and opportunities. It doesn't matter who you are or what issue you're fighting for — you can make a difference."

  • Angelina Jolie

    The actress gave a speech at the 2015 African Union Summit where she spoke about the importance of women's rights nationwide.

    "There is a global epidemic of violence against women — both within conflict zones and within societies at peace — and it is still treated as a lesser crime and lower priority," Jolie said. “We need policies for long-term security that are designed by women, focused on women, executed by women — not at the expense of men, or instead of men, but alongside and with men."

    She continued, "There is no greater pillar of stability than a strong, free and educated woman. And there is no more inspiring role model than a man who respects and cherishes women and champions their leadership."

  • Anna Kendrick

    The Pitch Perfect star, in a 2015 interview with Glamour, ripped Hollywood's gender bias while explaining how actresses are treated differently than their male counterparts.

    "There's [a film I'm considering] now where I have to wait for all the male roles to be cast before I can even become a part of the conversation. Part of me gets that. [But] part of me is like, 'What the f—? You have to cast for females based on who's cast as males?'" Kendrick said. "To me, the only explanation is that there are so many f—ing talented girls, and from a business standpoint it's easier to find women to match the men. I totally stand by the belief that there are 10 unbelievably talented women for every role."

  • Alicia Keys

    The "Superwoman" singer didn't hesitate to tell Elle UK that she identifies as a feminist when she covered the magazine's 2016 Feminist Issue.

    "Let's look the definition up because I have in my mind what I feel it means," she told the outlet, going on to track down the exact definition. "'The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of political, social and economic equality' – so yes. Yes, I am a feminist, and whoever isn't is crazy. It's about owning your power, embracing your womanhood."

    Keys has stated that her decision to go makeup-free on many occasions is a deliberate response to society's expectations of women. She explained in a Lenny Letter essay, "Women are brainwashed into feeling like we have to be skinny, or sexy, or desirable, or perfect. One of the many things I was tired of was the constant judgment of women."

  • Mila Kunis

    Kunis got candid in an essay (posted to husband Ashton Kutcher's site A Plus) about her run-ins with sexism early in her career. She actress wrote that she was threatened by a Hollywood producer after refusing to pose semi-naked on the cover of a men's magazine to promote a film.

    "It's what we are conditioned to believe — that if we speak up, our livelihoods will be threatened; that standing our ground will lead to our demise. We don't want to be kicked out of the sandbox for being a 'bitch.' So we compromise our integrity for the sake of maintaining the status quo and hope that change is coming," she wrote. "Throughout my career, there have been moments when I have been insulted, sidelined, paid less, creatively ignored, and otherwise diminished based on my gender. And always, I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt; maybe they knew more, maybe they had more experience, maybe there was something I was missing."

    Rather than playing "by the rules of the boy's club," Kunis formed her own production company, Orchard Farm Productions, with three other women in 2014. Her essay was posted "in the hope of bringing one more voice to the conversation so that women in the workplace feel a little less alone and more able to push back for themselves."

  • Jennifer Lawrence

    The Passengers actress opened up about Hollywood's wage gap in an essay for Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner's Lenny Letter, in which she shared her reaction to discovering that her male co-stars in 2013's American Hustle were making twice her pay. 

    "When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn't get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early," Lawrence penned. "But if I'm honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn't say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn't want to seem 'difficult' or 'spoiled.' At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn't worry about being 'difficult' or 'spoiled.'"

    Lawrence added, "I'm over trying to find the 'adorable' way to state my opinion and still be likable! F— that. I don't think I've ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It's just heard."

  • Jennifer Lopez

    The singer-actress took part in THR's Drama Actress Roundtable last year and shared her experiences working on set with sexist crewmembers.

    "I've always been fascinated about how much more well-behaved we have to be than men. I did get a moniker of being a 'diva,' which I never felt I deserved — which I don't deserve. I've always been a hard worker, always on time, always professional," Lopez said, emphasizing that women often get that label for reaching "a certain amount of success."

    She admitted, "I always felt sometimes crippled to voice my opinion."

  • Madonna

    The pop veteran has repeatedly defended herself and other women over the age of 50 against ageism, once telling Rolling Stone that when women reach a certain age, society tells them "they're not allowed to behave a certain way."

    "I feel that I have wisdom, experience, knowledge and a point of view that is important," the singer, known for pushing boundaries throughout her decades-long career, said in a recent interview when asked if she had concerns about "staying relevant." "'Relevance' is a catchphrase that people throw out because we live in a world full of discrimination. Age is only brought up with regard to women. It’s connected to sexism, chauvinism and misogyny. When Leonardo is 60 years old, no one is going to talk about his relevance. Am I relevant as a female in this society that hates women? Well, to people who are educated and are not chauvinists or ­misogynists, yes."

  • Ellen Page

    In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, Page told the outlet, "I don't know why people are so reluctant to say they're feminists. Maybe some women just don't care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?"

    On the misconception of the word, she added, "Feminism always gets associated with being a radical movement — good. It should be."

  • Amy Poehler

    In 2015, the actress-comedian sat down for an interview as part of AOL's BUILD series and admitted that she doesn't quite understand why people "don't identify themselves as a feminist."

    "It's like saying, 'I like cars, I think they're great, I use a car every day, it gets me from place to place — but I'm not gonna go on record and say that I think cars are good,'" Poehler said. "But that being said, this discussion about who is and isn't a feminist is yet another example of the media attempting to divide us, to take us and split us apart and argue among each other. … It's just bullshit. It's yet another attempt for us to talk shit about each other. I think we need to continue as women to constantly celebrate what we have in common and share, and stop letting society focus on how we're different."

  • Natalie Portman

    The Jackie actress expressed her desires for "every version of a woman and a man to be possible" in a 2013 interview with Elle UK

    "I want women and men to be able to be full-time parents or full-time working people or any combination of the two. I want both to be able to do whatever they want sexually without being called names. I want them to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad — human, basically," Portman said.

    The actress explained that the industry often tries to bring feminist ideals to the screen in the wrong way, saying, "The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you're making a 'feminist' story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that's macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with."

  • Shonda Rhimes

    The How to Get Away With Murder creator spoke to Elle about how she's used her ShondaLand platform to show more representation of minority groups as a black female in a white-male dominated industry.

    "The entire world is skewed from the white-male perspective," she said. "If you're a woman, they have to say it's a female-driven comedy. If it's a comedy with Latinos in it, it's a Latino comedy. Normal is white male, and I find that to be shocking and ridiculous."

    Rhimes added, "The beauty of being a feminist is that you get to be whatever you want. And that's the point."

  • Amy Schumer

    Schumer has often used comedy to bring gender bias issues to the forefront through her Comedy Central sketch show Inside Amy Schumer, with satirical skits like "Girl, You Don't Need Makeup" and "Last F—able Day."

    The comedian told Glamour magazine in 2015, "Every woman deals with it most every day of their lives. Growing up, it's just in your day-to-day. There are all these preconceived notions of what it means to be a woman or a girl, and straying from those ideas of femininity is sort of shocking to people. I felt angered by that as a kid. I felt like that was unjust. Like that was not right."

    She added, "I don't try to be feminist. I just am. It's innately inside me. I have no interest in trying to be the perfect feminist, but I do believe feminists are in good hands with me."

  • Kristen Stewart

    Stewart called out the industry for being "disgustingly sexist" in an interview with Harper's Bazaar UK. "It's so offensive it's crazy," she said, adding, "Women inevitably have to work a little bit harder to be heard."

    The actress also voiced her thoughts on young women who don't like to be labeled a feminist to Wonderland magazine, explaining that the "implications" of the word are often misconstrued. 

    "I feel like some girls around my age are less inclined to say, 'Of course I'm a feminist, and of course I believe in equal rights for men and women,' because there are implications that go along with the word feminist that they feel are too in-your-face or aggressive," the Cafe Society star told the publication. "A lot of girls nowadays are like, 'Eww, I'm not like that.'They don’t get that there’s no one particular way you have to be in order to stand for all of the things feminism stands for."

  • Meryl Streep

    Streep has long been passionate about bridging the gender gap behind the camera in Hollywood and giving female directors more opportunities to tell their stories.

    "We need 40- to 50 year-old white males to be interested in the stories of their wives and their mothers," Streep told THR in 2016. "Our industry will always depend on diversity in the boardroom, where the money is. All the talk about equality and diversity among the lower levels of the endeavor won't change things if the money and decisions are still made by one people whose taste will necessarily decide what kind of films will be made."

  • Chrissy Teigen

    Teigen expressed what feminism means to her to The Huffington Post, telling the outlet that "people have sorely messed up the definition."

    "It isn't saying this is wrong and this is right," she said. "It's having the power to do whatever the f— you want. It's about having your own beliefs and staying true to them."

    The model also told Elle, "I love having every right to be as outspoken as I am, as any man would be."

  • Emma Watson

    The Beauty and the Beast star recently responded to criticism of a topless photo of her featured in a Vanity Fair cover spread by emphasizing that feminism is about choice.

    "Feminism is about giving women choice. It's not a stick with which to beat other women with," the actress told Reuters, pointing out critics who pegged her a "hypocrite" for seemingly going against feminist ideals. "It's about freedom. It's about liberation. It's about equality. I really don't know what my tits have to do with it."

    Watson is a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador who helped launch the HeForShe campaign, which aims to encourage both men and women to promote gender equality, in 2014.