Recording artist Taylor Swift attends the 2014 iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden on Sept. 19, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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The top 5 feminists in Hollywood

Updated

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 9/29/14, 10:30 PM ET

Emma Watson, Taylor Swift: new wave feminism

Lawrence talks to actress Pia Glenn and Elizabeth Plank of Mic.com about what effect celebrity feminism has on advancing gender equality.
Who run the world? Girls.

As Hollywood continues to celebrate films and TV shows with female writers, directors and all-female casts, a new group of outspoken celebrities are using star power to promote their own brand of feminism. Taylor Swift is the most recent addition to this group, speaking candidly about her reconstructed understanding of the word.  

Appearing on a French-Canadian talk show ”Tout Le Monde En Parle” on Sunday night, the singer discussed the meaning of feminism and ascribed it to Emma Watson’s United Nations speech about gender equality last week. 

“I wish when I was 12 years old I would’ve been able to watch a video of my favorite actress explaining in such an intellectual, beautiful, poignant way the definition of feminism because I would’ve understood it, and then earlier on in my life I would have proudly claimed that I was a feminist because I would have understood what the word means,” Swift said.

Swift has said her understanding of the word has evolved since she was a teenager. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men,” she said in a August interview with The Guardian

“So many girls out there say, ‘I’m not a feminist’ because they think it means something angry or disgruntled or complaining or they picture, like, rioting and picketing,” Taylor Swift said Sunday night. “It is not that at all. It just simply means that you believe that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities. To say that you’re not a feminist means that you think men should have more rights and opportunities than women. I just think that a lot of girls don’t know the definition and the fact that Emma got up and explained it I think is an incredible thing and I’m happy to live in a world where that happened.”

So who has been leading this new wave of celebrity feminists? 

1. Amy Poehler

Actress and comedian Amy Poehler, who is best known for playing a local female politician on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, launched a web series and a subsequent summer camp called “Smart Girls at the Party.” Poehler encourages and empowers young women to participate in projects that promote “volunteerism, civic activism, cultural exchange, and self-expression through the arts.”

Here is Poehler’s discussion on feminism with a 7-year-old, whom she introduces as “singer, actor, dancer, musician, feminist, entrepreneur and skateboarder.”

Poehler also told Elle magazine in an interview earlier this year that she does not understand people who don’t consider themselves feminists. “I think some big actors and musicians feel like they have to speak to their audience and that word is confusing to their audience. But I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.’”

2. Beyoncé

In addition to a number of her songs boasting powerful feminist themes, Queen Bey also has been a part of gender equality campaigns, including Chime for Change and Ban Bossy.

Beyoncé also published an essay on gender equality and equality in the workplace titled “Gender Equality Is A Myth” for Maria Shriver’s “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.” The Shriver Report found that 42 million women in the United States are either living in poverty or are on the brink of living in poverty.

“Humanity requires both men and women, and we are equally important and need one another. So why are we viewed as less than equal? These old attitudes are drilled into us from the very beginning. We have to teach our boys the rules of equality and respect, so that as they grow up, gender equality becomes a natural way of life. And we have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible.”

Most recently, she performed at the VMA’s in August in front of a backdrop that read the word “FEMINIST.”

3. Emma Watson

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 9/22/14, 4:38 PM ET

Emma Watson: ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’

Launching the UN gender equality campaign HeForShe, actress Emma Watson got world leaders to their feet speaking on the roles for men and women in the fight for equality.
The 24-year-old actress, best known for her role as Hermione in the Harry Potter series, was named Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations and launched the HeForShe campaign last week.

Watson’s powerful speech on modern feminism at the U.N. went viral and launched a hefty amount of criticism, even garnering “fake” threats from users on the website 4Chan. 

4. Lena Dunham

The 28-year-old screenwriter, actress, producer and director has a show on HBO appropriately titled “Girls,” a series that follows the stories of four millennial women as they face their sexuality, ambitions, and anxieties. Dunham said at an event in Boston last year, “The idea of being a feminist—so many women have come to this idea of it being anti-male and not able to connect with the opposite sex—but what feminism is about is equality and human rights. For me that is just an essential part of my identity. I hope [Girls] contributes to a continuance of feminist dialogue.”

Dunham, an outspoken self-proclaimed feminist, told a British newspaper that she could not understand people who do not identify as feminists.

Women saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ is my greatest pet peeve,” Dunham said. “Do you believe that women should be paid the same for doing the same jobs? Do you believe that women should be allowed to leave the house? Do you think that women and men both deserve equal rights? Great, then you’re a feminist. People think there is something taboo about speaking up for feminism.”

In her introduction for her new book, “Not That Kind of Girl,” Dunham writes: “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman.”

5. Ellen Page

The actress has said in multiple interviews that she considers herself a proud and unashamed feminist, but that it is hard being one in Hollywood. In a speech for the Human Rights Campaign that quickly went viral on social media, Page questioned why so many women are reluctant to label themselves as feminists. The speech also received wide attention as she announced publicly for the first time that she is gay.  

In her speech, Page talked about the portrayal of women in films.

“It’s weird because here I am, an actress, representing—at least in some sense—an industry that places crushing standards on all of us. Not just young people, but everyone. Standards of beauty. Of a good life. Of success. Standards that, I hate to admit, have affected me. You have ideas planted in your head, thoughts you never had before, that tell you how you have to act, how you have to dress and who you have to be. I have been trying to push back, to be authentic, to follow my heart, but it can be hard.”

She continued by saying, “It feels we’ve gone backwards … But of course, if you just write a script in which the woman has control over her destiny and love isn’t the main thing in the film, that’s seen as super feminist.”

She discussed existing stereotypes and norms surrounding masculinity and femininity and how they hinder the feminist movement and society at large.  

“I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists … but how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word,” said Page. “Feminism always gets associated with being a radical movement — good. It should be. A lot of what the radical feminists [in the 1970s] were saying, I don’t disagree with it.”

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The top 5 feminists in Hollywood

Updated