Women's rights have come a long way in the last fifty years. And in the last couple decades feminism has become a lot more mainstream. Everyone is talking about the importance of gender equality, and the stereotype of feminists as angry, man-hating lesbians has become a lot less prevalent. Things like what gender you identify as, your sexual orientation, your race, or how much money you make have no influence on whether you can be a feminist or not. While we've all had different experiences that shape our view of the world, it doesn't change the fact that everyone should be treated equally.
Women have had to fight for the basic rights that men have always had. There was a time when we couldn't hold certain job, couldn't vote, had no say over what happened to our own bodies, and basically had to rely on men for everything. Now, thanks to all the women who came before us, we have all the rights we deserve. Iconic, famous, whatever you want to call it, here are 16 (of many) women who have changed the world.
16 Audrey Hepburn
Where would our love for the little black dress and over-sized sunglasses be if not for Audrey Hepburn. The legendary Breakfast at Tiffany’s star introduced us to a whole new genre of fashion and beauty. Although not as well known as her onscreen success, Audrey Hepburn was also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and was recognized as a remarkable humanitarian. She was certainly a hero and should be remembered for saving millions of lives by contributing to the UNICEF organization.
Her impressive eyeliner skills aside, Cleopatra is infamous not only for her relationships with Mark Antony and Julius Cesar, but for being the last active pharaoh of Egypt before it became a province of the Roman Empire. After her own brother (and husband) had her exiled, she joined forces with Julius Cesar and managed to overthrow him, and become ruler. Egypt experienced a period of peace under her rule, and she even made an effort to learn the Egyptian language. During a civil war, Cleopatra's reign was brought to an end when she and her lover and ally Mark Antony committed suicide.
14 Joan of Arc
Born in 1412, Joan of Arc was a French heroine. After she claimed to have visions of the Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret at the age of 13, she knew she had to join French troops in battle during the Hundred Years War. At the age of 17 she was put in charge of her own French army, which she led to multiple important victories. Joan was captured by the English and put on trial for witchcraft even though she was extremely religious. She was found guilty and burned at the stake, but was found posthumously innocent 26 years later. Joan of Arc was canonized a saint in 1920 and remains the patron saint of France to this day.
13 Marie Curie
Polish physicist and chemist Marie Curie was the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize. She was also the first person and only woman ever to win one in two different sciences. Her research on radiation won her and her husband the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, and in 1911 she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry after she succeeded in isolating radium. Her research of radiation helped lead to its use in treating cancer, and also helped develop the first X-ray machines. Ironically, she died of cancer in 1934, which was a side effect of working so closely with radium for so many years.
12 Coco Chanel
Still a coveted fashion label today, Chanel was one of the first brands to focus on comfortable and functional fashion for women. Coco Chanel founded the label during the Post-WWI era in order to release women from the constraints of corsets, long skirts, and impractical clothing. Her signature scent Chanel No.5 is still as iconic today as ever, and she was the only fashion designer to be named in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.
11 Gloria Steinem
Now 81, Gloria Steinem was a well-known journalist and spokesperson for the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s. Her first serious article about how women were forced to choose between marriage and having a career was published by Esquire in 1962. She famously went undercover as a Playboy Bunny at New York's Playboy Club in order to write an article exposing how women were treated there. She co-founded the first feminist-themed magazine Ms. in 1972 and coined the phrase "reproduction freedom" which refers to a woman's right to choose whether she wants to have children and how she wants to do it.
10 Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa was fascinated by the lives of missionaries and decided at a young age that she wanted to devote her life to religion. She took her vows to become a nun on May 23, 1931. After teaching at a convent for 20 years, she decided to leave and focus on helping the poor. She called her decision a mission to help "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." Despite criticism of some of her religious beliefs (she was against abortion and divorce) she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
9 Anne Frank
Who hasn't read The Diary of a Young Girl at some point? If you didn't already know, Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who was forced to hide with her family in a secret apartment for over two years during WWII. During that time she wrote about her experiences in a diary, which was published years after her death and the war had ended. Her first person account of what it was like to live in fear of the Nazis on a daily basis is one of the most most prevalent stories that has ever come from WWII. She was only thirteen when she started writing her diary, but is now one of the most well known books in the world.
8 Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks was a African-American civil rights activist best known for being arrested for her refusal to give up her seat on the bus to white passengers. She was already an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) when the incident occurred. Her arrest sparked a city-wide bus boycott where African Americans refused to use the bus until they were offered the same rights as everyone else. Parks was found guilty of disorderly conduct, but she appealed her conviction and took the opportunity to formally challenge racial segregation.
7 Margaret Thatcher
Not only was Margaret Thatcher UK's the longest running Prime Minister of the 20th century (1975-1990), she also remains the only woman to ever hold the office. Her uncompromising politics and strict style of leadership earned her the nickname the "Iron Lady". Although she was criticized during her reign for her failure to reverse the high rate of unemployment in the UK, she believed in individual accountability and didn't think it was the government's job to solve everyone's problems.
6 Marilyn Monroe
As an actress and model, Marilyn Monroe, is one of the most recognizable faces to ever come out of Hollywood. She was considered a sex symbol during the height of her fame (1950s), and is still considered one today. Her marriages to Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, and speculated affair with President Kennedy kept her in the tabloids. Her films, like Gentleman Prefer Blonds, and Some Like it Hot established her as a huge star, but sadly her life was cut short when she was found dead of a drug overdose in the summer of 1962. She was only 36 years old at the time, but she made a huge impact on pop culture that continues to live on.
5 Princess Diana
Princess Diana was officially part of the royal family for the duration of her 15 year marriage to Prince Charles. They had two kids together, William and Harry, but infidelity, and the 13 year age gap between them eventually ended their marriage. Diana was a devoted and involved mother, and she also found plenty of time for humanitarian and charity work. Even after the divorce she remained involved in organizations supporting work with HIV, homelessness, leprosy, cancer, mental illness, drug abuse, and landmines. She was killed in a car accident in 1997, but her legacy lives on through her sons.
Called the "Queen of Pop", Madonna is a master at pushing boundaries and constantly reinventing herself. She is the reigning best-selling female recording artist of all time with over 300 millions records sold. She's also the top touring female artist of all time and is often cited as a huge influence on new artists. She's living proof that sex sells, and has never been afraid of controversy. She still hasn't stopped making music and her latest album Rebel Heart was released earlier this year.
3 Oprah Winfrey
Arguably the most successful talk show host of all time, Oprah Winfrey started out as a small-time radio show host before moving on to TV and eventually being dubbed the "Queen of all Media". She is ranked the richest African American of the 20th century. Her success has allowed her to offer support and opportunities to those less fortunate, and her influence was believed to help Barack Obama secure over 1 million votes during his first campaign for Presidential election. She's also an accomplished actress and has helped bring the experiences of fellow African Americans to the big screen with films like The Color Purple and Beloved.
2 Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton may have started out as the First Lady during Bill Clinton's reign as President, but she's worked hard since then to the point of being considered a serious presidential candidate in her own right. Time will tell if she'll end up being the first ever female President of the United States, but for now she has the distinction of being New York's first female state senator, and the first former First Lady to serve as Secretary of State. She has formally announced her campaign for the Democratic candidacy for President in the 2016 election.
1 Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai is only 18 years old, but she's already survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban and gone on to be the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has been fighting for women's and children's rights in Pakistan since she started writing an anonymous blog for BBC when she was 11. The attempt to assassinate her ended up having the opposite affect as intended, and she became a household name. Her memoir "I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban" was published in 2013 and she's poised to continue her fight for education and equal rights.