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7 celebrity activists using their fame for good

Celebrities activists Jane Fonda, Yara Shahidi, and Emma Watson on a pink background with The Feminista logo

Happy Monday, Feministas. Last week, we celebrated the power of female friendship on screen, as portrayed by some of the most talented women in Hollywood. So this week, we’re taking a look behind the scenes at some of the real-life leading ladies who lead their lives in a similarly lovely way, by uplifting other women and advocating for feminist causes. 

Whether we like it or not, celebrities have extraordinary power and opportunity to make an impact in the world, and some of our very favorite stars are the ones willing to take on that responsibility with love and humility. We all know Beyoncé, Oprah, Angelina, and Reese—feminist advocates and philanthropic queens—but what about Rosario Dawson or Yara Shahidi? 

Today, we celebrate those women, famously passionate about human rights and generous with their wealth and spotlight. The movers and shakers inspiring us all to pay attention, to speak up, and to use what power and privilege we have to support others, save the planet, and smash the damn patriarchy


Feminist Celebrity #1: Jane Fonda

Gotta start with the O.G. herself, Miss Jane Fonda, who’s been an outspoken activist ever since the Vietnam War. She’s been arrested quite a few times since the 1970s, first for attending an anti-war protest and more recently in the fight against fossil fuels and climate change—always unafraid to use her fame to draw attention to more important matters. 

But what’s especially admirable about Fonda is her honesty about the journey. In an essay she wrote for Lenny Letter, she opened up about what it means to be an “embodied feminist” versus someone who just believes in the concept. She had always been a vocal proponent of women’s rights and choice, and vehemently opposed traditional standards of beauty and the idea that men had the right or power to validate women, but also felt pressure to fit that “perfect” standard herself. 

She shared that she’d even developed an eating disorder to achieve those standards, and that it wasn’t until she was 60 that she decided that she “needed to heal the wounds the patriarchy had dealt [her],” once and for all. Now, at 80 years old, she still feel she has work to do: “that’s what celebrities do, if we’re doing our job right. We’re picking up the voices of people who can’t be heard and broadcasting their story.” Love to see it <3


Feminist Celebrity #2: America Ferrera

You may know her from the TV show, Ugly Betty or even The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (remember that?!), but America Ferrera’s biggest recent appearances have been more political. From her 2017 Women’s March speech, in which she famously said, “Mr. Trump, we refuse,” to her vocal support of the Keep Families Together movement, which fights against family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border, she’s more than comfortable in her role as an actor-activist. 

In an interview in 2019, she explained: “people make decisions every single day that impact my life—the air I breathe, my ability to walk down the street and be safe, how much money I make for the job I do, whether I can choose what happens to my body… And at every important social moment in our history, artists have played a role… At the end of the day, it’s about wielding that sword with awareness.”

She has lived that philosophy in a variety of ways, from her latest book of essays in which she and other first-generation Americans tell their stories to Harness, an organization she and her husband founded to engage and mobilize Latin Americans in politics. Living proof that empowered women empower others.


Feminist Celebrity #3: Rosario Dawson

Rosario Dawson has been another powerful voice for Latin Americans and Hispanic voters with her own nonprofit dedicated to the cause, Voto Latino. But her activism and advocacy extend far beyond that. In 2019, she produced a documentary called The Need to GROW, about saving Earth’s remaining topsoil, which is disappearing at an alarming rate and will have serious consequences for agriculture and food security around the world.

In the film, she explains, “to say that we care about the future of this planet, to say that we care about the survival of our species, and not take action, is simply no longer an option.” And we couldn’t agree more. We’re looking forward to what’s next from Dawson, who’s been an outspoken Democrat and political voice since the Bush presidency and has been increasingly vocal about the climate crisis. Let’s join her, ladies, and destroy the patriarchy, not the planet :)


Feminist Celebrity #4: Emma Watson

Here at The Feminista, we love us some Hermione Granger. And lucky for us, all of that outspoken intelligence is mirrored in the real world in actor and activist Emma Watson, who’s been a UN Goodwill Ambassador since 2014. That year, she launched her famous HeForShe campaign with a speech that invited men to pledge their solidarity with the feminist movement, dispelling the myth that feminism is synonymous with man-hating. (As Hermione might say, “it’s feminist, not feminazi.”)

She has been consistent in her advocacy for women’s rights and climate change over the years, and sets a lovely example of what it looks like to take action, but also to listen and learn along the way. In a letter addressing her own “white feminism” in 2018, she wrote, “...being a feminist is more than a single choice or decision. It's an interrogation of self. Every time I think I've peeled all the layers, there's another layer to peel."

In another interview, she shared, “I'm no expert, and when people push me into a corner of ‘here's Emma Watson to lecture you on feminism,’ it's uncomfortable because I am aware I have a long way to go.” But instead of letting that discomfort shut her down, it propels her to confront her privilege, to be more inclusive and intersectional, and to take on these huge issues with more humility. Which is what we all hope to do :)


Feminist Celebrity #5: Lady Gaga

We know, we know. She’s a pop star and a singer first and foremost… But ever since the success of the movie, A Star is Born, she’s been acting up a storm! And while she’s always been famously fierce in her LGBTQ advocacy, she’s also opened up about her experiences with chronic pain, mental illness, and sexual assault—always using her platform to let others know they’re not alone. 

In 2012, she started the Born This Way Foundation with her mother, which aims to support the wellness of young people with initiatives that range from teaching mental health first aid in schools to social campaigns celebrating small acts of kindness.

And remember her 2016 Oscar performance? She performed a heart-rending cover of “Till It Happens To You” and was joined on stage by over 50 survivors of sexual assault—just one of many powerful statements she's made over the years uplifting the vulnerable and calling attention to important causes with her artistry. 


Feminist Celebrity #6: Sandra Oh

Who doesn’t love Sandra Oh? From her breakout role as the tough-but-secretly-tender Christina on Grey’s Anatomy to more recent roles on Killing Eve and The Chair, she’s always chosen roles that represent women (and especially Asian American women) well. 

In a recent interview, she explained: “to be able to play a character that is hopefully an honest portrayal of a person, a woman, a woman of color, a woman of color who is at a certain position in her life, a single mom, someone who’s trying to be a good daughter, and then maybe have a romance with a friend and keep her institution going, is my activism.” 

But after the repeated violence towards Asian Americans in 2020, she also felt compelled to hit the streets, sharing a few words of support and motivation at a Stop Asian Hate rally in Pittsburgh, PA. Since, she has embraced her place as a role model for that community, and we’re excited to see how her feminist career and newfound activism continues to blossom. 


Feminist Celebrity #7: Yara Shahidi

Black-ish star and feminist activist Yara Shahidi on the come-up, and we are here for it. She’s only 21, but has been fighting for feminism, women in STEM, and voter empowerment since high school, empowering a new generation of activists with her thoughtful brand of advocacy and catching the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama, who wrote her a college recommendation letter and has since been a role model and mentor for Shahidi.

When she turned eighteen, she started the nonprofit Eighteen x 18 (now called We Vote Next), which aims to mobilize young voters and remind them that there are “no off years”—that we’ve all got to show up year after year if we hope to affect change.

She’s currently studying Sociology and African American Studies at Harvard while she acts in the Black-ish spin-off Grown-ish and continues to speak up about intersectionality, women’s rights, and Black Lives Matter from the red carpet to political panels. Oprah once said that she hopes to live long enough to see Yara as president and, damnit, we do too. 


Thanks for reading, Feministas. See you next week for more of The "F" Word, our weekly newsletter and blog on all things feminist, from activism to fashion and beyond. Want it delivered? Scroll down, sign up, and we’ll send it straight to your inbox.

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