If We Looked to Politicians Instead of Celebrities For Our Feminist Icons, Who Would They Be?

Features. Posted 3 years ago

Lydia Kaye
Kim Kardashian. Image source.Kim Kardashian. Image source.

In a world dominated by celebrities and social media, just who are acting as role models and feminist icons for the younger generation of women?

Kim Kardashion has over 34 million followers on Twitter and over 44 million on Instagram, yet so few young adults know the name Benazir Bhutto.

Let’s not forget that Kim Kardashian was made famous by a leaked sex tape and an unusually large derrière… When you think about it broadly, she is simply another celebrity. But with millions of followers and extreme fans, not to mention the sheer selling power of her image on magazine covers, there is no denying her presence is having a huge affect on our society.


Image: Kim Kardashian’s Instagram account. Image via Instagram.

I don’t follow Kim Kardashian on social media out of principle. But I sometimes find myself typing her name into the Instagram search bar and scrolling through her recent self-indulgent snaps like I’m secretly relapsing from an addiction. Why? I have NO IDEA. Maybe just pure voyeuristic curiosity like her other 44 million followers. I don’t do the same with Michelle Obama’s account, and it all makes Hillary Clinton’s Instagram following of 247k look a little feeble.

As far as feminist icons go – other than being a very highly paid, and now very successful, businesswoman – I’m not sure Kim fits the bill.

For want of sounding dramatic, shouldn’t we all be turning to the women devoting their lives to making a difference in the world?

The main problem with female politicians is that there is a serious lack of them. If you want to know just how little women feature in national parliaments worldwide, you can see the meagre figures here.

Less than 29% of the British government is made of women. In the United States, a mere 18% of women participate in leadership positions in the government. This figure is less than that of the developing country of Uganda at 49%.

In some areas in the West the number of women in politics has actually decreased in the last decade.

With so few women holding significant positions in government, it makes it difficult for young women interested in politics to find role models.

What’s worse is that the amazing role models that do exist, often aren’t widely known. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, won’t be talked about much in school corridors, and yet she was voted the most powerful woman in the world in Forbes 2015 list.

In order to become better known with the younger generation, do women in politics need to be posting more #selfies and #belfies?

The fact is these women are less well known because countries are run by men. So women are pushed into the shadows. Moreover, the treatment female politicians receive is the biggest deterrent of all for those young women that actually do want to go into politics.

When Julia Gillard was elected the first female Prime Minister of Australia, commentators criticised her lifestyle choices and said they made her a bad role model for women. She lives with her partner and is unmarried with no children. When Gillard was elected in 2010, an article was posted in the Sydney Morning Star that stated that being childless and in an ‘uncertain relationship’ at her age was sending a bad message to young girls.


Image: Julia Gillard visiting a Girls College for her campaign for Better Schools. Image via Instagram.

Not drawing attention to Gillard’s outstanding achievement in smashing a remarkably thick glass ceiling was the truly bad message that was sent out.

With three years of publicly putting up with sexist abuse and double standards, it’s not surprising that not many women are jumping the gun to be the second female Prime Minister of Australia.

But Gillard is a feminist icon, not just because of her achievements but also for standing up for herself in her famous Misogyny Speech in 2012 that was in reaction to sexism from opposition leader Tony Abbott. Obama later congratulated Gillard on the speech. Which means she nailed it.

If Gillard was criticised for her lack of a family, then poor old Maggie Thatcher was evidence that you really can’t win. She had both husband and children but was criticised for neglecting them and putting her career first.


Image: Margaret Thatcher being cheered at a Conservative Party Conference, 1989. Image via nydailynews.com.

Thatcher had to repeatedly put up with questions asking outright where her children and husband were at local council meetings.

She was called a ‘flirt’ by her male counterparts, who argued she used her femininity to her advantage. Whereas women accused her of ‘becoming a man’ while in office and just ‘fitting in’ to her surroundings. Many say she was a terrible feminist, or simply not a feminist at all. But actually Thatcher was the ultimate feminist icon whether she liked it or not. She went against all the odds and broke the mould as a woman in countless ways.

Of being a woman in politics Hillary Clinton said “When you’re in the spotlight as a woman, you know you’re being judged constantly. I mean it is just never ending….”.

So those that dare to go there should be held up in awe.


Image: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (current President of Liberia and Head of State in Africa), Margot Wallström (deputy Prime Minister of Sweden) and Dilma Rousseff (current President of Brazil).

As far as feminist icons go, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is an absolute cracker. She is the current President of Liberia and the first elected female Head of State in Africa. She was also awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakel Karman. The women were recognized for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. Unfortunately Sirleaf isn’t on social media so you can’t even follow her for regular updates on saving the world, or even amazing turban inspiration. Turbspiration.

Margot Wallström, deputy Prime Minister of Sweden is also up there in the feminist icon stakes. She was brave enough to criticise the lack of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and also promised a ‘feminist’ foreign policy when her Social Democrats formed the coalition government. She’s also on Twitter as @margotwallstrom so head there whenever you feel the overwhelming urge to see what the Kardashians are up to.

Seeing as celebrities currently have a bigger impact on youth culture than politicians, it’s important the media highlights those celebs that really are making a difference.

Luckily there are some who bridge the gap, and they do it so well you can have a feminist icon and celeb fix in one.

Angelina Jolie is quite simply a walking goddess who is Hollywood starlet, global ambassador and humanitarian all wrapped into one.


Image: Angelina Jolie speaking at a G8 Foreign Ministers meeting, 2013. Image via CNN.com.

Her work with British Foreign Secretary William Hague shed greater light on how to tackle the issue of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war.

And although there may well be something relentlessly irritating about Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, no one could ever deny the brilliant work she is doing with the UN and her broadening of the notion of feminism with her ‘He for She’ campaign.


Image: Emma Watson with Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Image via Instagram.

Now if only Kim Kardashian would do something charitable every now and then and we could all stalk her Instagram guilt free.

Follow Lydia Kaye on Twitter @Lydia_Kaye

Liked this? Read these articles by Lydia Kaye:

1) Cleopatra Was Called a Witch Because She Was a Strong Female Leader

2) The Corset is Now Empowering Women Instead of Oppressing Us

3) A Big Butt is Hot, But Only If You’re White

Have news tips? Send them through to us at info@cataloguemagazine.com.au