5 Female Activists To Celebrate On MLK Day, For Their Views, Their Strength And Their Fashion

The history of America is a story written entirely by its people. Instead of kings and queens, of oligarchies and theocracies, American history textbooks prove rife with stories of ordinary citizens rising to make a change, to shape the country into something better — into a place that truly upholds that whole "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" ideal. Certainly, things get complicated; but on a day that celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose voice traveled from a small church in Alabama to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., it seems appropriate to celebrate moments where clarity prevails — where average Americans rise to become extraordinary agents of important social change.

Many of these Americans have been and continue to be women. From early 20th century suffragists to Second Wave feminists (who, it should be noted, emerged the from Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and 1970s, where much of their leadership was met with resistance) to the girl bosses of today, women have forced their way into American history as undeniable arbiters of social change. In the spirit of MLK Day, here are five women who speak up for what they believe in, all while never abandoning a personal style that further empowers (rather than undermines) what they have to say. A woman should not be defined by what she wears, but these women demonstrate the power of dressing how they want, when they want, regardless of what anyone else wants — and that's power.


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"The first resistance to social change is to say it's not necessary."

With good reason, Gloria Steinem serves as a perennial voice in feminism. A leader of the women's liberation movement of the 60s and 70s, Steinem spoke out agains the rigid gender roles in America restricting women to the roles of homemaker or sexual object (Bunny's Tale, her exposé on life as a Playboy Bunny, is a must read). Best-selling author, founder of Ms. Magazine and the Women's Media Center, supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, and vocal leader of numerous gender equality marches, Steinem leads by example — her message of female empowerment is made stronger by her groundbreaking achievements and her choices in fashion. Steinem never abandoned her over-sized sunglasses, mini skirts, printed blouses, or long, highlighted hair, simultaneously destroying long-held misconceptions of what a feminist "looks like" while proving that a woman should not need to compromise a personal sense of style to be taken seriously.


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"Radical simply means 'grasping at the root.'"

Every woman on this list is a controversial figure. Angela Davis just happens to be the only one who ran as VP candidate for the U.S. Communist Party. Yet while her political affiliations may have at one time been quite polarizing, her achievements in the unapologetic advancing of vital messages of intersectionality in America serve as more than enough reason for her recognition. Voicing dissent against the prevailing whiteness of the women's liberation movement and the maleness of the Civil Rights movement, Davis (in conjunction with the equally important and impressive Kimberlé Crenshaw) articulated the complexities of being both black and female in America, something that neither movement had ever really considered. Moreover, through her personal style choices — particularly her decision to always wear natural hair — Davis, like Steinem, allows fashion to further her message of female empowerment, to prove that just because one has style doesn't mean they don't also have something important to say.


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"So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are not writing for today, but for tomorrow."

The Internet has deemed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "Notorious R.D.G.," and it's not without good reason. Bader Ginsburg's career began after she graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959, from which point on she has consistently proved a stedfast supporter of women's rights. Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, read through any one of her dissents — whether they deal with directly with women's rights issues or not — and it's hard not to get inspired by the relentless, incredibly intelligent defenses of what she believes in. And what's more, Bader Ginsburg always makes a point to accessorize (usually with some killer statement earrings) at every court ruling, reminding her fellow Justices and anyone else watching that looking glamorous and enacting some of the most impactful national decisions are not mutually exclusive.


"Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar (Voyager, there are no bridges, one makes them when one walks)."

An incredibly important figure of Chicana Feminism, Gloria Anzalúda spent a lifetime giving voice to Latina, lesbian, and Latina-lesbian women in America. A native of south Texas, Anzaldúa perhaps best vocalizes the her experience in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza , a compilation of poems and essays deconstructing the idea of a border in nearly every sense of the term. In doing so, Anzaldúa voiced the struggles of Latina women with identities that transcend borders, that cannot be defined in one or two terms. Such transcendence further applied to Anzaldúa's personal style, one that never abandoned her Mexican heritage, but rather adapted it to her life as an renowned academic in America.


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"As Simone De Bouvoir said, one is not born a woman, one becomes a woman."

The impact of Laverne Cox cannot be over-exaggerated. After making her debut in Orange is the New Black, Cox has given long-overdue voice to transgender Americans. Whether it's on the cover of Time Magazine or dancing at the VMAs, by exuding an enviable confidence and undeniable intelligence, Cox takes another stab at destroying any harmful or hurtful misconceptions about what being transgender is all about. By consistently slaying the red carpet in some incredible dress and gowns, Cox isn't concerned with whatever uneducated detractors might say about her or her body — although she's always ready (and willing) to correct anyone who might be mistaken.

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