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Oprah Winfrey: World's Best Feminist?

On the face of it, I think a lot of self-described feminists would reject the very idea of Oprah Winfrey out of hand.  Oprah's name is, for many people, synonymous with an over-the-top touchy-feely version of femininity.  In a lot of ways, Oprah is the feminine version of an Axe Body Spray commercial.

Other people reject Oprah just by the common human need to sneer at those who are incredibly wealthy and successful.  And make no mistake: Oprah is incredibly wealthy and successful.  She is the richest black person of the 20th century, the world's only black billionaire, and considered by many to be "the most influential woman in the world."

Consider, then, the damage that Oprah could be doing.  What if Oprah advocated Quiverfull, with its complete submission to the husband?  What if she blamed rape victims for dressing provocatively, or insisted that women aren't suitable for engineering or mathematics degrees?

But she wouldn't.  In fact, Oprah is, and has always been, a tireless advocate for women's rights, for homosexual and transgender rights, and for animal rights. 

Oprah is also one of the world's greatest success stories.  Difficult as it is to believe, Oprah was raised in crushing poverty in rural Mississippi.  Her family was so poor that her mother dressed Oprah in dresses cobbled together from potato sacks.  She clawed herself up from poverty all on her own, moving from one job to another, climbing the career ladder using solely her smarts and her ambition. 

Fat acceptance and body image issues are a big topic in feminist circles.  Who better embodies these tricky discussions than Oprah herself?  She has lived it out on her show, right out there in public, from fat to thin and back to fat again.  Oprah may be overweight, but she is also beautiful and bold.  She won't let her weight hold her back, even on American television - a medium which is practically run by eating disorders. 

The literati turn up their noses at the very thought of "Oprah's Book Club."  How uncharitable.  Oprah took her massive influence - the biggest influence in the world, remember - and asked her followers to read books.  Real books, not just the disposable genre fiction you find at the supermarket checkout line.  Challenging books by Real Authors. 

And her followers did, in droves, and is there anything better than someone in this day and age who uses their influence to convince people to buy and read real books?

Oprah has spoken out against hatred of Islam, against the Iraq War, against homophobia and racism and sexism and the exploitation of animals by the fur and industrial beef industry.  She has been open about her foibles, non-traditional in her relationships, and donated millions of dollars to various charitable concerns (including her own school for girls, which she founded in South Africa.

Even though she apparently doesn't use "the F word" to describe herself, this is definitely a case where actions are louder than words.  Oprah Winfrey, we salute you.

Photo credit: Flickr/Barack Obama