A few days before Thanksgiving, most of us will be searching for an outfit that features pants with an elastic waistband appropriate for family functions and a sweater that is both oversized and fashionable, all while wondering how to tell grandmother you’re still single. Unless you’re Meryl Streep, of course. If you’re Meryl Streep then you’ll be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, from President Obama himself on November 24. You know, as Meryl Streeps do. At this year’s ceremony, the most-celebrated actress in the world is among a list 19 honorees, which also includes Stevie Wonder, composer Stephen Sondheim, physicist Mildred Dresselhaus, social activist and actress Marlo Thomas, novelist Isabel Allende, and journalist Tom Brokaw.
In an official statement, the President of the United States commented, “I look forward to presenting these 19 bold, inspiring Americans with our Nation’s highest civilian honor. From activists who fought for change to artists who explored the furthest reaches of our imagination; from scientists who kept America on the cutting edge to public servants who help write new chapters in our American story, these citizens have made extraordinary contributions to our country and the world.”
Of the 19 nominees, seven are women and 12 are men and Streep is now just the eighth woman in film to be recognized for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This immense honor not only highlights Streep’s incredible contributions to the film industry and our culture, but also the gender imbalance that continues to permeate in so many fields. In celebration of Streep, and the fellow women receiving the award this year, let’s take a look at some of this Oscar-winning actress’ most inspiring words on her work, feminism, and consciousness.
On Sticking to Your Guns
"I think that you find your own way. You have your own rules. You have your own understanding of yourself, and that's what you're going to count on. In the end, it's what feels right to you. Not what your mother told you. Not what some actress told you. Not what anybody else told you but the still, small voice."
On The Standards Placed on Women's Looks
"There's a lot of pressure on girls... My advice: Don't waste so much time worrying about your skin or your weight. Develop what you do, what you put your hands on in the world."
On Being Demanding
"It's amazing how much you can get if you quietly, clearly, and authoritatively demand it."
On Hollywood's Gender Problem
"In this room, we are very familiar with these dreadful statistics that detail the shocking under-representation of women in our business...[Women make up] 7-10 percent of directors, producers, writers, and cinematographers in any given year. This in spite of the fact that in the last five years, five little movies aimed at women have earned over $1.6 billion."
On Power Dynamics and the Wage Gap
"Alice Walker said that the most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they don't have any. That's like [hearing] that women don't get raises because they don't ask for them. It's incredible."
On The Power of Symbols
"From my window in lower Manhattan, I can turn my eyes from that site and see, out in the harbor, another powerful monument and museum, the magnificent Statue of Liberty. There she stands, a woman, symbolizing freedom, fabricated in Paris in 1885, before any living woman in France or America was free to vote for her school board, the dogcatcher in her village, or the President of her Republic. This symbolic woman, standing for liberty, ironically not free herself, silently raises her hand, waiting to be called on, waiting for everybody to finally see her light."
On the Roles Women Play
"When I made The Devil Wears Prada , it was the first time in my life that a man came up and said, 'I know how you felt. I have a job like that.' First time... It took [me until] The Devil Wears Prada to play someone tough, who had to make hard decisions, who was running an organization, [where] a certain type of man [was able] to empathize and feel the story through her. That's the first time anyone has ever said that they felt that way."
Images: Getty Images