Women intellectuals have been playing an increasingly important role in shaping thought and culture. Here is SuperScholar’s list of the 20 most influential living women intellectuals.
Margaret Atwood (1939– ), an iconic Canadian feminist novelist, expresses both the “goddess” and “activist” modes of the mid-twentieth century movement, via a confrontational style that gained converts by avoiding both violence and eccentricity.
Aung San Suu Kyi (1945– ), a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and scholar living under house arrest and many other restrictions imposed by her native Burma’s (Myanmar’s) military rulers, leads a popular political movement and party whose non-violence and civil disobedience offer hope for eventual democratic government.
Karen Armstrong (1944– ), formerly a Roman Catholic nun in her native Britain and widely considered a force for ecumenism, now considers herself a “creative monotheist,” whose many books offer iconoclasm regarding major monotheist religions.
Susan Blackmore (1951– ), a British evolutionary psychologist, developed Richard Dawkins’s concept of the “meme” (a theoretical Darwinian unit of thought that she believes responsible for human behavior) through her many books, articles, and lectures.
Mary Daly (1928– ), an American Catholic theologian who felt that Vatican II did not go nearly far enough, achieved wide recognition for rejecting Christian and what she sees as other “patriarchal” thinking patterns in favor of a spirituality of women’s liberation.
Midge Decter (1927– ), an American editor and writer, was a leftist in her youth but, drawn to observant Judaism and a conservative political approach, has become a leading figure at the flagship magazine Commentary.
Barbara Ehrenreich (1941– ), an American journalist, wrote many books from a socialist perspective, but is best known for her bestselling Nickeled and Dimed (2002), for which she took low wage service jobs to investigate the workers’ lives.
Susan Faludi (1959– ), a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and author, is best known for advocating “power” feminism rather than “victim” feminism, attacking irrelevant “deconstruction” theory, and warning of a coming backlash against feminism.
Susan Greenfield (1950– ), a British pharmacologist and student of consciousness, has held a number of distinguished science posts despite colleagues’ criticism of her controversial theories on the dangers to children of computers and social networking.
Germaine Greer (1939– ), an Australian scholar and journalist whose best known work is the major 1970s feminist text The Female Eunuch (1970), originally advocated sexual liberation but, more recently, has lauded celibacy.
Gertrude Himmelfarb (1922– ), an American scholar drawn to examining the roots of social progress and decay, is best known for her sympathetic portrayals of Victorian society, dealing with similar social problems to those faced today.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (1969– ), a Somali-born women’s rights activist, writer, and politician—who fled both pre-modern Somalia and post-modern Holland and now lives in the United States— has faced numerous death threats for repudiating Islam in favor of atheism, as described in best-selling Infidel (2007).
Mary Midgley (1919– ), a British philosopher of science, has received much criticism for opposing the growing religion of science and arguing that pre-Darwinian ideas of human nature tell us more than the latest pop-science evolutionary psychology best-seller.
Peggy Noonan (1950– ), an American political historian and journalist, is best known for her emphasis on the character of political and religious figures, rather than their glamour, as her biographies of John Paul II and Ronald Reagan attest.
Camille Paglia (1947– ), an American author, journalist, art critic, and “dissident feminist,” is best known for espousing feminist goals while reasoning her way to them independently of the formal movement, a fact that earned her both hostility and mischaracterization as a conservative.
Melanie Phillips (1951– ), a British journalist and author, has targeted the growing climate of censorship and political and social irrationality in Western countries, for which she has received both livid denunciation as a “conservative” and the Orwell Prize for political journalism (1996).
Phyllis Schlafly (1924– ), an American lawyer, political analyst, and writer, is best known for almost singlehandedly preventing passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution during the 1970s, arguing that it would unduly empower activist judges.
Gloria Steinem (1934– ), an American feminist journalist and author, has written many bestsellers such as Revolution from Within (1993) but is best known for co-founding Ms. Magazine, which advocates many key progressive and feminist causes.
Mary Warnock (1924– ), a British philosopher and ethicist attracted to Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism, is best known for chairing the committee that produced A Question of Life: The Warnock Report on Human Fertilisation and Embryology (1984), which advocated research on human embryos.
Naomi Wolf (1962– ), an American author, editor, and essayist, is best known for The Beauty Myth (2002), which portrayed successful women as haunted by the need to look like movie stars.