Questions of Feminism

International Women’s Day fell on Saturday 8th March this year, an occasion which is actually a national holiday in countries like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria. According to a website dedicated to the event, it’s “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” Some well-deserved recognition for us ladies and a middle finger to the patriarchy, then. Good.

It’s safe to say that we’re quickly becoming a more progressively-thinking society in general, so we can hope that complaints of “but what about an International MEN’s Day?” have been kept to a minimum (hint: it’s every other day). We can also hope that this means the long-overdue death of the stereotype of a bra-burning man-hating lesbian evoked by any reference to feminism for some. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian who sets uncomfortable underwear alight, but it’s difficult enough to open dialogue about the promotion of women in society when ‘feminism’ translates to ‘hatred of men and femininity’.

This is an issue brought to light time and time again in the saddest of ways when female celebrities denounce feminism for that very (misguided) reason. Of course, women in the media spotlight face a multitude of challenges when it comes to staying appealing and respected by consumer culture and they may not think publicly siding with a controversial social movement is in their best interests. Whether their statements come from ignorance or a desire to keep the ignorant on their side, they’re detrimental to a cause which exists to support them.

When asked if they would consider themselves feminists, the following stars responded:

  • Kelly Clarkson, when asked if she was a feminist, responded “No, I wouldn’t say feminist — that’s too strong.”
  • Lady Gaga: “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture.”
  • Susan Sarandon: “I think of myself as a humanist because I think it’s less alienating to people who think of feminism as being a load of strident bitches and because you want everyone to have equal pay, equal rights, education, and health care. It’s a bit of an old-fashioned word. It’s used more in a way to minimize you.”
  • Katy Perry: “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.’ Even Bjork: ‘[I don’t identify as a feminist] because I think it would isolate me. I think it’s important to do positive stuff. It’s more important to be asking than complaining.”
  • Taylor Swift (who faces a near unprecedented level of misogyny-guised-as-criticism): “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”
  • Even girl group Little Mix, who released an album very much focused on the topic of girl power in 2013, insisted: “I wouldn’t say we’re feminists: we don’t hate our men.” These comments all appear to come from the same misunderstanding of what feminism is and unintentionally demonstrates why feminism is necessary – because there are plenty of people who would like us to believe that having a voice, having the audacity to point it out when mistreated is something to disassociate ourselves from. Because feminism is merely ‘complaining’.

That’s not to say that feminism is a black-and-white issue that comes complete with a set of guidelines. Just like the cultural issues faced by women, feminism is a deeply personal thing; I, for example, struggle to reconcile feminism without intersectionality with feminism at all. Of course some takes on feminism are questionable at best but those who are racist, transphobic and incapable of thinking outside the western hemisphere are not feminist because they do not support the struggles of women and therefore shouldn’t be used as examples to tarnish the name of a movement which strives for equality.

While it’s true that the perceived negative connotations surrounding feminism are the result of ignorance and often used as just another tool to attack women, perhaps educating people on the meaning of a word isn’t what’s most crucial at this point. Maybe we should spend the other 364 days of the year instead educating people on the realities of rape culture, the danger faced by transgender women and the countless other faults in society that render any claim that feminism is no longer necessary completely redundant. And wherever you’re reading this, fellow student of higher education, remember that the first ever university was founded by a woman.

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