The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have said it best: "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made… It shouldn't be that women are the exception." When it comes to female empowerment, there is a plethora of inspiration to be drawn from women in all industries and facets of life — from media personalities (hello, Oprah) to boundary-pushing scientists to shoe-leather journalists and activists to single moms working hard to care for and protect their young ones. Women are the bedrock of our communities, and much of the progress that has been made for women’s rights can be traced back to the life-giving chain of one generation of women holding the door open for the next.
Inspiration can come in many forms, too. Some of the most influential women in history didn’t necessarily hold high positions of power or have the most degrees under their belts. Take, for instance, Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist who changed the social discourse around racism in America simply by refusing to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Or Malala Yousafzi, who made headlines after risking her life to stand up for women’s education in Pakistan. Below, we’ve rounded up eight motivational quotes from some of the most inspirational women throughout history, individuals who have proven that being bold, being loud, and being bravely visible are the best ways for a woman to be.
I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds, but our hearts and our souls.
— Malala Yousafzi
In 2012, then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzi was shot in the head while on her way home from school in her native Pakistan, targeted because she had been an outspoken critic of the Taliban’s prohibition on education for girls. Fortunately, she survived the shooting, and doubled down on her efforts to fight for equal access to education. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize one year later, in 2013, the same year she spoke the aforementioned quote at the opening of the Library of Birmingham in England. In her speech, she paid homage to the importance of reading, writing, and books as necessary tools for achieving global peace.
The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you’re very courageous: be strong, be extremely kind, and above all be humble.
— Serena Williams
Considered by many to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, tennis pro Serena Williams has broken countless records, including holding more Grand Slam singles titles than any other man or woman in history. Though she is known for her spirited displays on the court, off the court Williams is often calm and reflective; at the 2015 Glamour Women of the Year Awards, she took to the stage to share this sage advice, encouraging young women everywhere to lift each other up instead of getting trapped in harmful cycles of competitiveness.
I still believe that women should get paid equal and should be treated with respect. I’m all about that. I don’t get out and have to preach it or march in the streets, I write about it.
— Dolly Parton
Known for her historic library of country music classics (she’s written about 3,000 songs herself, including “Jolene,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “9 to 5”) her flamboyant outfits, and her own breed of philanthropy and activism, Dolly Parton has been a hero to many young girls and women for decades now. In an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, she made clear her stance on equal pay and gender equality — just in case anyone had any doubts about where she stood. Parton has long been known to steer clear of talking politics in a public setting, but that doesn’t mean she’s been any less effective at inspiring action from generations of women.
Step out of the history that is holding you back. Step into the new story you are willing to create.
— Oprah Winfrey
There are few things that Oprah Winfrey says that don’t immediately feel quotable. Of the many words of wisdom that she has imparted upon her viewers over the years, however, this quote, excerpted from her book, What I Know for Sure, encompasses much of what the media mogul stands for. She encourages us to create our own destiny; accept agency into our life; push back against the tug of inevitability. Winfrey, who herself struggled through a troubled childhood, has used her own story as an example of what is possible if only we decide to take control of our own narratives.
I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't.
— Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde was a trailblazer in just about every facet of her life. Celebrated for her work as a poet (she was named New York’s Poet Laureate in 1991), Lorde was also an activist and a librarian who believed deeply in the power of words to enact real change in the world. She once described herself as a “black lesbian feminist warrior mother,” and all of those identities are fully represented in the above quote, in which Lorde champions self-respect and voice above all else.
My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.
— Ruth Bader Ginsburg
As far as cultural icons go, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became her own brand of cool in the nearly three decades that she served as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Known in certain circles as “the Notorious RBG,” Ginsburg was an outspoken feminist, a trailblazer, and a role model for countless young girls. In interviews over the years, she often asserted the above sentiment, showing how her own mother, Celia Bader, had instilled that sense of strength and independence into Ruth from an early age.
At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.
— Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is revered in equal parts for her work as an artist and as an activist. Born and raised in Mexico City, Kahlo drew much of her inspiration from the challenges she faced both physically and emotionally: She had polio as a child and suffered its effects well into adulthood, and later, as an adult, she almost died from a horrific bus accident that left her pelvis and spine completely shattered. Still, Kahlo found strength amid adversity, turning to art for both solace and inspiration. Her quote above demonstrates her belief in all women’s inner strength, and serves as a welcome reminder that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.
— Rosa Parks
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to get up from her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, saying in multiple interviews after the fact that she was “tired,” though not necessarily in the physical sense. Though she knew her decision to stay put could have cost her her life — or at the least, a heavy fine or jail time — Parks decided to stick to her guns, and the moment became a pivotal point in the ongoing fight against racial discrimination and oppression. Parks stressed the importance of not allowing fear to keep you from standing up for yourself in her co-authored book, Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation.
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