Symbols of Feminism: Past, Present and Outside the Box

As we come close to the end of the rebranding feminism campaign, we wanted to look to the past and present to ponder several questions. How has the movement been symbolized? Can feminism really be for everyone? Some women of color and trans people have created their own symbols. Has the movement become more inclusive?

 Let's start from the beginning and explore how women's rights/gender equality has been communicated through images.

The Beginning

The suffragists used the color yellow to signify their fight for the right to vote. For the suffragist who wore this yellow sash in the early 1900s, the color of the silk was as meaningful as the “Votes for Women” slogan printed on it. After Kansas suffragists adopted the state symbol of the sunflower for a campaign in 1867, yellow became the symbolic color of the national women’s suffrage movement. Supporters were urged to “show your colors” by wearing yellow ribbons, buttons, and sashes.

In August 1920, the 19th Amendment was one state shy of ratification when it came up for vote in Tennessee. The Suffragists, led by Carrie Chapman Catt, descended on Nashville to lobby for ratification along with Tennessee women of every background, race and social class. Despite their diversity, they were united under a single symbol: the yellow rose -- which was worn everywhere by supporters of the amendment. Red roses -- the flower of choice for Anti-Suffragists -- were also very much in evidence. What ensued that hot summer so many years ago was nothing less than the second "War of the Roses".

Rosie the Riveter showed off her biceps during WWII and was used decades later to symbolize female power. 

Years later there would be many variations of the image. Women of color began to discuss the need for intersectionality.

Here's a brief history of the Rosie the Riveter.

Images from the late 1960s to mid 1970s.
Posters from the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.

In the late 70s and 80s, advertisers saw a way to make money off of feminism and were even pushing perfume to the working woman. Watch this 1980 for Enjoli: The 8-hour perfume, by Charles of the Ritz. You might recognize this lyric, "I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan", " 'Cause I'm a woman - Enjoli!"

The Evolution and Need for Inclusion

A symbol of the Women's Movement or radical feminism, consisting of the astronomical and astrological symbol of the planet Venus, also known as symbol of the Roman goddess Venus, and the clenched fist, symbol of 1960's and early 1970's "power" movements.

A variation that represents Islamic Feminism

In the 1970s, Chicanas formed the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional. This commission became an important part of Chicana feminism. Among the many Chicana feminists, writer Gloria Anzaldua was important to the evolution of a movement of women color of diverse backgrounds. She coedited the book "This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color," which brought together the experiences of Latinas, women from the African diaspora, Asian Americans and Native Americans.

Alice Walker first used term "womanism" in her book, "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose." It describes “black feminist or feminist of color." Writers and scholars such as Audre Lorde discussed racism in feminist thought and as a lesbian, she was an example of intersectionality.

Islamic Feminism

Margot Badran defines "Islamic feminism" as:
…a concise definition of Islamic feminism gleaned from the writings and work of Muslim protagonists as a feminist discourse and practice that derives its understanding and mandate from the Qur'an, seeking rights and justice within the framework of gender equality for women and men in the totality of their existence. Islamic feminism explicates the idea of gender equality as part and parcel of the Quranic notion of equality of all insan (human beings) and calls for the implementation of gender equality in the state, civil institutions, and everyday life. It rejects the notion of a public/private dichotomy (by the way, absent in early Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh) conceptualising a holistic umma in which Quranic ideals are operative in all space.

Trans feminism—transgender perspectives on feminism, or feminist perspectives on transgender issues.

In popular culture, singer Erykah Badu had a logo designed for her that combined symbols for Black Power, Feminism, Ancient Egyptian Religion, and Ghetto Fabulous-ness.

This comic sums up how feminism can be for everyone: DC WOMEN PRESENTS: “MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT”

(Source: jaegerpilotmako)


UPDATE:  You can see the winner of VITAMIN W's competition Feminism is for Everyone here


Rose, wikimedia

Rosie, public domain

We All Can do it, courtesy of