A writer, philosopher, and political activist, Simone de Beauvoir inspired a revolution regarding the role of women in society, making her the grandmother of 20th-century -- or second-wave -- feminism.
Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris, France, in 1908, the daughter of a buttoned-up, bourgeois, middle-class family, which lost its wealth during World War I. She was raised a conservative Catholic but rebelled against her parents' values as a teenager, turning from religion to philosophy and literature. Her father regarded philosophy as gibberish; her mother worried -- correctly it would turn out -- that it would cause Simone to lose her faith. But with no money left for a marriage dowry, Simone knew she would not make a good catch. So off she went to the Sorbonne to read philosophy and pursue a career instead.
Simone was a famously successful student. Though one of very few women to win a place at the prestigious French University, she rose to the top of her class and was the youngest women ever to complete qualification exams to enter the teaching profession. And on a Monday morning in June, 1929, Simone crossed paths with another Sorbonne philosophy major: an intense young man by the name of Jean-Paul Sartre. She would spend the next 50 years by his side, although the two never lived together, often took other lovers, and had no children.
Theirs would have been looked upon as an unconventional relationship, even today:
Hers was a long-tail plan: Chip away at the manifestations of social inequality one case at a time, plant “seeds” of social progress with powerful words, and provide ground-up support to the movements effecting positive change, all as a means toward constructing an unshakeable legal foundation for women’s rights and gender equality.
Celia Bader (née Amster) was brilliant. So smart, she graduated from high school at 15. But it was the early 1900s and her parents, unable to afford to further educate all their children, supported her brother’s future instead. Celia went to work to help put her brother through college. But she never forgot her love of learning or her dream of having a career. When it was her turn to be a mother, she took an active role in the education of her daughter, Joan Ruth, instilling in the girl a love of reading, and setting her on the path to becoming a teacher.
A feminist poet and revolutionary, Qui Jin refused to compromise her dreams for liberation, becoming a symbol of – and hero to – modern China.
Qui Jin was born into a China on the brink of collapse. In 1875, the country had suffered two back-to-back conflicts on its own soil. Collectively referred to as the Opium Wars, they had rapidly undermined the ruling Qing Dynasty, which had been in power since 1644. Opium is a highly addictive substance -- one try and you're hooked -- which made dealers rich. But the traders were mostly British and French, and their importation of opium from India into China was largely illegal.
What would you do if you were treated unfairly and denied your basic social rights? Sylvia Pankhurst stood up and was heard -- not only for her rights, but for those of others.
Born in 1882, Sylvia Pankhurst grew up in the shadow of history’s “radical suffragettes,” the women who, after fighting for their right to vote since the 1870s, lost hope in diplomacy and turned to more extreme means to ensure their voices be heard. Sylvia's mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, was one of them. Founder of the British Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), Emmeline was committed to winning woman's suffrage at any cost.
Sylvia, a talented and precocious writer, joined the women’s suffrage movement in 1906, at the age of 24. That’s when she launched the Woman’s Dreadnought journal in which she would write and publish on issues of women’s’ rights for most of her life.
In 1908, when Britain's Prime Minister refused women the right to vote… again….
Have you ever defied the expectations other people have of you just by being you?
Cristina of Sweden did. Though a Queen, she loved to be “unladylike.”
Born in 1626, Cristina became queen when she was just six years old after her famous father, King Gustavus Adolphus, died in battle at the age of 37. The Swedish nobles, unhappy about serving a female leader, expected Cristina to dutifully get married as early as possible and produce a male heir to the throne.