Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon presented Theron with the award, after describing her role as, “like a bridge troll being asked to introduce a queen.”
Theron took the stage looking stunning in a strapless, long, white gown and white heels.
“It’s clear to me that my job as a storyteller -- whether I’m acting or producing or talking to my kids at night before bed -- is to create as much empathy as I can,” Theron said according to Glamour. “Especially right now. And, I’m talking about more than just the feeling you get when you look at Oprah’s Instagram feed. Although believe me, that does a pretty good job at filling the void these days. Have you seen her holding vegetables that she grows in her garden? It’s like Xanax.”
“The point is we need to help the hard-hearted to empathize with others,” she continued. “Like sexual assault survivors, people living with AIDS, our trans community, children who are different or who have special needs. The women in this room tonight are putting themselves on the front line of the empathy battle, be it through storytelling, creating opportunities for those that need it most, or just unabashedly being yourself and telling other women we don’t have to apologize for who and what we are.”
Theron then praised fellow honoree Greta Thunberg, for her work towards climate change issues.
“When I was 16, I was begging my mom to let me go on a date, and Greta is trying to convince us to not let our earth go up in flames,” Theron said. “And Yara [Shahidi]’s helping people vote. I’m f***ing useless.”
The actress concluded her inspiring speech by encouraging women to tell their stories, take risks and fight for change. “Because it’s people, especially girls, who have the power to create change,” she said. “And speaking of girls, that’s why I do all of it. For my girls, Jackson and Auggie. They’re the reason I’ll never stop fighting. And to my mom, thank you for being the example me and my girls can follow. F***! The kids have gone? Right? My mom will be my Woman of the Year until the end of time.”
ET’s Rachel Smith caught up with the gorgeous star before her win, when she admitted that despite being named a rebel, she doesn’t feel worthy of the title.
“It's too cool of a title for me,” she said. “I feel like I'm just a mom now. There's nothing rebellious about that.”
Shahidi, Thunberg, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, author Margaret Atwood, designer Tory Burch were also honored at the event.