17 Famous Women on What Feminism Means to Them

9 minute read

“Are you a feminist?” might be the toughest question a female celebrity has to answer in 2014. Taylor Swift stays clear of the word. Lena Dunham embraces it and Beyonce grew into it. Let’s just say it’s complicated. Come on too strong and a young actress can risk alienating a fan base that isn’t steeped in day-to-day gender issues. Avoid the question and they incur the wrath of the Internet and feminists everywhere. Here’s a look at what some famous women have said about the other “f” word.


Sinéad O’Connor

Sinéad O'Connor
Sinead O'Connor performs on July 27, 2014 in Wiltshire, England.Philip Ryalls—WireImage/Getty Images

Sinéad doesn’t like any label that ends in -ist, and that includes the f-word, she told The Guardian in July.”I don’t think of myself as being a feminist,” the 47-year-old musician said. “I wouldn’t label myself anything, certainly not something with an ‘ism’ or an ‘ist’ at the end of it. I’m not interested in anything that is in any way excluding of men.”

The declaration came as a bit of a surprise to some fans, given that O’Connor titled her tenth and most recent album I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss. The hashtag #banbossy campaign was created by Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, and has been supported by fellow self-described feminist Beyoncé.

Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus Norway Concert
Miley Cyrus performs onstage near Oslo, Norway. on May 28, 2014.Bendiksby, Terje/AFP—AFP/Getty Images

“I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women to not be scared of anything,” the 21-year-old “Wrecking Ball” singer told the BBC last November. “I’m a feminist in the way that I’m really empowering to women,” she said to Cosmopolitan in December 2013. “I’m loud and funny and not typically beautiful.”


Beyonce Attends Met Gala
Beyonce attends a Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala in New York on May 5.Dimitrios Kambouris—Getty Images

Beyoncé was hesitant to describe herself as a feminist to British Vogue in April 2013. “That word can be very extreme,” the 32-year-old said. “But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman.”

But the singer seems to have come around. Her self-titled December 2013 album features a number of feminist ideas. Her song “Flawless” sandwiches an excerpt from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk, “We should all be feminists,” in between lyrics like “I took some time to live my life, but don’t think I’m just his little wife.”

After the album’s release Beyoncé even wrote a post for the Shriver Report called, “Gender Equality is a Myth!” in January. “We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn’t a reality yet,” she wrote.

Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley at "The Fault In Our Stars" Premiere
Shailene Woodley attends "The Fault In Our Stars" premiere in New York City on June 2.Stephen Lovekin—Getty Images

The 22-year-old Fault in Our Stars actress made waves in May with her response when TIME asked if she considered herself a feminist: “No, because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance…My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism.”

The Internet was outraged on multiple levels, especially because her response seemed at odds with the strong females characters Woodley has played in movies like Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.

Lana Del Ray

Lana Del Ray Cinema Against AIDS Event
Lana Del Rey performs during amfAR's 21st Cinema Against AIDS Gala on May 22 in France.Kevin Tachman/amfAR14—WireImage

Del Ray went into left field recently when Fader magazine asked her if she was a feminist. “For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept,” the 27-year-old singer said. “I’m more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities. Whenever people bring up feminism, I’m like, god. I’m just not really that interested…My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.”

Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham 2014 Bookexpo America
Lena Dunham attends the 2014 Bookexpo America on May 31 in New York City.Steve Sands—WireImage

“Women saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ is my greatest pet peeve,” said the 28-year-old Girls star and writer in 2013 during an interview with Metro. “Do you believe that women should be paid the same for doing the same jobs? Do you believe that women should be allowed to leave the house? Do you think that women and men both deserve equal rights? Great, then you’re a feminist.”

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek Cannes Film Festival
Salma Hayek attends the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 17 in Cannes, France.Foc Kan—FilmMagic/Getty

“[Feminism] means being proud of being a woman, and [having] love, respect and admiration and the belief in our strong capacities,” the 47-year-old actress told Stylist in 2012. “I don’t think we are the same, women and men. We’re different. But I don’t think we are less than men. There are more women than men in the world – ask any single woman! So it is shocking that men are in more positions of power.”

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift RED Tour
Taylor Swift performs in Singapore on June 12.Nicky Loh/TAS—2014 Nicky Loh/TAS

“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have,” the 24-year-old pop star told the Daily Beast in 2012. “I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Swift’s ambivalence didn’t stop one Brown University student from creating a popular parody Twitter account that adds feminist phrases Taylor Swift song lyrics.

Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler 2014 Bookexpo America
Amy Poehler attends the 2014 Bookexpo America on May 31 in New York City.Steve Sands—WireImage

Instead of steering clear of the word, Amy Poehler has publicly embraced feminism. “But then they go on to explain what they support and live by — it’s feminism exactly,” the 42-year-old comedian told Elle magazine in January. “I think some big actors and musicians feel like they have to speak to their audience and that word is confusing to their audience. But I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.’”

Halle Berry

Halle Berry "Extant"
Halle Berry attends the premiere of "Extant" on June 16 in Los Angeles.Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty

“I would say on some levels I am [a feminist]. Angela Davis is one of my heroes,” the 47-year-old Oscar winner told Ebony in April, referring to the political activist known for her feminist views. “And Gloria Steinem—these are people who, as I was growing, I was moved by and impacted by and thought very deeply about.”

Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson The Voice
Kelly Clarkson performs on NBC's The Voice on Dec. 3.NBC—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

“I wouldn’t say [I’m a] feminist, that’s too strong. I think when people hear feminist it’s just like, ‘Get out of my way I don’t need anyone,’” the 32-year-old American Idol winner told TIME last year. “I love that I’m being taken care of, and I have a man that’s an actual leader. I’m not a feminist in that sense … but I’ve worked really hard since I was 19, when I first auditioned for Idol.”

Ellen Page

Ellen Page X-Men Premiere
Ellen Page attends the "X-Men: Days Of Future Past" world premiere on May 10 in New York City.Gilbert Carrasquillo—FilmMagic

“I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists. Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?” the 27-year-old Juno and X-Men star said in a 2013 interview with The Guardian.

Rashida Jones

Rashida Jones Upfront
Rashida Jones attends the 2014 TNT/TBS Upfront on May 14 in New York City.Paul Zimmerman—WireImage

“I would [call myself a feminist], yes.” the 38-year-old Parks & Rec star told Amanda de Cadenet in 2013. “I believe in the unadulterated advancement of women. And we have so far to go still. I do think because women are so clever and flexible and such good communicators, it been hard for men to evolve and keep up. I think we could do a little better to help them out.”

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga artRave Tour
Lady Gaga performs during her "artRave: The Artpop Ball" tour in New York City on May 13.Kevin Mazur—WireImage

“I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture — beer, bars, and muscle cars,” the 28-year-old pop star told a Norwegian journalist in 2009.

However, the “Bad Romance” singer seemed to backtrack later that year when talking to the Los Angeles Times. “I’m getting the sense that you’re a little bit of a feminist, like I am, which is good,” she said. “I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little . . . In my opinion, women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are, and says, ‘I’m great.’ ”

Katy Perry

Katy Perry Radio 1
Katy Perry performs live at Radio 1's Big Weekend on May 25 in Glasgow, Scotland.Dave J Hogan—Getty Images

“I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the power of women,” the 29-year-old “Roar” singer told Billboard magazine in 2012. However, since then, the young celeb has changed her tune on the topic. “A feminist? Um, yeah, actually,” she told an Australian radio host in March when asked if she considered herself one. “I used to not really understand what that word meant, and now that I do, it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.”

Leighton Meester

Leighton Meester Tony Awards
Leighton Meester attends the 68th Annual Tony Awards on June 8, 2014 in New York City.D Dipasupil—FilmMagic

The 28-year-old Gossip Girl star surprised some fans in February when she told OOTD magazine who her role model was. “The American writer Betty Friedan — she fought for gender equality and wrote the great book The Feminine Mystique which sparked the beginning of a second-wave feminism,” Meester said. “I believe in equal rights for men and women.”

Jenny Slate

Jenny Slate Late Night
Jenny Slate is shown during a June 19 interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers in New York.NBC—NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

“Am I a feminist? F–k yeah, I’m a feminist,” the 32-year-old Saturday Night Live told MTV News in June. “I think that unfortunately people who are maybe threatened by feminism think that it’s about setting your bra on fire and being aggressive, and I think that’s really wrong and really dangerous.” Slate also agreed that her latest movie, Obvious Child, which centers around her character considering an abortion, is a feminist film.

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