Let’s just be very clear about one thing – ‘Feminist’ was never a very popular label to begin with. Since the first wave of feminism, feminists were labeled as men hating, religion shunning, morally ambiguous beings challenging the social order of the day. Though some things have changed since then – women suffrage is almost universal and most constitutions grant their female citizens basic civil rights – quite a few remains just as tough and the stigma attached to the label ‘feminist’ is just as clear and present as it was at the turn of 20th century.
While this abhorrence of the term feminist is quite commonplace, there is a new trend emerging of late. Female celebrities are getting up and denouncing feminism and declaring in the loudest possible voice that they are NOT feminists.
Why this regression in thought? Once upon a time we have had female celebrities who were headstrong and had no qualms about ruffling a few feathers and coming out as strong and independent women – be it Mae West or Dorothy Parker. Now everyone from Beyonce Knowles to Taylor Swift to Gwyneth Paltrow to Madhuri Dixit is at pains to declare it to the world that they are not feminists.
Just mention it to a female celebrity that she is considered a strong woman by her audience and perhaps she is a feminist and chances are that you will end up facing a deluge of words telling you that they are ‘oh so not a feminist’.
On one end you have someone like Lady Gaga who made absolutely no sense when she said, “I am not a feminist – I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male and beer and bars and muscle cars,” because frankly a five year old – if he or she could articulate – would tell you that appreciation for beers or bars, loving men and demanding equality among genders are so not mutually exclusive. On the other hand you have Gwyneth Paltrow who distanced herself from feminism by stating that feminist activist Gloria Steinem wouldn’t approve of her lifestyle, having chosen to compromise her career for her family and relationship. Since when the approval of one woman – no matter how iconic a feminist she was – defines feminism and what it entails? Someone needs to tell Ms Paltrow that liberty of choosing a certain lifestyle is one of the basic tenets of feminism.
As late as earlier this year, Beyoncé in an interview stated, “That word [feminist] can be very extreme … I do believe in equality … But I’m happily married. I love my husband.” Somehow Ms. Knowles is under the impression that being happily married, having a family and loving your husband do not make one a feminist.
Demi Moore also joined the idiot bandwagon when she said that she finds the term feminism obsolete because the world does not need it any more. “I’m a great supporter of women, but I have never really thought of myself as a feminist,” she said. “I think clearly times have changed and women have made their mark in many different areas.”
Closer to home, Madhuri Dixit shunned the word feminist quite vociferously. “I don’t think I’m a feminist. I am independent and strong, which is what women should be like.”
As far as homegrown Pakistani celebrities are concerned, there has been no mention of the word feminist or feminism in any public discussion or media interaction – probably because our discourse is so religion heavy, it does not leave any room for non religious debate on anything, most certainly not on feminism.
It must be noted that despite eschewing the term feminism, these celebrities also try and tell the world that they are strong women who believe in equality and fair play because who would want to be called submissive, pliant and weak, right? Well newsflash for them because if they believe that women should be strong and independent and have the same rights at home, workplace and in the society then they too are feminists, they are just too much of a chicken to align themselves with the word and admit it publicly.
Why this rejection of the word feminism? Is it because of the all the misconceptions related to the word which basically says that all feminists are argumentative, dour faced, men hating lesbians (though in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with being either dour faced, argumentative or lesbian)? Is it because the celebs fear that by associating themselves with feminism, they will lose their popularity? Is it because we live in the social media dominated age where celebrities are constantly interacting with their fans and know what is expected of them and act and say the things accordingly? Or is it because these feminism shunning celebrities have given someone else the power to define what is acceptable (and feminism is not) and label themselves accordingly?
It is perhaps all the reasons cited above and more. Celebrities like Demi Moore and Lady Gaga rely on their popularity for their success and financial gains and are afraid to use the F word but it also drives home the point that there is no level playing field for women if they have to come out and say that they are not feminists, if anything it tells us that the world needs feminism and its feminist icons and role models.
Feminists do not hate men in general. Most of the women who label themselves as feminists like men just fine. In fact, they may state it more openly than their patriarchy endorsing sisters but that is not the point here. The point here is that they may like or dislike people for various reasons and they can be both men and women.
From Susan Sarandon to Beyonce, despite espousing the principals of feminism, they all shun the word – Beyonce suggested that something like bootylicious should replace feminism while Sarandon thinks humanist is a better word, but is that even the point? Had that been a natural progression of language where one word gives way to another, it would have been perfectly fine but this is not the case here. Female celebrities, who are role model to many, are actively shunning the word because of the negativity associated with it. It is not just a matter of semantics; there is a long history associated with the word and shunning it would mean not only denying that legacy but also dishonoring the struggles of women who made possible the freedoms we enjoy today through their efforts.
Feminism is not just a label, it was a movement – it still is a movement. It is not about the women who turn away from it for popularity but about fighting the fight against injustice for the people who do not enjoy the privilege of equality. The feminist worldview is about fighting patriarchy and creating a more just society for everyone which in turn would benefit everyone – men, women, children, animals and perhaps the environment.
Before these women get up and denounce feminism, have they stopped and pondered that it is feminism that has won us the vote, equal pay – at least in the law, the contraceptive options, property rights, and the right to education among others?
No matter what Demi Moore believes in, we are nowhere close to a world where feminism is not needed. The world is still deeply unequal and women everywhere are victims of discrimination on the basis of sex and it is dishonest to say that a feminism based rights movement is redundant. Even the nature of struggle has not changed – at least in a country like Pakistan where despite universal adult suffrage, there are pockets where women are not allowed to vote and no woman celeb had the decency to raise voice against it.
There was a time when associating oneself with gay rights was considered social hara-kiri. Now there is hardly anyone – at least in the Western world – who would openly say that they are against equal rights for LGBTs and this change happened because some people had the courage to get up and support what they believed in. Feminism needs such champions now. Ellen Page is one of those rare celebrities who wear their feminist identity with pride. She is not afraid of the label and believes that it needs to be out there. “How could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is considered a bad word?” asks Page.
Yes, these celebrities are no gender theorists and expecting them to be well versed in the academics of feminism is unrealistic, but expecting them to not disown feminism because it would mean more twitter followers or more popularity amongst the patriarchy supporting majority is not asking a lot. As famous people with clout, it is their responsibility to impact upon others to strive for a more just world. In any case, human beings are not just defined by one single label. We are complex creature and comprise of multiple identities – liberal or conservative, humanist, conformist or non conformist, democrat, socialist or capitalist and so on. It is about time we put an end to this ban on feminism as an articulated political and social concept and celebrities like Ellen Page, Kiera Knightly and Patrick Stewart (yes, men can be feminists too) who flaunt their feminist ideology will help in mainstreaming the word and the ideology.
Say it now, feminism is NOT a bad word. There is nothing wrong with being a feminist. I just hope that more people embrace it and help in ridding the word of all negative connotations.
Originally written for ViewPointOnlline