New Yorkers Were All Over Ms. Foundation's List of Top Feminist Celebrities of 2015

From It Got Better Featuring Laverne Cox | L/Studio created by Lexus
From It Got Better Featuring Laverne Cox | L/Studio created by Lexus

Two teenage actresses tied for the top spot for the Ms. Foundation for Women's Feminist Celebrity of the 2015. Rowan Blanchard and Amandla Stenberg received the most votes in an online survey sponsored by the Brooklyn-based non-profit, in partnership with Cosmopolitan.com. Coming in at a close second was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

“The list is truly reflective of the inclusive and intersectional definition of feminism,” says Teresa C. Younger, Ms. Foundation for Women President and CEO. The foundation – one of the nation’s oldest and largest national women’s funds – put out a call for nominations on their website, narrowed them down to the top 15 celebrities then allowed people to vote. The Feminist Celebrity of the Year survey is part of the Ms. Foundation for Women #MyFeminismIs campaign to work toward the social, economic and political equality of all genders. "This is not your grandmother's feminism," says Younger.

“We were excited to how the nominations were really diversified — men, transwomen, young people, older generations — because we’re trying to challenge the assumptions made about who are feminists,” says Younger.

It turns out that half the feminists on the list, like Ginsberg, have New York connections. Here’s a closer look at the five of them:

New Yorkers Were All Over Ms. Foundation's List of Top Feminist Celebrities of 2015

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The Brooklyn-born U.S. Supreme Court justice is the second woman in history to sit in this court (Sandra Day O’Connor was the first) but she became known for breaking professional barriers for women long before she was behind the bench. Turned down for jobs because of her gender after graduating first in her class from Columbia Law School, she later became the school’s first tenured female professor. She was a co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and would later become known for her strong stances against racist policies — perhaps most notably in her fierce six-page dissent in the 2012 case challenging the Voting Rights Act. The beloved “Notorious RBG” continues to advocate for gender equality and stand as an icon for young women.

From It Got Better Featuring Laverne Cox | L/Studio created by Lexus
From It Got Better Featuring Laverne Cox | L/Studio created by Lexus

Laverne Cox 
Before she rose to fame playing inmate Sophia Burset on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black the actress lived in another kind of prison in her hometown of Mobile, Alabama. She grew up in a poor, working-class community and endured homophobic bullying her whole childhood before fleeing for New York after high school where she studied acting at Marymount Manhattan College and began her transition living as a woman. During the first season of OITNB, Cox still held her job performing as a drag queen at Lucky Cheng’s on the Lower East Side.

She also made history with a number of groundbreaking achievements: the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy Award, the first openly transgender person on the cover of Time magazine, and recipient of the Stephen F. Kolzak Award by GLAAD for her work advocating for the transgender community.

Matt McGorry 
The second OITNB (and How to Get Away With Murder) star to top the list somewhat recently became an outspoken feminist. The Manhattan-born McGorry took to social media multiple times early this year to talk feminism and publicly identify himself as a feminist. On Facebook and Twitter, he discussed the definition of feminism and spoke out against the gender pay gap. On National Equal Pay Day, he posted a video on Facebook and wrote, "One of the many ways the wage gap sucks...you can't make it rain #78cents compared to the dollar made by men." Another Facebook video he posted, accompanied by a 900-word caption for National Equal Pay Day, garnered more than 100,000 views.

Amy Schumer delivering acceptance speech at Glamour Awards.EXPAND
Amy Schumer delivering acceptance speech at Glamour Awards.

Amy Schumer
The comedian, actor, writer, and producer is by now known to most as one of the country's leading feminist comics. Her Emmy-nominated sketch comedy series, Inside Amy Schumer has been praised for its no-holds-barred brand of feminism and smart, witty satire. Schumer makes dicey topics accessible and is unapologetic about addressing sexual double standards and shining a light on everything from gender stereotypes to rape in the military. Born on the Upper East Side, Schumer grew up in Manhattan and Long Island before moving to Maryland to study theater. She recently won the 2015 GLAMOUR Trailblazer of the Year Award for her comedic work. 

Viola Davis 
This year, Viola Davis — a Juilliard-trained actress and longtime New York theater mainstay — became the first black woman to win an Emmy for lead actress in a drama for her role as Annalise Keating on the ABC show How to Get Away with Murder. She confronted the history she made and the lack of diversity on television in her acceptance speech, saying, "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity." It wasn't the first time Davis drew attention to the lack of black women in leading roles. At the Screen Actor's Guild Awards earlier this year, Davis won "Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series." During that acceptance speech she said: "I'd like to thank Paul Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Bill D'Elia and Pete Norwalk for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned African American woman who looks like me."

And though they're not from New York, here's a bit more about the two young women who made the top of this list:

Amandla Stenberg
The 16-year-old actress is best known for playing Rue in the Hunger Games film franchise, but she's also earned notoriety for her activism efforts, which include pushing young women’s involvement in science, technology, engineering and math fields. She recently announced that she is creating a comic book with a black female protagonist warrior, encouraging more narratives for people of color. Stenberg also made headlines earlier this year for speaking out against the gender-role double-standards and cultural appropriation, calling out reality TV star Kylie Jenner as an example of celebrities who appropriate black culture without using their stage to draw attention to issues of police brutality or racism.

Rowan Blanchard
The 13-year-old actress who plays Riley Matthews on Disney channel series Girl Meets World — the sequel to the Nineties sitcom Boy Meets World — has sounded off on a number of women’s issues, including body shaming, misogyny and objectification of women by the media. Over the summer, both her three-part Instagram post discussing modern feminism, as well as an essay on her Tumblr about white feminism went viral. 

The full list of the top 10 Feminist Celebrities of the Year:

1. Rowan Blanchard/Amandla Stenberg
2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
3. Laverne Cox
4. Shonda Rhimes
5. Matt McGorry
6. Amy Schumer
7. Jennifer Lawrence
8. Viola Davis
9. Margaret Cho
10. Ellen DeGeneres


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