I am calling this my first list of top underrated feminists because there will undoubtedly be more lists, and I do not want you to be deceived into thinking that this is the only time that I’ll be bringing up the subject (or writing a list). It isn’t. I talk about feminism a lot, and more importantly am inspired by the simple feminist acts of others, cue written ovations. Consider these articles as Oscar nominations, if the Oscars were about underrated feminists and all the nominees won and the board only consisted of me and my laptop and a giant soft pretzel.
So we all know the “top-dogs” of feminism – Emma Watson, Joan of Arc, Beyonce, e.t.c. However, there are also so many brilliant feminists that I’m only just discovering or noticing more and more, which I feel really deserve more attention. At the moment, these people seem to be something like the underground crew of the feminism world, the Clark Kent’s to our renowned Super(wo)men. It’s time to take a peek under their masks. Stop dressing up as a journalist, Clark! Show us your lycra red pants of power, Clark!
1. Ching Shih
Probably one of my all time favourite historical characters is Ching Shih. Ching Shih was a Chinese prostitute-turned-epic-pirate who was super feared and respected by all. She didn’t take any shit from anyone, and waged epic wars with the Chinese Navy and even her own crew if she thought they were stepping one inch out of line. A scary individual – but definitely not suppressed by the patriarchy. If Ching found any of her crew messing around or having sex, she’d kill them in crazy ways, like throwing them overboard or attaching them to cannons. She just wouldn’t take anybody not taking her orders seriously.
I guess you could say that she ran a tight ship. Ha, ha ha.
In fact, it’s pretty surprising that Hollywood haven’t plagiarised the shit out of her life yet.
My love for Ching Shih was nurtured here, my favourite historical portal:
2. My Friend Ellie
Let me talk to you about My Friend Ellie. My Friend Ellie is an angel of feminism. She has long, flowy hair and a steely eye for verbally beating the crap out of misogynists. She also enjoys cute vintage things, so is an adorable feminist warrior of sorts, like Rocky wearing a flower garland (though obviously not a male wrestler.)
Myself and My Friend Ellie have had many excellent talks about Feminist Things and she always has intelligent insights to offer and also interesting picnic food. Ironically, I can’t think of a particularly interesting thing that she’s said to quote here right this second but you’re just going to have to take my word for it. I met My Friend Ellie in my Women’s Writing module and we immediately connected over a shared love of feminist criticism, our professor (mentioned further down the line) and naturally having a weird sense of humor, which is the crux for most blossoming friendships. Ellie is a prestigious Underrated Feminist right now, but I am sure that when she is famous for saying Something Exceedingly Clever (which she undoubtedly will be, as she’s particularly wise and not nearly so childish as to capitalize random words to make her point) everybody will be able to share in the glow that is My Friend Ellie’s equality-generating brain.
3. Vagenda Magazine
This is an EXCELLENT modern feminist magazine with a witty edge and host of great writers. If you’re at all interested in learning more about feminism, then this is definitely the place to go. The Vagenda writers take current objects of interest and re-think old ways of thinking in a way that is “fresh” (hate that word, unless applied to toothpaste) and brain-piquing, a term I just made up. Briquing, as ze French call eet.
I’m particularly enjoying, amongst other things, the mad hype that’s sprung up surrounding the Fifty Shades of Grey disaster – sorry, I mean film. Well, enjoying it and wanting to tear my own ears off simultaneously, as people conceivably can’t shut up about the topic. However, some of the more astute observations that have arisen concerning it and its themes in general have been compelling to me (and often amusing), some great contributors towards these being – you guessed it – Vagenda writers.
Here’s one of my favourite pieces:
If you like what you see here, Vagenda have also released their own book (the reigning monarch of my Amazon wishlist) and their articles can be accessed predominantly online, at:
4. My old English professor, Maddie
Me and My Friend Ellie (refer to point number 3) loved our English professor Maddie as she was, simply, a brilliant feminist. Maddie had a family and a husband and still was actively involved within the feminist society and women’s talks and had a fully fledged career as our feminist lecturer, inspiring and informing loads of students every day. I would quite like to be like Maddie. She was sensitive and thoughtful about different views but also got totally mad and passionate when small-balled chauvinists said stupid things. I feel like if we descended into a world of patriarchal madness again, Maddie would lead the way with a flaming torch, herding her feminist prodigies forward in a no-nonsense Shepherdess-cum-Professor-McGonagall fashion.
5. Amy Poehler
Amy isn’t really recognised for what she does for feminism – at least, not to my knowledge, though my knowledge is somewhat limited to SNL sketches and Parks and Recreation, though I guess you could argue that Leslie Knope is a feminist of the finest ilk, however not a real person (sob), thus cannot qualify. I particularly like Amy Poehler because she doesn’t take any bullshit. From anybody. Like a modern-day, non-brutal, non-Chinese Ching Shih. I remember reading a quote once (something Tina Fey said, I think) illustrating that one time she’d been in a board meeting with Amy, who was making jokes with some guy next to her, when somebody called her “immature”. Apparently she told him to stop being a dick or something along those lines. As you can see, I’m great at remembering and distributing quotes accurately. What I’m trying to say is that Amy stands up for herself. Which is a great and empowering image to spread.
It was Amy who also said “girls, if boys say something that’s not funny, you don’t have to laugh”, a philosophy I used in another article a couple of posts ago (No is the New Black). This might be considered a small feminist gesture, when compared to those who are fighting cruel, tyrannical laws or risking their lives striving for equality but the little things that gradually begin to change a social mindset are absolutely vital to making feminism stick in the long-run. Thank you Amy.
6. Elizabeth Blackwell
Okay so Elizabeth probably isn’t the most underrated feminist ever, but I certainly haven’t heard her mentioned nearly to the same degree as Virginia Woolf or Emily Davision (who threw herself under a horse, thereby sealing herself in historical memory forever.) But what Elizabeth did changed social views in a huge way – by becoming the first female physician. She was accepted into Geneva Medical College because the students (who approved her application) thought she was joking: they were mortified when they saw that she wasn’t. Whilst she was there she was treated as a laughing stock, ridiculed on a constant basis – but she simply stuck her head down and came out with the highest grades. Boom.
No surgery would touch Elizabeth after graduation so she set up her own private practice and employed more female doctors, sticking it to the man. Not only was Elizabeth an incredible do-gooder in trying to heal people, she also adopted a child called Kitty. A single mum with a full-time job. Amazing in a time when untraditional working females weren’t supported one iota. An inspiring woman to the bone.
7. Sybil Ludington
I found out about Sybil Ludington through watching Drunk History (as you can see, I get my historical knowledge from the most esteemed of sources.) Basically I only know about one awesome thing that Sybil did, but that one awesome thing was awesome enough to make it here. What she did, in short, was ride on a horse in the middle of the night to warn villagers that “The British are coming! The British are coming! You have to follow me, come back to the Ludington’s, and if you’re not coming, then you’re a motherfucker!” At least, that’s what she said according to Drunk History.
It’s pretty brilliant that Sybil did this for a medley of reasons, and pretty damn feminist – firstly, she volunteered to do it. She took the reins (pun intended). I mean, she was a super young, sixteen year old girl who could’ve done nothing. But she threw herself into the man’s seat. Sybil made herself a superheroine that night and established herself as an admirable feminist in my mind.
Oh, and she did it on her damn birthday, too.
8. The entirety of Ancient Egypt
I have recently discovered that the entirety of Ancient Egypt seemed to have been pretty feminist, and potentially the “first” ones, for the matter. If this is true then it’s a little bad that we seem to have overlooked a WHOLE TIME PERIOD OF HISTORY in regarding the history of feminism, but whatever. Let’s talk about it now.
The Greek historian Herodotus went to Egypt in fifth century B.C., and noticed that things were very different there as opposed to what he was used to. Women, for instance, were active traders in the marketplace whilst the men stayed at home and performed domestic duties. Women also had equal pay. Not to mention that by the time Herodotus made it over there, Egypt had had FIVE WOMEN sitting on the throne!
Okay, so Egypt wasn’t perfect. It was still largely patriarchal, but the difference was was that there were some elements in place that appeared to point towards social change in favor of feminism – women were able to represent themselves in court, own and manage property and even sue! Sure, so one of the queens, Hatshepsut, had to adopt male garb to pass as a pharaoh in order to rule, and call herself Maatkare, like an Ancient Egyptian Mulan. But she was still THE QUEEN. There were also considered to be women deities and spirits, though the extent of what their power was believed to be, or who was the most respected, is obviously down to interpretation.
It was a strange society of progression and restriction, but compared to other cultural climates at the time, was revolutionary in supporting feminist ideals.
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