Women in Hollywood have come a long way over the last few decades. Originally, actresses were viewed predominantly as love interests, female singers were mostly marketed as sex-symbols and female filmmakers were unheard of.
However, these days we are witnessing the rise of a new breed of powerful women in the entertainment industry
Follow this list, as we identify the women who have been part of the feminist revolution that is breaking through the glass ceiling for the women of Hollywood.
One woman known for using her powerful presence in Hollywood, and her voice, strongly for females in the entertainment industry, is Charlize Theron.
Theron made sure that her presence was felt during negotiations for the filming of her 2016 movie “Snow White and the Huntsman”, when she ensured that her salary was matched with that of her co-star Chris Hemsworth.
Pop-culture feminist icon
Her inimitable performance in the role of Impertora Furiosa in the 2015 release of “Mad Max: Fury Road” has led to the creation of a pop-culture role model for feminists.
Theron told Elle magazine in a recent interview that “girls need to know that being a feminist is a good thing”.
Having risen to worldwide fame following her title role in “Jane the Virgin”, Rodriguez acknowledges her own celebrity and often speaks out about how she makes use of her celebrity status in order to reach out to people and spread her message.
In an interview with TV Guide in 2014, Rodriguez said: “now I can talk to more girls and tell them that any skin color, any economic background, any shape they were born into is perfect and right and strong and beautiful and enough because I’m sitting here, not the stereotype”.
We Will Foundation
In addition to using her social media platforms for activist actions, Rodriguez began the “We Will Foundation” in 2016, which supports an art education for women who would otherwise not have the means to afford to do so.
Gal notoriously lived up to the reputation of her badass female character by re-shooting scenes whilst five months pregnant with her second child.
Gadot showed just how tough she was and proved exactly what a strong female lead can achieve in today’s Hollywood.
The stunning Gal was born and raised in a small Israeli town and she spoke to Rolling Stone about how feminism had helped her on her journey to becoming one of the biggest names in Hollywood today. She said:
“People always ask me, ‘Are you a feminist?’ And I find the question surprising, because I think, ‘Yes, of course. Every woman, every man, everyone should be a feminist. Because whoever is not a feminist is a sexist.’”
Feminist, civil liberties activist, gifted comedienne and all around nice person, Ellen DeGeneres has been advocating for both women and LGBT rights throughout her lengthy Hollywood career.
When Ellen announced her sexuality in Time Magazine and on The Oprah Winfrey Show, she became the first openly lesbian actress to play an openly lesbian character on a TV show.
This led to many actors and actresses refusing to work with her, greatly affecting her career at the time. However, her coming out opened the way for national dialogue concerning sexuality and individual freedoms.
Reese Witherspoon is globally recognized as one of the most successful and powerful actresses in the entertainment industry.
The Hollywood actress, who considers Oprah Winfrey to be one of her best friends, is now building a name for herself as an influential producer, as well as already being an Oscar-winning actress.
Witherspoon was part of EW’s Beyond Beautiful roundtable in 2018 and began her own production company, Pacific Standards, with the main goal of producing films to focused on interesting and diverse female characters.
Another badass Hollywood player that has blitzed through boundaries and established herself as one of the most powerful women – nay, people – in the game.
The Lemonade singer gave a rare interview to Elle, explaining her take on feminism, and how she has relayed it through her music.
Saying it like it is
“I’m not really sure people know or understand what a feminist is, but it’s very simple. It’s someone who believes in equal rights for men and women,” the Sasha Fierce singer told Elle.
“I don’t understand the negative connotation of the word, or why it should exclude the opposite sex. If you are a man who believes your daughter should have the same opportunities and rights as your son, then you’re a feminist.
We need men and women to understand the double standards that still exist in this world, and we need to have a real conversation, so we can begin to make changes.”
The pocket-sized and larger-than-life singer has endured an agonizing year, from the terrorist attack at her Manchester concert to a broken engagement and the death of her ex MC Miller.
Despite these challenges, Grande has remained incredibly strong and has continued to empower her fans, both young and old alike.
God is a Woman
Grande even released the female anthem ‘God is a Woman’ on her most recent album, which took her to the top of the charts and sent out a super positive message for all women in the process.
In a predominantly white, male industry, Shonda Rhimes is an African woman who has been in the habit of breaking down walls since she began her career.
She is the executive producer, showrunner and director of some of the most addictive TV Shows ever created, including “Grey’s Anatomy”, “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Scandal”.
‘There are no Dumb Weak Woman’
Rhimes is not only unbelievably talented, but she also is not afraid to let her opinions on women’s place in Hollywood be known. In February 2018, she tweeted some inspiring words:
“Entertainment industry, time to stop using the phrases ‘Smart Strong Women’ and ‘Strong Female Leads.’ There are no Dumb Weak Women. A smart strong woman is just a WOMAN. Also? ‘Women’ are not a TV trend—we’re half the planet.” – Preach, sister!
When we first met frizzy-haired, know-it-all Hermione Granger during the first installment of the Harry Potter franchise, it was immediately obvious that Emma Watson was going to make a difference in Hollywood.
Throughout her career, Watson has used her influence to speak out for women’s rights, gender equality, and the environment.
A Woman of Many Talents
Watson is a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. and has been working to shine a light on gender equality.
She did, however, receive a good deal of backlash when she posed braless for that Vanity Fair shoot, but she came straight back at her critics in the sassy, intelligent way that we have come to know and love.
“Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women, it’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.”
Jessica Chastain has openly supported the ‘Times Up’ movement and has become an indispensable female icon.
She recently put her money where her mouth is, ensuring that her co-star Octavia Spencer’s pay matched her for a project they worked on together.
Working with a female director yearly
Chastain has tried to actively be the change that the old Hollywood culture needed and has set herself the goal of working with female filmmakers, as she explained in her THR editorial:
“They’re not given the same opportunities so if I have any influence in choosing a film or a script or finding a director, I’m absolutely going to make a difference.”
Since 2008, Jessica has done a pretty good job at meeting her goals, working with five fantastic female directors including Kathryn Bigelow, Ami Canaan Mann, Liv Ullman, Niki Caro, and Susanna White.
The name Lena Dunham has become synonymous with unrepentant feminist representation and an in-your-face attitude.
While the creator of the hit TV show Girls definitely has her critics, she is undeniably a powerhouse that knows what she wants and refuses to let it pass her by.
The gift of a voice
Dunham makes a point of ensuring that her characters are relatable and has taken Hollywood’s unrealistic physical standards to task on more than one occasion.
She made sure to break this trend in her series Girls and has used her platform to speak out about inequality, in addition to advocating for sexual assault survivors.
At the 2015 Power of Woman event, Dunham spoke about her gifts, she said, “I am grateful every day for the gifts I’ve been given, particularly the gift of a voice and of people willing to hear it.”
While the gorgeous Jennifer Lawrence may be both awkward and hilarious, she can also be very serious when it is required, and she has not hesitated to make her thoughts known when it comes to equality issues, such as Hollywood’s pay gap problem.
”Get a Grip
Lawrence has also had no problem with putting people into their place when it becomes necessary.
When there was controversy around the outfit she wore for a photo call, with many branding it as inappropriate for the weather, Lawrence fired back to let her critics know that she will wear whatever she chooses:
“Get a grip people, everything you see me wear is my choice. And if I want to be cold THAT’S MY CHOICE TOO!”
Academy Award winner, producer, activist and mother, actress Angelina Jolie has braved many hardships exclusive to women.
The mother of six recently addressed her decision to undergo an elective double mastectomy as well as the surgical removal of her ovaries.
She did so after losing her mother, grandmother, and aunt to cancer, bringing women’s health to the forefront of discussion among the public.
Jolie is known for her work as an ambassador for the U.N., specifically with women in wor-torn areas. She has received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in recognition of her efforts.
Looking at her extensive career, it is apparent that Jane Fonda has played a vital role in the empowerment of women in Hollywood.
Fonda recently wrote an essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter magazine, which details her journey to become what she terms an “Embodied Feminist”.
It included surviving an eating disorder in a time when she was attempting to live up to the unrealistic physical standards that society imposed on women.
Fonda’s letter to Lenny Letter explains her take on the word feminism.
She states that it is “not about replacing one ‘-archy’ with another, it’s about transforming social and cultural norms and institutions so that power, violence, and greed are not the primary operating principles.
It’s not about moving from patriarchy to matriarchy, but from patriarchy to democracy. Feminism means real democracy.”
Madonna has proven to be a key player in empowering women in Hollywood, with countless feminist acts over the years.
In three and a half decades, she has seen enough misogyny to know that someone needs to take a stand and push back!
Playing the game
When asked about the stereotype and double standards that women in Hollywood are treated with, the Material Girl responded with:
‘If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo.
You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world’-
The Vogue singer has definitely crossed all those lines and more.
Viola Davis has a lot to say when it comes to unequal pay, and the powerhouse actress is not afraid to let it be known. She came out at the Woman in the World Los Angeles Salon, making a stand against the racial pay gap stating:
‘I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver. …They had the same path as me, and yet, I am nowhere near them, not as far as money, not as far as job opportunities, nowhere close to it.’
She concluded her heated speech by adding, ‘People say, “You’re a black Meryl Streep. You are, and we love you”…Well, then if there’s no one like me. You pay me what I’m worth…I’m not hustling for my worth. I’m worthy.’
Portman is another vivacious, beautiful and gifted star whose activism has as much importance to her as her career.
She is a dedicated vegan, who has fought for animal rights, as well as being a voice for gender equality and fierce supporter of Time’s Up.
It’s all connected
Recently, the ‘Vox Lux’ star shared how she believes that every aspect of her activism is related.
She told The Hollywood Reporter at a screening of the documentary “Eating Animals” – which she narrated and produced – “It’s all under the same system. It’s not an accident that women are treated in a different way in our society, and our Earth is called Mother Earth and it’s treated poorly.”
Meryl Streep is Hollywood royalty, having received 16 Academy Award nominations, winning 2, and 25 Golden Globe nominations, where she won 7.
But what is even more impressive than her expansive career, is her activism and the part she plays as a role model for woman and girls everywhere.
Streep spoke out about the industry and the equal pay debate recently, at the annual Massachusetts Conference for Women, along with other notable names of Hollywood women.
She explained the effects for everyone involved, stating: “Equal means equal. And if it starts at the top, none of these shenanigans would have filtered down and it wouldn’t have been tolerated.”
Chrissy is so much more than just ‘John Legend’s wife’. Teigen has become highly relatable as an activist, mother, and of course, Twitter personality.
The model is always quick to respond to breaking news and is not afraid to speak her mind about what she believes in, whether it involves politics or pasta.
Proud of her routes
She has also spoken out about her dislike of Donald Trump.
When the President recently announced his ‘Zero Tolerance’ immigration policy, she put in her two cents: “I’m incredibly proud to be the daughter of an immigrant,” she said of her Thai background at the march.
“America at its best is big, beautiful and diverse, like our great city of Los Angeles.”
Geena Davis has been changing the industry for women in Hollywood since long before it was fashionable.
As far back as 2006, she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which aims to explore gender representation on screen and also to advocate for more honest depictions of women in Hollywood.
Davis never stopped fighting.
In 2015 she used her influence once again to fund the Bentonville Film Festival, whose mission it is “to champion women and diverse voices in media.” What a champ!
This tiny blonde bombshell is proof that good things come in small packages. Bell is extremely vocal about her beliefs and chose to appear in a feminist video called ‘Pinksourcing’ in 2016, which took on the gender pay gap.
“Why outsource all your production to faraway countries like India, China, and Narnia when we have the cheapest and best workforce right here in the good ole U.S. of A.: women,” Bell said in the mockumentary.
Bell of the Ball
Bell has continued advocating for women and announced in March 2018 that she would become the first global advocate for the Women’s Peace & Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) – a United Nations and civil society partnership which supports women in preventing crises and building peace.
Sharmeen, a producer and director, is sparking political change, as well as making waves in Hollywood.
In 2016 she made history being the only Pakistani to win two Academy Awards, along with being the only woman of color to win that year with her moving documentary “A Girl in the River: Th Price of Forgiveness”.
Obaid’s acceptance speech stated, “The Pakistani Prime Minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film,”.
That very year a loophole was repealed that allowed perpetrators of honor killings to avoid punishment by seeking forgiveness – resulting in them being legally pardoned.
While she may not be the most recognizable name on the list, Patty Jenkins is the director who is moving mountains for women behind the screens in Hollywood.
She is the woman behind the camera of “Wonder Woman”.
Real Wonder Woman
Jenkins made history with Wonder Woman – she was the first female director to take on a project of this level for the DC universe and, as we all know, she did a superb job in bringing Wonder Woman to life.
Amy Schumer has been a breath of fresh air in the stuffy male-dominated world of Hollywood. The female stand-up comedian and actress regularly attacks rape culture, gender double standards and general Hollywood sexism in her stand-up.
Saying it like it is
Schumer tells it how it really is, without the glamour and gloss, including documenting her current pregnancy in all its brutal honesty – including the very un-glamorous video of her vomiting in a public restroom!
Streisand has long been one of the most recognizable names of our time and holds the honor of being the only woman to have won the Golden Globe for Best Director for her 1983 film “Yentl”.
The time has come
The Divine Miss M was also given the honor of presenting the Oscar for Best Director to the only ever female recipient, Kathryn Bigelow, in 2010 stating “the time has come”.
Streisand has often spoken out for the urgent need for gender equality in all walks of life, both the film industry and the political system. “I think women are still treated as second-class citizens,” she told the Associated Press in 2014.
Oprah Winfrey is no stranger to breaking through barriers. From being one of the first women of color in the talk show world, Oprah has worked her way up to becoming the Talk Show Queen of the world. Quite literally.
Oprah for president
Women in Hollywood have begun to urge Winfrey to run for President, following her electrifying presence at the Golden Globes this year, where her speech transformed the awards show into a platform for women’s rights and social justice.
Writer, director and distributor Ava DuVernay is unstoppable in her fight to level the playing field for the directing industry. Recently, she dared an angry male director to sue her, after he complained about her habit of favoring female directors.
Go right ahead
The Wrinkle in Time director told the audience in her acceptance speech for her Woman of Vision Award that, after she received the complaint, she had no problem putting him in his place.
She told him, “I invite you to tell whoever is feeling discriminated against to sue me so that I can sue every studio that has left women out. Because we can do this, if that’s what you want to do.”
This is one name you have definitely heard of, because Malala has fought for what she believes in to the extreme.
In 2012, she was shot by the Taliban after she publicly spoke out for girls’ education.
After surviving the attack, Yousafzai went on to become an activist, an author, a UN messenger of peace and the youngest Nobel Laureate ever when she received the Nobel Peace Prize.
In her own, inspiring words, “change is possible and do not limit yourself, do not stop yourself, just because you are young.”
Ashley Judd was one of the first victims to come out about her sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein which prompted a national dialog about sexual misconduct in the Hollywood industry, all from Judd bravely going on record to reveal her story.
Judd’s fight for justice and equality neither began, nor ended with her revelations about Weinstein. For years, Judd has been involved in many aspects of fighting inequality.
As early as 2012, she published an essay that called for women to challenge the patriarchy, and she also took part in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, where she recited the explosive poem “Nasty Women” for her fellow protestors.
Sofia Coppola is a member of an exclusive group of only a few women in Hollywood after making a name for herself as both a director and a writer.
She was also the first woman to ever win a Beds Director Prize at the Cannes Film Festival – which has been going for the last 50 years! – for her film “Beguiled”.
Quite the cast
Coppola was able to celebrate her win, with a stellar female cast that included such talented women as Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman, and Elle Fanning.