Women Writers Who Shaped the Feminist Movement
“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman”Virginia Woolf
Writing has always been an important tool for affecting social change. It has set in motion innumerable political and social movements, and women’s rights have been no exception. From the earliest days of the First Wave of the feminist movement, women have been putting pen to paper in an effort to delineate the unique female experience and challenge and subvert long-ingrained prejudices. As writers, women have inspired challenges and changes. Their work continues to construct a narrative for the feminist movement.
Even prior to the onset of the feminist movement, women writers worked tirelessly to make their voices heard and their presence felt in the literary arena. As the above quote by Woolf shows, women often wrote under pseudonyms to avoid being criticised for choosing a profession that was considered strictly “masculine”. This spirit of rebellion carried itself forward to the various waves of the feminist movement and shaped history. Today, women are proud to inherit this culture of radical dissent. Let us take a look at five such women writers who have carved out a space for themselves in the literary canon-
- Simone de Beauvoir
Beauvoir was an outspoken political activist, writer and social theorist. Her 1949 book, The Second Sex, is credited with having paved the way for modern feminism. As a writer, Beauvoir was way ahead of time, arguing that women should not be defined merely by virtue of their reproductive capacities. At the time deemed extremely controversial, the book critiques patriarchy and social constructs that lead to the subjugation of women. Despite being banned by The Vatican, Beauvoir’s writing constitutes a fearless start to the fight for the feminist cause. Every feminist today is familiar with Beauvoir’s saying “One is not born a woman; rather, one becomes a woman”.
- Toni Morrison
A trailblazing voice for African-American women, Morrison had foregrounded the significance of intersectional feminism during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s-60s. In light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, the readership for her novels has increased even further. Her protagonists are strong-willed, fiercely independent black women who channel their inner strength to overcome the dual prejudices of race and sex. Morrison’s novels, published throughout the late-twentieth century, serve as important contributions to the development of Black feminist ideologies and Black women’s literature.
- Betty Friedan
She penned The Feminine Mystique, which gave voice to millions of American women’s frustrations with their limited gender roles and helped spark widespread public activism for gender equality. The book is often credited for sparking the second wave of feminism that began in the ’60s and ’70s. Friedan spent five years conducting interviews with women across the country, each of whom voiced a similar “malaise” which Friedan dubbed as “the problem that has no name.” She identified the reason- the independent, career-minded New Woman of the 1920s and 1930s was compelled to transform into the housewives of the post-war era who were expected to find fulfilment as wives and mothers. The book helped transform public awareness and brought many women into the vanguard of the women’s movement.
- Alice Walker
A critical voice for African-American women in the feminism movement, Walker’s writings have been instrumental in foregrounding their rights. The writer and activist was involved in the Civil Rights Movement alongside Dr Martin Luther King. Walker’s most famous work, The Color Purple, became vital in telling the story of women of colour and was later adapted into both a movie and a Broadway musical. Two years after its publication, Walker co-founded Wild Tree Press, a feminist publishing company. In 1983, she was the first to coin the term, “womanism,” which sought to include Black women in feminism. A womanist is a feminist of colour. Walker used the term to describe Black women who are deeply committed to the wholeness and well-being of all of humanity, male and female. According to Walker, “womanist” unites women of colour with the feminist movement at “the intersection of race, class, and gender oppression.”
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Nigerian feminist author is undoubtedly the role model of every 21st-century woman. In her 2013 TED Talk, which was later extended into a book titled We Should All Be Feminists, delves decisively into how gender expectations have had a detrimental effect on our society. In all her novels, Adichie eloquently and powerfully argues that modern-day feminism should promote inclusion and awareness. Her latest novel, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. It consists of invaluable suggestions on how to empower young girls to become independent and assertive women.
The writings of these women have made waves through their sheer audacity to speak up about what matters to them and what is rightfully theirs. We are proud to inherit their legacy of bravery and honesty to fight for change today. There are countless women writers waiting to be discovered, and you might be one of them. So don’t hesitate to write and let your voice be heard so you can change the course of history!