Helen Mirren thought 'feminism' was 'too political.' Here's why she changed her mind.

Actor Helen Mirren addressed graduates of Tulane University in a May 20, 2017, commencement speech peppered with candid one-liners and an adoration for New Orleans — a city she once called home.

"Why the hell are you graduating?" she quipped, professing her love for the Big Easy. "What possible reason is there to leave here and go find jobs?"


Between jokes, however, Mirren touched on a handful of more serious-minded subjects.

In the speech, Mirren explained why she was hesitant to call herself a feminist until only recently.

According to Mirren, she used to reject the "feminist" label. But, as she admitted behind the lectern Saturday, she'd also fundamentally misunderstood what feminism was all about.

After noting how "life improves for everyone" when women are given respect and freedoms, Mirren explained why she eventually came around to the label on a more personal level (emphasis added):

"I didn't define myself as a feminist until quite recently, but I had always lived like a feminist and believed in the obvious: that women were as capable and as energetic and as inspiring as men. But to join a movement called feminism seemed too didactic, too political.

However, I have come to understand that feminism is not an abstract idea but a necessity if we — and really by 'we,' I mean you guys — are to move us forward and not backward into ignorance and fearful jealousy."

Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP.

Learning that Mirren wasn't always a self-identifying feminist may come as a surprise to longtime fans.

Spanning five-plus decades, Mirren's extensive career in theater, TV, and film includes a handful of trailblazing roles for women, including her work in the U.K.'s "Prime Suspect" — a rare crime series that championed feminist themes in the 1990s.

Mirren in "Prime Suspect." Photo courtesy of Everett Collection/Granada Television.

More recently, stories highlighting Mirren's belief in gender equality have made waves online, too — like when she hilariously dropped the f-bomb while pointing out Hollywood's sexist casting problem, or when she refused to play nice after being asked a misogynistic question by Michael Parkinson in a resurfaced clip from 1975.

Mirren's prior hesitation to identify as a feminist reflects the unfortunately familiar disconnect between what feminism actually represents and how it's often portrayed.

Mirren starring in the stage play "Agamemnon," part one of Aeschylus' "Oresteia," in1978. Photo by Mike Lawn/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Merriam-Webster defines feminism as "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." By that standard, aren't the vast majority of us feminists? You'd think so. Yet, as one 2013 survey found, just one-fifth of Americans identify as such.

Whether through ignorance or partisanship, the word "feminist" has been mischaracterized — and badly. Feminism, in seeking to secure women the same rights men have enjoyed for centuries, has been explicitly labeled as a movement that is "anti-men." Feminists have been cast as lesbians who don't wear makeup or bras or shave their legs or underarms. And while some feminists might be lesbians who don't wear makeup or bras or shave their legs, this narrow caricature (created and perpetuated by anti-feminists, natch) has succeeded in keeping people from joining the cause even though they are feminists.

The feminist movement has, at times, had its shortfalls — like its historical exclusion of women of color and those in the LGBTQ community, for example — so it's understandable why some groups have rejected the label throughout the years. But the idea of feminism has always been one of equality and empowerment for everyone. With the success of January's Women's March and the increased commercial marketability of women's empowerment messaging (for better or worse), more people are comfortable with the feminist label — and that is welcome progress.

It's a cause Mirren believes is important enough to shout from the rooftops — or from behind lecterns.

"Now, I am a declared feminist," she told the Tulane graduates. "And I would encourage you to be the same."

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
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With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

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Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled that so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

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Eight months into the pandemic, you'd think people would have the basics figured out. Sure, there was some confusion in the beginning as to whether or not masks were going to help, but that was months ago (which might as well be years in pandemic time). Plenty of studies have shown that face masks are an effective way to limit the spread of the virus and public health officials say universal masking is one of the keys to being able to safely resume some normal activities.

Normal activities include things like getting a coffee at Starbucks, but a viral video of a barista's encounter with an anti-masker shows why the U.S. will likely be living in the worst of both worlds—massive spread and economic woe—for the foreseeable future.

Alex Beckom works at a Starbucks in Santee, California and shared a video taken after a woman pulled down her "Trump 2020" mask to ask the 19-year-old barista a question, pulled it back up when the barista asked her to, then pulled it down again.

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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