Kathy Najimy: 7 Fearless Feminists Who Inspire Me
Apr 9, 2018
Equal parts actress and activist, Kathy Najimy is known for speaking up and never holding back. With the fame that came with starring in hit movies like Sister Act and Hocus Pocus, Najimy also gained a public platform that the star continues to use to advocate for real social change.
"I was saying the same things I did in the '70s to a group of eight people that now I get to say in a TV interview to eight million people," Najimy says in her MAKERS interview.
Here, the outspoken feminist—who is currently producing the documentary Blue Woman, Red Town, which examines why 52 percent of white women did not vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton—shares with MAKERS the powerful women who encouraged her to raise her voice and fight against gender inequality on- and off-screen.
"Each one of these women has figuratively or literally taken my hand and led me to a fearless place in my feminism," Najimy tells MAKERS.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Where do I begin? Of course, I am in awe of her resilience and rise to the What-Should-Have-Been-Presidency-of-the-United-States. But her early dedication was—and still is—to raising consciousness and implementing change in illiteracy, unemployment, inequality and poverty. Hillary began her life as an activist, teacher and humanitarian then she grabbed her set of values and foresight and seamlessly morphed into a politician for a better world. But it's her core decency, her commitment to preserving a bearable human existence that lives at such a high vibration that I am infinitely inspired by. She is willing to endure anything in the quest for compassion and humanity. I find her resolve superhuman—and an example to get myself up and make a change no matter how difficult the circumstances. Plus she's wicked funny.
Yes, Debra Messing is a friend, an award-winning actor, a mother and a hilarious television star. But there are few who actually use their reach, their ubiquitous notoriety and talent in such a complete and fearless way. Debra takes her mainstream audience and gently leads them to issues of the heart and soul. It's a precarious position to be in. Deb never shies away from a difficult conversation nor does she give credence to how many Twitter followers she might lose or gain. (By the way, she still has a lot.) Instead she cares supremely how she can change the world through her reach. I was beyond thrilled to help curate her Real.Life.Stories piece for the 2017 MAKERS Conference. It was at once inspiring, intimate and huge. In short, she is one of the most talented, fearless feminists I know.
There are many who talk about sexism, who write about racial prejudice, who rally for equality and who muse about size and gender bias. But you won't find Gabby lecturing about any of those subjects. Instead, she will offer her life as evidence of how perseverance prevails in the face of all those challenges. She moves successfully through the world as a brilliant award-winning actress. She directs films, stars in series, struts the catwalk and has written a best-selling autobiography. She uses social media to share her insanely fun life and deploys humor and savvy to deflect ignorance. The 2018 Makers Conference was the second time I worked with and directed Gabby—and witnessed an audience spontaneously combust after hearing her fearless, hilarious and heartbreaking personal essay. Gabby's life story is a master class on sexism, race and size bias and how to live by example. A freaking brilliant life to celebrate.
I met Eve in 1995. I was given a TV deal, but it felt impossible to find a writer who would be crazy and courageous enough to deliver the gut-honest show I wanted to create. Then I came across the Vagina Monologues. I could see Eve's soul instantly and I knew our hearts, minds and pens had to find each other. We wrote a pilot but when I sent it to the network, I put a Post-it on the script that said, "This is so, so radical that you'd be crazy to actually make it." To his credit, the producer sent it back with a Post-it that said: "You're right!"
The good news is that the process started a 23-year relationship between Eve and me. We planned a fundraiser in my living room for an early performance of the Vagina Monologues and were so excited to raise $450! We later connected with The Feminist Press and other brilliant organizations from all corners of the world and V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls, was born. Since the movement began 20 years ago, millions of women have performed the Vagina Monologues, including me. To date there have been V-Day events, benefits and performances in more than 200 countries around the world. I count Eve as one of the few humans who have actually changed the landscape of the world for women in the past 20 years. Maybe even the first on the list.
Growing up there were very few examples of women in the entertainment industry who first and foremost put their politics before their ego or size of their trailer. Vanessa Redgrave, Geena Davis and Jane Fonda are a few. I live for these women! Since the '60s Jane Fonda has remained committed to speaking up about her beliefs—peace, feminism, equality. Her desire to change what she saw as crimes against humanity were stronger than her need to be voted "most popular" or to have the biggest opening weekend at the box office. She endured a lot. A lot—the scourge of a country, loss of work, threats, ridicule and safety. And doing it all while changing the zeitgeist, winning Oscars and Emmys and looking fabulous without one gorgeous hair out of place! What a life well lived.
At 31 years old, her bones are made of steel and velvet. Through her TV show Girls (which she wrote and produced with her best friend Jenni Konner), Lena awakened a generation. She provided a new landscape and language which gave women the freedom to truly express themselves. A world where the once suffocating standards of womanhood were wiped away—and no rules at all were the order of the day. Through her art, Lena grabbed the keys without asking, unlocked the secrets and then tossed 'em. I know Lena as an actress-writer-producer and as a proud feminist. Yes, she makes mistakes—send me the number of one human who has a point of view who hasn't. Still we should welcome her billion exciting thoughts that will help the collective rise and understand she has a few rocks that have sunk to the bottom. Recently we worked together to create a Real.Life.Stories essay for the 2018 MAKERS Conference. Our time together was one of the most radical, right on, forthcoming, exciting periods of creation I've experienced.
The first time I laid my eyes on a Ms. Magazine was with my mom at age 14, while grocery shopping at the Food Basket. (Side note: My mom was a warm and brilliant woman who grew up in Beirut and graduated college in France at 19. Dean's list of course. After graduation she and her brothers were asked to sail to America where their father had found work. There was almost no support to continue her education or access to employment, so she met my dad and had four kids. Great mom but also great scholar with little opportunity to achieve.)
Okay, back to the grocery store: I looked up at the magazine shelf—past the Seventeen, the Girl Talk and Better Homes & Gardens—and reached up to grab my first copy of Ms. Magazine. My mom bought it for me and the articles moved, surprised and freed me. My jaw dropped. I read my truth which was radical, hilarious, adventurous, thoughtful and wild! Patriarchy seemed so unfair but this bible somehow made sense of it. But it was Gloria's wit and spark that had me transfixed. I shoplifted her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, but I actually paid for all her other books, marked the hell out them, memorized passages and then finally met Gloria on the political speaking circuit. Over the years she became my mentor, touchstone, advisor, teacher, friend. She showed up backstage at our feminist Off-Broadway play The Kathy and Mo Show (with Mo Gaffney) and brought endless New York pals. She even married my husband, Dan, and me! As she has with most of the world, Gloria inspired and challenged my personal commitment to equality and feminist activism by example. She is a legend who still commits most of her hours to exposing injustices, supporting change and ending suffering to insure a better future for women and girls. Gloria has fueled my instinct to question authority and do whatever it takes to implement justice for all—and in the most compassionate way possible. My life has been lifted, challenged and made much more by the brilliantly smart and hilarious, loving light that is Gloria Steinem.