30 Non-Shit Motivational Quotes From Women Who Aren't Marilyn Monroe
The Debrief: Straight-talking inspiration, from women who actually said some stuff
Did you know, the internet is 46% inspirational quotes from Marilyn Monroe? Actually, I just made that up – but then, so did they.
Modern life can sometimes feel as though we’re drowning in ‘glurge’, those syrupy mass-market motivational quotes and stories that clog up our Instagram and pinkify our Pinterest feeds. Luckily though, for every fridge magnet bollocks wrongly attributed to Marilyn, Audrey or Princess Diana, there’s a nugget of real wisdom that might actually be useful.
We’ve heard enough ‘never give up!’, ‘lean in!’, ‘dance like a unicorn!’ and ‘you have as many hours in the day as Beyonce!’ (just not her thighs, money or resources) to last us a lifetime – but sometimes what we really need to be told is ‘get angry’, ‘stop apologising’, and ‘always leave parties with a cookie in your pocket’. Here are 30 non-shit quotes to power you through International Women’s Day.
And nobody has to be a unicorn.
1. Patti Smith
The pioneering punk poet and iconic suit-wearer, in 1975.
2. Marie Maynard Daly
'Courage is like — it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.'
The first African-American woman to earn a PhD in Chemistry, in 1947, Marie M. Daly conducted vital research into the links between cholesterol and heart attacks.
3. Hedy Lamarr
'Because you don’t live near a bakery, doesn’t mean you have to go without cheesecake.'
The Hollywood movie star, who went on to invent a patented wireless encryption radio signal system during WW2 – the technology that led to the wi-fi we use today. On behalf of everybody here, Hedy: cheers for that.
4. Nora Ephron
'Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.'
The late, great first lady of romantic comedy, and maybe the reason so many of us have a cold we just can’t shake.
5. Carol W. Grieder
'In the newspapers, there’s a picture of me and my kids right there. How many men have won the Nobel [Prize] in the last few years, and they have kids the same age as mine, and their kids aren’t in the picture? That’s a big difference, right?'
American molecular biologist Grieder discovered the enzyme telomerase in 1984, and won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Oh, and has kids.
6. Jackie Joyner-Kersee
'If I stop to kick every barking dog, I am not going to get where I'm going.'
One of the all-time greatest female heptathletes and long-jumpers, Joyner-Kersee won three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals at four different Olympic Games.
7. Shonda Rhimes
'Devote some energy to making the world suck less every week ... it will allow you to remember that the air you are breathing right now is rare air, appreciate it. Don't be an asshole.'
Creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder, Shonda Rhimes has built a TV empire that speaks to marginalised groups everywhere. She also gives the on-point, no-bullshit graduation address we all wish we’d had.
8. Anaïs Nin
'I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.'
The radical erotic writer, whose memoirs paved the way for the Lena Dunhams of today.
9. Rebecca West
'I myself have never able to find out precisely what a feminist is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.'
The novelist, critic and travel writer with the retort we should all memorise for those tense F-word conversations.
10. Mindy Kaling
'If I'm at a party where I'm not enjoying myself, I will put some cookies in my jacket pocket and leave without saying goodbye.'
The comedian, actress and writer on the power of an unapologetic exit.
11. Simone de Beauvoir
'Sex pleasure in woman is a kind of magic spell; it demands complete abandon; if words or movements oppose the magic of caresses, the spell is broken.'
Thanks to everyone’s favourite French feminist existentialist – because ‘STOP OPPOSING THE MAGIC OF MY CARESSES’ is a phrase we all need in our sexual kitbag.
12. Katharine Hepburn
'If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.'
The *other* Hepburn, on why self-love just makes sense.
13. Betty Friedan
'No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor.'
Truth from the legendary feminist writer and activist (NB: not a Flash spokesperson).
14. Charlotte Perkins Gilman
'It is not that women are really smaller-minded, weaker-minded, more timid and vacillating, but that whosoever, man or woman, lives always in a small, dark place, is always guarded, protected, directed and restrained, will become inevitably narrowed and weakened by it.'
The American sociologist, writer and social reform activist, with an important reminder that the chicken didn’t choose the egg.
15. Yoko Ono
'Women are put in a position of feeling embarrassed about their bodies. It's so ridiculous, but also astounding – we have to always be apologetic about having created the human race.'
No stranger to having her words emblazoned across a photo of a sunset, the artist and activist nails it with this one.
16. Naomi Wolf
'For I conclude that the enemy is not lipstick, but guilt itself; we deserve lipstick, if we want it, AND free speech; we deserve to be sexual AND serious – or whatever we please. We are entitled to wear cowboy boots to our own revolution.'
Author of The Beauty Myth and Vagina: A New Biography, blasting ideas of what a feminist should be. (Insert relevant footwear trend of your choice).
17. Mrs Lintott, The History Boys
'History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind... with the bucket.'
She may have been written by Alan Bennett, but Mrs Lintott speaks for us all.
18. Viv Albertine
'I think of it as saying Yes to Nothing. If your choice is either the wrong thing or nothing, however frightened you are, you’ve got to take nothing. Haven’t you? Hasn’t everyone? No husband, no lover, no band, no money, no confidence. Here goes nothing.'
The former Slits guitarist’s perfectly punk attitude towards failure, as documented in her memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.
19. Toni Morrison
'If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.'
The Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author, while magnificently schooling an interviewer on racism in 1993.
20. Amy Poehler
'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."'
The woman who launched a thousand Leslie Knope-isms, on celebrities who don’t call themselves feminists.
21. Sylvia Plath
'The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the coloured arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.'
Protagonist Esther in The Bell Jar, which blazed a trail for women writing openly about sex, contraception, mental health and oppression, and blasted the myth of glamorous life on a women’s magazine long before any devils wore Prada.
22. Peggy Carter
'I know my own value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.'
Agent Carter might live in the Marvel Universe, but her attitude translates to ours.
23. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
'Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.'
The Nigerian novelist, in her TED talk and essay We Should All Be Feminists – which was sampled by Beyonce on Flawless, and is now being given to every 16-year-old in Sweden. Well done, Sweden.
24. Gloria Steinem
'The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.'
The writer, activist and feminist icon also said that famous thing about men, fish and bicycles… but this is catchy too.
25. Ada Lovelace
'That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal, as time will show.'
The Victorian mathematician and godmother of the modern computer, who apparently also had self-belief that would put Kanye to shame.
26. Roxanne Gay
'Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses – pretty but designed to slow women down.'
The self-proclaimed Bad Feminist in her 2014 essay collection of the same name, which gave us all permission to enjoy misogynistic rap, read Vogue and be imperfect.
27. Brienne of Tarth, Game of Thrones
'All my life men like you have sneered at me. And all my life I've been knocking men like you into the dust.'
The badass Westerosi knight could teach us all a thing or two about slaying it. Metaphorically.
28. Stephanie Zinone, Grease 2
'Maybe I’m tired of being someone’s "chick".'
Michelle Pfeiffer as the leader of the Pink Ladies in Grease 2 – which, all discerning people know, is clearly the better and more empowering of the Greases.
29. Amanda Palmer
'The unspoken universal understanding is: today, it is my turn to take the tampon. Tomorrow, it shall be yours. There is a constant, karmic tampon circle. It also exists, I’ve found, with Kleenex, cigarettes, and ballpoint pens.'
The Dresden Dolls musician in her book The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, on the reassurance of knowing that across the world, wherever you are, another woman has your back (or your uterus).
30. Nessa, Gavin and Stacey
'Don't get me wrong, but to be honest, at the end of the day, when all said and done… d'you know what I mean?'
Nessa, I think we do.
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