Oprah Winfrey’s appearance at the Women of the World Summit in New York on Wednesday night was less a conventional keynote and more a feminist rallying cry.
Striding onto the stage to a rapturous response, Winfrey posed the burning question, “Can women save the world?” before swiftly offering an unequivocal answer of her own.
“We already are,” the media titan boomed. “We’re bad asses. And above all, we show up, we show up.”
Winfrey’s speech cast a wide net, quoting abolitionist Sojourner Truth — “Ain’t I a Woman?” — one minute, before reveling in the brazen confidence of her late hero and mentor Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman:
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
She spoke about teaching the girls at her South African school the most important thing was to “save yourself before you can save anyone else.”
“We women are used to saving other folk. We’ve been doing it a long time.”
She called out politicians for their interference in women’s reproductive rights, NASA for not figuring out how to design a female space suit, the indecency of the gender pay gap.
She derided “politics of division” and implored us to find our mutual “human ground.” But Winfrey, as always, was buoyant about the future.
She lauded the 42 new female members of Congress.
She gave a shout-out to “force of nature” Stacey Abrams and with trademark fist-pump to Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s first black female, openly gay mayor.
But her greatest praise was reserved for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the “humanity” she showed in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.
“I’ve never seen such leadership,” Winfrey said to booming applause, adding the world’s youngest leader set a “global standard in leadership.”
“Jacinda Ardern projected peace and goodness.”
“We need to make the choice, every single day — to channel our own inner Jacindas,” Winfrey said to the cheering crowd. “To exemplify the truth, and the respect and the grace that we actually wish for the world.”
After a roaring standing ovation, Women in the World founder Tina Brown met her onstage in a warm embrace.
“That wasn’t a speech — that was a feminist jam,” Brown said.
“Oprah is the true woman in the world, she is in the world, she is engaged in the world, she is always the best version of herself. You really inspire us.
“We just got Life 101 on steroids.”
Additional reporting by Kyle Gibson.