Growing up, I always thought I might like to be a writer, but most of the famous writers I'd heard of were white men. I didn't know that there were so many feminist writers out there, let alone so many feminist heroes for writers to look up to. Now, with the feminist blogosphere and social media gaining the movement more visibility, it's easier for writers to find feminist role models — and to realize they were there all along.
As the internet has changed what feminism means to different people, it also has changed what it means to be a writer, mainly by expanding its definition. It's clearer now than ever that you don't have to publish books or anything in print in order to be a writer. You just have to be a person with ideas who writes them down, and the great thing about the internet is that if you have something important to say and you say it well, there's a good chance people will listen.
That doesn't mean, though, that old forms of writing like poetry and fiction are gone. Whatever your favorite genre is, there's plenty of people and work out there to take inspiration from. Here are a few feminist heroes, both past and present and from all different genres, that writers can look up to.
1. Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf's work dealt with women's independence during a time when it wasn't often spoken about and with the art of writing itself, and in A Room of One's Own, she theorizes on how women writers can make their ideas heard and resist patriarchy. Exploring many genres and sometimes defying genre altogether, she insisted on writing what pleased her rather than what would sell — so much so that she created her own press to publish her work.
2. Jane Austen
Jane Austen's novels feature women who were independent thinkers, heads of households, and flawed characters, and they remain relatable to many feminists today.
3. Maya Angelou
Angelou's autobiographies, essays, and poetry address everything from love and marriage to civil rights and black identity, and her wisdom will inspire people of nearly every demographic, especially ambitious women.
4. Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston's gorgeous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of a black woman in the post-slavery south who learns to love herself while she discovers what it means to truly love someone else. In addition, her essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" provides an analysis of race relations during the early 1900s that's still relevant today.
5. Marge Piercy
Piercy has not only explored issues including sexual assault and objectification of women in her poetry but also emerged as a prominent voice in the male-dominated genre of science fiction with her novel He, She, and It. The Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning book uses a love story between a human and an android to question what it means to be male, female, and human.
6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's writing explores what gender and racial identity mean in Nigeria and the United Stattes, and her famous essay and TED Talk "We Should All Be Feminists" (the one sampled by Beyoncé) made feminism accessible to everyone.
7. Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is proof that being an online writer does not preclude being professionally successful and well-known. The Bad Feminist, Ayiti, and An Untamed State author, Purdue University English professor, and writer and editor for numerous publications is known for both her intersectional feminist take on pop culture and her witty humor. Oh, and if you're not following her Twitter, you should be, because she has something hilarious to say about pretty much everything.
8. Mallory Ortberg
Ortberg is another online writing success story. She cofounded the (sadly now defunct) feminist humor site The Toast to provide a space for women to laugh while fighting the patriarchy, gave Slate's "Dear Prudence" advice column a much-needed feminist makeover, and has written not just some of the best feminist satire but some of the best satire of our time.
9. Jessica Valenti
Valenti is a columnist for The Guardian, where she brings important feminist discussions to a large audience, and the author of several books exploring rape culture, motherhood, and media representations of women. She's also the founder of Feministing, the blog that can be credited for many girls' and women's feminist awakenings.
10. Andrea Gibson
Andrea Gibson is not only the winner of the first Women of the World Poetry Slam but also a feminist and LGBT activist. Their spoken word poetry about queer identity, gender roles, and relationships will make you angry, give you hope for humanity, and probably move you to tears all at the same time.