A look back at Queen Elizabeth II’s most stand-out feminist moments


Jade Biggs, Jennifer Savin

Fri, 9 September 2022 at 4:12 pm

Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo – Getty Images

After the very sad announcement of Her Majesty’s death on 8 September, many of us are taking a moment to pause and reflect on the incredible impact that Queen Elizabeth II had on the world – and on levelling the playing field for women everywhere.

During her 70 years as reigning monarch, Her Royal Highness was widely thought of as being the epitome of dedicated to her work and serving others, as well as a loving mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. But she also pushed the boat where and when it felt appropriate, marking herself out as a woman not to be underestimated.

Here, we take a look back at some of her most stand-out feminist moments…

Queen Elizabeth II’s most feminist moments

Fixing cars during World War II

As well as sending an inspirational message to other children in 1940, at the age of 14, via the radio, the Queen later trained as a driver and mechanic with the rank of Second Subaltern. She evidently took to it rather well, as six months on she was promoted to Junior Commander (the equivalent of Captain).

Taking the King of Saudi Arabia for a drive

Back in 2003, when Abdullah, the-then Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (a country where, at the time, women where not permitted to drive) visited her in Balmoral, Her Majesty hopped behind the wheel and insisted on driving him in her Land Rover. It’s said that her foreign visitor was incredibly nervous about all this, likely having never been driven by a woman before, and via his interpreter begged to “slow down and concentrate on the road”.

Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo – Getty Images

Overseeing a change to succession laws

Up until 2011, the laws of primogeniture in the UK dictated that the heir to the throne was always the first-born son of the monarch. This meant that daughters of the sovereign could be overlooked in favour of their male siblings.

But, being the feminist icon that she was, the Queen oversaw a major adjustment to succession laws (in agreement with leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries) allowing both sons and daughters of any future British monarch to have have equal rights to the throne under the Succession To The Crown Act.

Giving *that* Women’s Institute speech

Being the most famous woman in the world, it was only fitting that Her Majesty opened the 100th annual meeting of the Women’s Institute (WI) at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2015.

The WI, for those who don’t know, is a female-led group based on the idea of bringing women together, advancing the education of women and girls for the public benefit, promoting sustainable development for the public benefit and advancing health for the public benefit. Her Majesty, who had been a member of the Sandringham WI since 1943, addressed more than 5000 WI members with an inspiring speech to mark the anniversary.

“There has been significant economic and social change since 1915,” Her Majesty said. “Women have been granted the vote, British women have climbed Everest for the first time and the country has elected its first female prime minister.”

Photo credit: Chris Jackson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Chris Jackson – Getty Images

The Queen went on: “In the modern world, the opportunities for women to give something of value to society are greater than ever, because, through their own efforts, they now play a much greater part in all areas of public life.

“In 2015 it continues to demonstrate that it can make a real difference to the lives of women of all ages and cultural backgrounds, in a spirit of friendship, cooperation and support.”

Her Majesty refused to give up her surname

Upon marrying her husband in 1947, the then-Princess Elizabeth declared that she would not be taking his surname, meaning that her family name – Windsor – would continue as that of the royal household.

At the time, Prince Philip famously said: “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.”

Since then, some royals – including Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s children – have been given the hyphenated surname of Mountbatten-Windsor, as a sign of respect.

Photo credit: Keystone - Getty Images
Photo credit: Keystone – Getty Images

The Queen transformed education for royal women who came after her

As was tradition at the time, Her Majesty was largely homeschooled as a child – alongside her sister, Princess Margaret – but made it her mission to improve the education of fellow royals once she became Queen.

Despite the Queen Mother’s protests, the monarch had her children educated outside of the palace – a tradition which has continued up to the modern day, as we have seen with Her Majesty’s great-grandchildren, including Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

The monarch championed the women’s fashion industry

In 2018, Queen Elizabeth II became the first ever monarch to attend a London Fashion Week show, sitting side-by-side with Anna Wintour (iconic!) at Richard Quinn’s show.

Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: WPA Pool – Getty Images

Her surprise appearance made headlines across the world and proved that Her Majesty well and truly championed women’s fashion as a serious pursuit!

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