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On June 30, 1966, a group of 28 women at the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women, held in Washington, DC, signed the National Organization for Women into being. Over 50 years later, NOW is the largest organization dedicated to feminist activism in the country, and it has expanded from 28 women in the nation’s capital to hundreds of thousands of members across all 50 states. In recent years, Hollywood’s institutional sexism has become one of the foremost issues facing the entertainment industry, and a lot of our favorite actors, filmmakers, and musicians have spoken out against gender inequality in the biz — and in the culture at large, on which popular entertainment has such a profound impact. In honor of half a century of NOW, here are 31 stars who proudly wave the feminist flag.
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In October 2017, the industry was rocked by a New York Times exposé reporting decades of alleged sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein. Ashley Judd was among the actresses and former Weinstein employees who went on the record for the story, revealing that a previously recounted 1997 allegation of harassment — involving an unnamed studio executive — was about Weinstein. Following the Times report in which Judd participated, over 50 more women followed suit and shared allegations of misconduct by Weinstein.
But those revelations aren’t all she’s done to combat gender inequality: In 2012, Judd published a searing essay slamming critics who made cruel remarks about her appearance and calling for women everywhere to challenge the patriarchy; in 2017, she participated in the Women's March on Washington and recited a fiery feminist poem, "Nasty Woman," for the hundreds of thousands of protesters who marched in the capital.
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Jessica Chastain has commented on the necessity of gender equality numerous times, but she made her boldest statement yet at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where Sofia Coppola became the second woman ever (and the first since 1961) to take home the iconic French fest’s award for best director. “I do believe that if you have female storytelling you also have more authentic female characters,” Chastain said in a press conference. “The one thing I really took away from [all the films at Cannes] is how the world views women from the female characters that I saw represented. It was quite disturbing to me, to be honest.”
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Kristen Bell took on the gender pay gap in September 2016, appearing in a feminist video, Pinksourcing. "Why outsource all your production to faraway countries like India, China, and Narnia when we have the cheapest and best workforce right here in the good ole U.S. of A.: women," Bell said in the spoof. "Women are a bargain at the workplace since you only have to pay them 77 cents on the dollar." The actress went on to tweet about the matter, writing, "Equal pay is no joke - which is why I made this video with @HuffingtonPost #CelebsHaveIssues."
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Beyoncé's lyrics have suggested her feminist leanings since her Destiny’s Child days (“Independent Women,” anyone?). But if there was ever any doubt whether Queen Bey truly identified as a feminist, she eliminated it during a performance at the 2014 VMAs, during which she slid across the dark stage as the wall behind her lit up with the word “FEMINIST.”
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Davis has pushed for change in the industry since before it was cool (even though, if we’re being honest, it’s always been cool). In 2006, she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which supports research projects examining gender representation onscreen and advocates for better, and more frequent, depictions of women in popular entertainment. In 2015, Davis founded the Bentonville Film Festival, the mission of which is “to champion women and diverse voices in media.”
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Dunham has been in Hollywood for less than a decade, but has made her voice heard more than a lot of celebs who have been around since before she was born. She has repeatedly affirmed her position as a feminist and frequently speaks out about women’s issues, whether through videos, essays, books, tweets, or the taboo-breaking HBO series she created, writes, produces, directs, and stars in, Girls. She is currently working on a series about second-wave feminism in the ‘60s, and in 2015, she and her Girls co-showrunner Jenni Konner launched Lenny, a newsletter with a feminist bent.
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Arquette gave the acceptance speech heard ‘round the world when she spoke out against Hollywood’s gender wage gap at the 2015 Oscars, where she won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she said, receiving enthusiastic cheers from the audience (Meryl Streep in particular).
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The powerful showrunner has spoken out about her feminist beliefs in the press and then illustrated them where it really counts — as part of her Shondaland lineup, where she’s created and produced some of the most empowering, compelling, and honestly flawed female characters on TV today. “The beauty of being a feminist is that you get to be whatever you want, and that’s the point,” she told ELLE in 2015. #TGIT, indeed.
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Since graduating from Hogwarts, Watson has established herself as a prominent activist for gender equality. A UN Goodwill Ambassador, Watson launched the UN HeForShe campaign in 2014, which encourages men to join the feminist movement. In early 2016, she started a public feminist book club on Goodreads, choosing Gloria Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road for the club’s first pick.
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Between her popular sketch comedy series Inside Amy Schumer, her debut feature Trainwreck, and her stand-up sets, Schumer’s biting comedy relentlessly attacks rape culture, gender double standards, and general Hollywood sexism. Hosting Saturday Night Live in 2015, she said in her opening monologue, ““People keep asking me, they say, ‘Amy, is it an exciting time for women in Hollywood?’ And I’m like, ‘No.’”
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The girl on fire made headlines in 2015 when she published an essay in Lena Dunham’s newsletter, Lenny, about the Hollywood gender wage gap and the sexist industry expectations that make her feel unable to negotiate an equal salary. The Hunger Games star has not shied away from the feminist label ever since: “I don’t know why that word is so scary to people,” she said months after the publication of her essay. “It shouldn’t be, because it just means equality.”
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DuVernay is an advocate for gender equality in an area of the film industry that is even more homogenous than the rest: among its A-list directors. She is vocal on Twitter about inequality, she spoke out in favor of the EEOC’s investigation into Hollywood’s sexist hiring practices in 2015, and she pursues diverse projects that highlight social issues.
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Grimes made waves when she published an epic feminist declaration to her Tumblr in 2013. The passionately written post has since been removed, but her comments included that she is sick of “being considered vapid for liking pop music or caring about fashion,” and that she is “sad that my desire to be treated as an equal and as a human being is interpreted as hatred of men, rather than a request to be included and respected.”
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The Oscar winner is a strong voice for feminists as much as she’s a powerful presence onscreen. Theron made waves when she negotiated a higher salary for herself for 2016’s Snow White and the Huntsman to match the wage earned by her co-star Chris Hemsworth, and her performance in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road has made her character, Imperator Furiosa, something of a pop-culture feminist icon. “Girls need to know that being a feminist is a good thing,” she told ELLE last year.
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Rodriguez acknowledges her own celebrity and has often commented on how she aims to use her unique platform to reach a lot of people. “Now I can talk to more girls and tell them that any skin color, any economic background, any shape they were born into is perfect and right and strong and beautiful and enough because I’m sitting here not the stereotype,” she told TV Guide in 2014. She is a vocal activist on social media as well, and in 2016 Rodriguez launched the We Will Foundation, which supports arts education for young women from low-income backgrounds.
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Rowan Blanchard may only be 14, but the actress, who stars on Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World, is already an outspoken feminist — largely on social media, where she speaks directly to girls her own age. In 2015, she posted a lengthy essay to her Tumblr about intersectional feminism and joined Instagram’s #MyStory initiative. “I think it’s important for girls to recognize feminist issues because it directly affects them,” she told EW.
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Fey has brought her feminist sensibility to the Golden Globes stage (with her BFF Amy Poehler), to Saturday Night Live, to major movies, and to TV with seven seasons of 30 Rock, which she created and starred in. Her sharp observant humor consistently satirizes the rampant sexism in our culture and in the film industry, and she even told Bustle that it’s time to “retire” the evasive “I’m a humanist” line.
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Amy Poehler — like her best friend, Golden Globes co-host, and frequent collaborator, Tina Fey — is an outspoken feminist whose comedy reflects her dedicated interest in gender equality. In addition to her acting, she founded the organization Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, which is “dedicated to helping young people cultivate their authentic selves.” The most recent featured video on Smart Girls’ YouTube page is entitled, “What Does Feminism Mean to You?”
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The Scandal star, who was a part of EW’s Beyond Beautiful roundtable, has thrown her support behind the feminist movement. She spoke eloquently about the need for intersectional feminism and greater diversity in our entertainment at the 2015 GLAAD Media Awards, saying, “There is so much power in storytelling, and there is enormous power in inclusive storytelling, in inclusive representations.”
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She may play an adorkable New Girl on TV, but Deschanel maintains that feminism and femininity don’t have to be mutually exclusive. “I want to be a f---ing feminist and wear a f---ing Peter Pan collar,” she told Glamour in 2013. “So f---ing what?”
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Margaret Cho is a vocal intersectional feminist, and her words are borne out of her identity as a queer woman of color. She wrote an essay for xoJane in 2012, which says, “My feminism — it’s kind of necessary. I don’t want to feel like I am less than anyone, and I so I have to label myself in order to be ready for the fight." Cho was the recipient of NOW’s Intrepid Award in 2003.
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Streisand holds the honor of being the only woman to have won the Golden Globe for Best Director (for 1983’s Yentl), and presented the Oscar for Best Director to that award’s only female recipient, Kathryn Bigelow, in rather dramatic fashion in 2010 (“The time has come”). The actress and director has spoken out about the need for gender equality in both the film industry and our political system. “I think women are still treated as second-class citizens,” she told the Associated Press in 2014.
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Longoria has long been active in politics and outspoken on issues of equality and diversity. The actress and producer has focused on projects that are diverse and female-driven and frequently campaigned for political candidates who support women’s issues — and she took part in EW's Beyond Beautiful roundtable earlier this year.
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Rose McGowan seems to be sick of the film industry’s sexist crap, and she isn’t afraid to talk about it — much of the time on Twitter. The Charmed actress made headlines in 2015 when she tweeted a sexist casting note, then followed up that her “wussy” agent had fired her due to the backlash. When she’s not exposing Hollywood’s sexism, she’s speaking out to empower other women in the industry with inspiring talks like this one.
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Amandla Stenberg has, like her fellow teenage activist Rowan Blanchard, established herself as a prominent feminist and reached a younger generation of women via social media. The Hunger Games actress speaks out frequently about intersectional feminism and often chooses projects that shine a spotlight on social issues.
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The Oscar winner has frequently commented on the gender imbalance in Hollywood and is known for calling out the sexism of red carpet interviews. “It just feels like the industry has the same conversation every year, and I think that's a fabulous conversation," she told GQ in 2015. But she’s taken part in one symposium too many: “We'll be back here like Groundhog Day next year having the same f---ing symposium.”
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Witherspoon, who was a part of EW’s Beyond Beautiful roundtable earlier this year, has emerged as a powerful producer in addition to an Oscar-winning actress. Initially inspired to start producing by the lack of good roles available to actresses, she has made a string of films centered on challenging and interesting female characters with her production company, Pacific Standard.
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Mindy Kaling can add ‘feminist’ to her long list of titles, which includes writer, actress, series creator, showrunner, and best-selling author. “For everyone, men and women, it’s important to be a feminist,” Kaling told Refinery29 in 2013. Her feminist perspective comes through on The Mindy Project, which she created and in which she stars, and she has made a point of assembling a writers’ room with a multitude of female voices.
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A lot of celebrities dance around the “Are you a feminist” question (looking at you, “I’m a humanist”-ers), but Page isn’t one of them. “I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists,” the actress told The Guardian in 2013. “But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?”
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The Homeland star invoked the name of another TV leading lady when she decared her feminism to Glamour in a 2014 cover story. “I am a feminist,” Danes told the mag, “and I’m so glad that Lena Dunham exists, because she is one too, and she’s quite vocal about it.”
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In light of the fact that giving a voice to women — a group that has been historically, systematically silenced — is part of the point of feminism, we’ve shone the spotlight on female feminists thus far. But we would be remiss to neglect the men of Hollywood who have also spoken out in support of gender equality. The list includes Joss Whedon, who is famous for his strong central female characters; Channing Tatum; Orange Is the New Black’s Matt McGorry; Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Paul Feig, whose upcoming Ghostbusters reboot is the latest in his string of high-profile female-centric comedies; Aziz Ansari; Mad Max himself, Tom Hardy; John Legend, and even a pair of Avengers, with Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth.