10 of the Most Inspiring Feminists of 2015

This year was packed full of feminists doing praise-worthy things. From student activists taking on campus injustices, to celebrities using the spotlight to effect change, 2015 made us proud. Below, take a look at a non-exhaustive list of 10 inspiring feminists who fought the good fight this year.

1. Kimberlé Crenshaw and the African American Policy Forum

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Photo courtesy of Kimberle Crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw, the mother of intersectionality, also happens to be the founder of the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), and this year, the organization launched two powerful campaigns: #BlackGirlsMatter and #SayHerName. AAPF released the Black Girls Matter report in February, which examines the over-policing of African American girls in school and details how girls of color are funneled through the school-to-prison pipeline. The report also critiques President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which creates and funds programs for boys of color while neglecting all girls; in November, the president announced a new initiative for women and girls of color that seems to respond to many of AAPF’s concerns.

The #SayHerName campaign was created after watching news outlets report incident after incident of police violence against black men and boys to the near total exclusion of women and girls; the hashtag and corresponding report aimed to bring black women’s stories of police brutality into mainstream consciousness. #SayHerName was successful: It drew attention on Twitter and changed the conversation around police violence—suddenly, black women like Sandra Bland and girls like Dajerria Becton were drawing the same national outcry as their black male counterparts.

2. Emma Sulkowicz

As an undergraduate student at Columbia University in 2012, Emma Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm room. After a school committee ruled that her attacker was “not responsible” for the crime, Sulkowicz began hauling her mattress around campus in a performance art piece called Carry That Weight, refusing to end the protest until her assailant was expelled from the school or left on his own. This year, she graduated from Columbia and carried her mattress across the stage in a final act of defiance, with crowds cheering her on. Watch the video from the Columbia Daily Spectator above to see the powerful moment.

3. Angelina Jolie

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Photo of Meaza Ashenafi, Tizita Hagere, Angelina Jolie and Zeresenay Berhane Mehari by Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

You may have heard that Angelina Jolie wrote, directed and starred in By the Sea this year, but did you know she also threw her weight behind an independent film about child marriage in Ethiopia? An executive producer on Difret, Jolie—our Winter 2015 cover woman—leant prominence to a remarkable film that tells the true story of a lawyer (Meaza Ashenafi, pictured above) and a young girl who took on the Ethiopian tradition of child-marriage-by-abduction—and won. Said Jolie of the film, “When I first saw this film, I was moved to tears by the story. I couldn’t believe what I was watching—what these young girls have been subjected to. But those tears of sadness became tears of joy as I watched … how they fought back, and in turn what they have done for countless other women.” Difret was released Oct. 23 to critical acclaim.

4. Amber Rose

Photo by Carmen Rios
Photo by Carmen Rios

Plenty of celebrities made feminist declarations this year, but we were particularly impressed by new-to-the-tribe Amber Rose, who pinned on her feminist badge and hit the ground running, taking aim at sexist double standards and slut-shaming at every turn. Rose planned and executed an impressive SlutWalk in Los Angeles in October, drawing thousands and garnering national media attention. She also released a smart and sassy video critiquing slut-shaming with FunnyOrDie, posed as a host of feminist icons in Paper and slammed GQ when the magazine described her reductively as “Kanye’s infamous ex” and “Wiz Khalifa’s baby mama.” She’s definitely one celebrity feminist who walks the talk.

5. The Black Mambas

Photo via the Black Mambas' Facebook page.
Photo via the Black Mambas’ Facebook page.

These women are the definition of badass. The Black Mambas, an all-women anti-poaching unit, was formed this year to tackle the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa. According to BuzzFeed, the reserve where the Mambas work has not lost a single rhino since they began patrolling. The group of 26 unarmed women also protects lions and other species under threat from poaching. Said Leitah, one 22-year-old member of the group, to CNN, “I am strong, I am a woman and I bite like a mamba.”

6. Lindy West and Amelia Bonow

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Lindy West and Amelia Bonow watched as women’s reproductive rights were eroded in the U.S. this year, and when funding for Planned Parenthood landed on the Congressional chopping block, the two women (with help from Bonow’s friend Kimberly Morrison) decided to take a stand by launching the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag. The activists encouraged women on Twitter to speak openly about their reproductive decisions, offering a counter-narrative to the anti-choice rhetoric sweeping the nation. The hashtag garnered more than 150,000 posts on Twitter—with the vast majority of women saying they were relieved they’d had abortions—and encouraged women to see abortion as a right, not something to be ashamed of.

7. The Feminist Five

Graphic by @badiucao
Graphic by @badiucao

Five Chinese women were jailed in March after they planned a protest against sexual harassment on public transit. The Feminist Five, as they came to be known, were soon released on bail, but they could still face criminal charges. Wang Zheng, a University of Michigan scholar who is an expert on feminism in China, blasted the women’s detainment on ChinaChange.org, saying, “These young women didn’t organize a political party, nor are they against the Communist party, nor did they engage in separatism. They did not do anything that can be accused of threatening your regime. They were defending women’s rights safeguarded by the law. It is a turning point for women’s rights in China when these activities are outlawed.”

The activists have continued to speak out against their detainment and the police scrutiny they’ve endured following their arrest. According to Radio Free Asia, one of the women, Li Tingting, said in a statement, “I don’t know why the police are still concerning themselves with me even now. All I do is campaign for gender equality and the rights of women, and sometimes work for the interests of minority groups.”

8. Amy Hagstrom Miller

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Photo via Whole Woman’s Health

Amy Hagstrom Miller is a warrior for reproductive justice. The founder of Whole Woman’s Health, a group of eight abortion clinics in Texas and other states, Hagstrom Miller has been on the frontlines of the fight against Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB2, since 2013. This year, she battled her way through the state legal system and all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices will hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole in 2016. The case could decide the fate of abortion rights in the U.S. Said Hagstrom Miller in a statement, “I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the rights that have been in place for four decades and reaffirm that every woman should be able to make her own decision about continuing or ending a pregnancy.”

9. Janelle Monáe

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Photo via Shutterstock

Singer Janelle Monáe criss-crossed the country on her “Eephus” tour this year, all the while fighting in the Black Lives Matter movement. She and fellow Wondaland Records artists led demonstrations in each city they stopped in, drawing crowds with their music and inspiring all present to take action.

In what should have been a powerful moment following a performance on the Today Show in August, Monáe began to speak about police violence in the U.S. “Yes, Lord! God bless America!” she said. “God bless all who have lost lives to police brutality! We want white America to know that we stand tall today! We want black America to know that we stand tall today! We will not be silenced!” But cameras quickly panned away and NBC cut to a commercial break, prompting fans to call censorship on the network. Graceful as ever, Monáe continued her quest for justice and left the haters where they belong: behind her.

10. Mothers Against Senseless Killings

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Frustrated by a lack of action on gun control, a group of mothers on Chicago’s South Side took action to protect their kids from gun violence this year. Together, they patrol Englewood, offering kids sandwiches and kind words. During their patrols in 2015, there were no shootings on the block of 75th street where they focused their energy. The women also joined protests against police brutality in St. Louis in April, calling on police to stop the senseless killings of black youth.

Tell us in the comments which feminists inspired you in 2015!

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About

Stephanie hails from Toronto, Canada. She is a Ms. writer, a Master of Journalism candidate and a hip hop dancer/instructor/choreographer. She got her start in feminist journalism at the age of 16 when she was a member of the first editorial collective at Shameless magazine—and she has never looked back.