There are a lot of random holidays on the books, from “Squirrel Appreciation Day” to “Put On Your Own Shoes Day” (yeah, I don’t even know). So why not dedicate a few to those who’ve fought for gender equality? There are countless feminists who should have a summer holiday in their name, but here I’ve whittled it down to a few amazing people.
To be honest, paring down this list was a challenge. There are so many people — women and men — who have furthered the cause of gender equality, that if we were to give a holiday to every person who has inspired and shaped feminism in some way — from poets and authors, to scientific pioneers, to social reformers, to athletes, to all around activist badasses — we would run out of days in the year right off the bat. So I’ve limited myself here to people who have either actively applied the label of “feminist” to themselves or who have openly fought for the equal rights and opportunities of women. Of course, there are amazing people throughout history who may not have campaigned explicitly for social or political reform, but whose lives and works nevertheless furthered gender equality; they deserve recognition, too, but for now I’m focusing on those who have been at the frontlines, writing and speaking and fighting to make a world where people of all genders have equal rights and opportunities. There are so many that I’ve no doubt missed some of your favorites — so feel free to make up your own holidays to honor the feminists who have inspired you the most.
So how do you celebrate these feminist holidays? Easy: By whipping up some signature cocktails (Who wouldn’t want a “Notorious RBG-arita”?) and supporting the equal rights and opportunities for all people, regardless of gender. FUN!
1. Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Throughout her long career, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has supported equal rights and equal pay for women, both in and outside of the Supreme Court. In a 2012 interview with Makers, she offered her definition of feminism:
I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, 'Free to be You and Me.' Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s okay too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers.
2. bell hooks
In her career as a writer, intellectual, and activist, bell hooks has published more than 30 books in genres ranging from critical theory, to memoir, to children’s narrative. Defining “feminism” succinctly as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” hooks has promoted an intersectional approach to feminism that considers the ways that marginalization occurs along many axes, including gender, but also race, class, and many others. In 2000’s Feminism is for Everybody, hooks asks readers to envision what real equality might look like:
Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility.
3. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Stone Blackwell, and other First-Wave women’s rights activists who campaigned for the vote.
To be fair, the many women who fought for decades in the 19th and early 20th centuries for women to gain the right to vote probably all deserve their own holidays, but I’m reserving August 18 — the day that the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, giving American women voting rights for the first time — as a day to celebrate their collective efforts.
4. Nawal El Saadawi
Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian novelist, thinker, and activist who has never been afraid to court controversy. Because of her activism, in which she has staunchly condemned female genital mutilation and campaigned for women’s equality in Egypt, she has lost jobs, received threats on her life, and was even imprisoned in 1981. While incarcerated, she wrote a memoir, Memoirs from the Women's Prison . “For me feminism includes everything,” El Saadawi explained in a 2010 interview with the Guardian. “It is social justice, political justice, sexual justice … It is the link between medicine, literature, politics, economics, psychology and history. Feminism is all that. You cannot understand the oppression of women without this.”
5. Gloria Steinem
Steinem, 82, is probably the most famous living feminist in the United States today. Having campaigned for women’s rights since the 1960s, Steinem continues to promote gender equality. Just this year, she served as the host and executive producer of WOMAN, a docu-series from Viceland covering (often harrowing) stories about struggles women face all over the world.
6. Gloria Anzaldúa
Gloria Anzaldúa was a pioneering Chicana feminist and queer theorist, most famous for her influential book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987). In this work, which combines memoir, poetry, and cultural theory, Anzaldúa explores the often-contradictory intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.
7. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist and essayist, who made waves when she delivered a brilliant TED Talk titled “We Should All Be Feminists” in 2013. She published the talk as a book in 2014, and the slim, accessible volume has quickly become one of the most beloved feminists texts in recent memory. In the book, she explains why the word “feminist” is important:
Some people ask: 'Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?' Because that would be ... a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.
8. Mary Wollstonecraft
Born in 1759, Mary Wollstonecraft lived long before the word “feminist” was even invented, but she was a strong advocate for women’s rights and education in her own time. Her most famous work on the subject, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was and continues to be a powerful manifesto about the importance of women’s independence and education. She offered a clear rebuttal to those who think that making equal rights and opportunities for women will somehow impinge on the rights of men, writing, “I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
9. Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde was a poet, civil rights activist, feminist, and essayist, who identified with many titles, once describing herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She emphasized the importance of recognizing the complexity of inequality, and the many axes of identity that contribute to each person’s unique experience. “I am a Black Feminist,” she once wrote. “I mean I recognize that my power as well as my primary oppressions come as a result of my blackness as well as my womaness, and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable.”
10. Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai, 19, is by far the youngest person on this list, but her courageous support for girls' education in her native Pakistan — even at the expense of her own safety — has surely earned her a summer holiday of her own. How about July 12, her birthday? In her book, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, the Nobel Peace Prize winner asked, “If one man can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?”
11. Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir, French writer and existential philosopher, penned one of the foundational texts for the feminist movement in the 20th century: The Second Sex (1949), a book that explored the ways that women throughout history have been positioned as “other” to (and therefore less human than) men. She famously wrote, “One is not born but becomes woman,” suggesting that gender is a social construction.
12. Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and generally amazing human. On May 29, 1851, she delivered her most famous speech, the masterful “Ain’t I A Woman?” at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. She argued,
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
(You can see Alfre Woodard do a fantastic rendition of the speech here.)