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Poll Finds 3 Women Of Color As New Face Of Feminism


If you asked someone 20 years ago to name a well-known feminist, they might have said Susan B. Anthony or Gloria Steinem or Lily Tomlin. In a recent poll, three of the women mentioned most often are African-American. Karen Grigsby Bates of our Code Switch team has more.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: The public opinion research firm PerryUndem asked about 1,300 people of different ages, races and genders who they thought the country's most prominent feminists were. Former first lady Michelle Obama topped the list at number one.


MICHELLE OBAMA: I tell my mentees, I tell my daughters that our first job in life as women, I think, is to get to know ourselves.

BATES: And she wasn't alone. PerryUndem principal Tresa Undem lists the names.

TRESA UNDEM: First Michelle, then Oprah, then Hillary, then Beyonce. Three of the top four are women of color.

BATES: Undem says for the past few years, feminism has been colliding with a lot of compelling issues, and she wanted a closer look.

UNDEM: We tried to ask some questions around intersectionality because that pivot point just doesn't exist. You know, in the past few years, there's been just a sustained dialogue, whether it's rape on campuses or, like I said, Beyonce talking about it or, you know, everybody claiming the word feminist or not.

BATES: Media mogul Oprah Winfrey isn't such a surprise - she runs her own television network and, through her philanthropy, funds several girl-centered charities - nor is Hillary Clinton who has been both respected and reviled for being a feminist. In her 2016 concession speech, she spoke directly to a new generation.


HILLARY CLINTON: And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

BATES: The fourth person on the list is not a politician or activist in the traditional sense.


BEYONCE: (Singing) I got hot sauce in my bag - swag, swag.

DAPHNE BROOKS: We're at a moment in which the pop culture zeitgeist is pointing towards particular women of color, like someone who performs a kind of massive, exceptional, you know, symbolism like Beyonce, to rise to the top of that list.

BATES: Yale professor Daphne Brooks has been writing about Beyonce and feminism for a few years now. Brooks says the singer has addressed racism, sexism, political activism and female empowerment in recent years. PerryUndem pollster Tresa Undem believes the prominence of Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce in her survey shows feminism is changing. It's becoming multilayered and more diverse on several levels, and sometimes it even provides us with a catchy little hook.


BEYONCE: (Singing) Who run the world? Girls. Who run the world? Girls. Who run the world?

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.


BEYONCE: (Singing) Who run the world? Girls. Who run this? Girls. Who run this? Girls. Who run this? Girls. Who run this? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.