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14th October 2019

Let’s celebrate our feminist icons

Writer Eliza Robey shares some of her feminist icons from Chavela Vargas in the 1950s to Caitlin Moran in the 21st century
Let’s celebrate our feminist icons
Pussy Riot photo: Pussy Riot by Denis Bochkarev @wikimediacommons

Whilst it may not be International Women’s Day anytime soon, celebrating the ideas, legacies, and successes of revolutionary women should never need an excuse. Whether you identify as a feminist or not; knowing the impact of women, both past and present, can remind us of the power of speaking out against the norm.


Pussy Riot should be deemed a global treasure, in my opinion. The all-female Russian band communicate prominent and relevant messages in contemporary societies across the world, with their brash punk vocals and iconic lines such as: “don’t play stupid don’t play dumb vagina’s where you’re really from” taken from the quintessential ‘Straight Outta Vagina’ (feat. Desi Mo and Leikeli 47). With masks on their faces, they also subvert subservience to the prominent male gaze of the music industry. Their music and message is being valued, rather than their market worth being image-based.


Unlike her supposed former lover and popular feminist icon, Frida Kahlo, Chavela Vargas has not been given the same feminist limelight that she, arguably, deserves. Vargas defied 1950s gender conventions in Mexican society through her androgynous style and, as one of the first female ranchera singers, a genre of traditional Mexican music, she refused to change the female pronouns in her songs to conform to hetero-normative standards. It is also supposed that, despite living in conservative conditions leading her to publicly come out at the age of 81, she openly had many female lovers throughout her life and disregarded conventional and gendered behavior standards.


Academics are rarely deemed feminist icons but Joan W. Scott has written foundational works in changing the way we understand history through gender. A striking force within scholarly discourse, her 1986 article in American Historical Review is one of the most ‘important and influential’ according to American History Review. Her legacy is shown in the constantly evolving re-writings of fabricated histories.


Sunday Times columnist and author of a number of books, Caitlin Moran offers alternative and radical ways of understanding gender, sex and culture in relation to many social upbringings. It was only when I first read ‘How to Be a Woman’ as a teenager – being both repulsed and comforted by her candid words on pubic hair, menstruation, and masturbation – that I discovered that I wasn’t the only one questioning the status-quo. Her writings have also brought working-class experiences to the forefront of media representation and discussion.


The three hosts of ‘The Receipts Podcast’ are hilariously open, warm and honest, offering advice based on everything from their life experiences to the queries of UK listeners surrounding relationships, friendships, sex, and culture. Listening to Ghana, Tolly and Sanchez’s uncensored discussions about typically taboo subjects is both refreshing and reassuring.

If you are interested in anything feminism-related, join the Feminist Collective society on Monday evenings. Some of the women referenced in this article were inspired by the thoughts of members of the Feminist Collective.

Facebook: @uomfeministcollective


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