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Women's History Month

16 Powerful Quotes About What It Means to Be a Woman


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At NYPL, we believe women are heroes. Women are some of our favorite writers, most intelligent voices, and incredible innovators. Women have helped us think more deeply through issues about which we're passionate, and women have made our world a better place to be human. And though womanhood is often a challenging terrain, it offers unique power, especially when we make the cultural conversation more inclusive. Together, we've argued over the merits of "leaning in." We've asked whether women can "have it all." We've wondered why women's voices are so often excluded from the world of publishing and how to make feminism more intersectional. And through it all, amazing women have inspired us. Here are some words of wisdom about the wonderful, confounding, and powerful existence that is being a woman. We hope they will empower us all to shatter the glass ceiling, one triumphant fist at a time.

Three members of Lavender Menace at the Second Congress to Unite Women, New York, 1970 May
Three members of Lavender Menace at the Second Congress to Unite Women, New York, 1970 May. Image ID: 1582184

"Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” —Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me

"Then if he’s sore with me, let him dump my ass. That will just give me more time to be a genius.” —Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be?

"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." —Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

"You’re not too fat. You’re not too loud. You’re not too smart. You’re not unladylike. There is nothing wrong with you.” —Jessica Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism

“If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.” —bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody

"We don't all have to believe in the same feminism. Feminism can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimize the fractures among us. Feminism will better succeed with collective effort, but feminist success can also rise out of personal conduct." —Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

“To love women, to love our vaginas, to know them and touch them and be familiar with who we are and what we need. To satisfy ourselves, to teach our lovers to satisfy us, to be present in our vaginas, to speak of them out loud, to speak of their hunger and pain and loneliness and humor, to make them visible so they cannot be ravaged in the dark without great consequence, so that our center, our point, our motor, our dream, is no longer detached, mutilated, numb, broken, invisible, or ashamed.” —Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues

"Women have been called queens a long time, but the kingdom given them isn't worth ruling." —Louisa May Alcott, An Old-fashioned Girl

"Before the moon I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman's power, deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon." —Ursula K. Le Guin, Tehanu

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.” ―Rebecca WestYoung Rebecca: Writings, 1911-1917

“The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.” ―Betty FriedanThe Feminine Mystique

“Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.” —Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

“I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue — my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.” —Gloria E. AnzaldúaBorderlands/La Frontera

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” ―Virginia WoolfA Room of One's Own

“Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

"Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me."
—Maya Angelou, "Phenomenal Woman" excerpt from And Still I Rise


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what's the point of this? it

what's the point of this? it's a defense of a claim that no rational person is disputing.

Bernie, it is currently Women

Bernie, it is currently Women's History month. The topics, and the women expressing those topics are a large part of women's history. This is one way the NYPL is participating. That is the point.

Quotes from women

thanks for introducing me to writers I've not heard of :)

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