One Big Step Back for Feminism? Celebrity stances on the ‘F-Word’…

Lady Gaga (Image Credit: Peter Cruise)
Lady Gaga (Image Credit: Peter Cruise)

Why is society so scared of feminism? Female celebrities have been reluctant to identify as such, largely because of misconceptions of what feminism is, which contribute vastly to the negativity surrounding it. This aversion to the word has been undoing many dedicated efforts of feminists before us. Rosie the Riveter would hang her head in shame. However, I believe society would celebrate and relish feminism, if we just knew what it meant.

WHAT IS FEMINISM ANYWAY?

Feminism is equality of the sexes. Simple, right? However, many feminists mistakenly take feminism one step too far, claiming women are superior to men, which breaks the fundamental rule of feminism: sexual equality. These aggressive feminists have made a bad name for the rest of us (yes, I am a feminist). Another common misconception of what feminism is stems directly from the term itself, which may mean sexual equality by definition, but the word itself is only representative of females, excluding males altogether.

I took it upon myself to survey several friends of mine about their thoughts on feminism. One stood out because his perception of feminism was so fantastically inaccurate. I asked him, for instance, if men could be feminists, and he said, “No.” Of course they can, as long as they believe in sexual equality. His rebuttal was simply to repeat the word feminism several times, emphasis on the first syllable: FEM-inism, FEM-inism, FEM-inism. I asked him if it was given a new name, for instance “equalism,” if he would then identify with the cause. He didn’t hesitate to tell me, “Absolutely, sign me up.”

KELLY CLARKSON: NOT A FEMINIST

Now let’s take this one woman at a time, starting with Kelly “Miss Independent” Clarkson, who has happily assumed the role of housewife, something I don’t think she realizes feminists are actually allowed to do. In defense of her lifestyle, she does not identify as feminist. In an interview with TIME Entertainment this October, Clarkson said:

I wouldn’t say [I’m a] feminist, that’s too strong. I think when people hear feminist it’s just like, ‘Get out of my way I don’t need anyone’… I love that I’m being taken care of, and I have a man that’s an actual leader. I’m not a feminist in that sense … but I’ve worked really hard since I was 19, when I first auditioned for Idol.”

Well, if you’re not a feminist “in that sense,” then in what sense are you one? She simply wants to be the wife of a doting husband, “that’s an actual leader.”

As a feminist myself, I do believe it’s every person’s right to live whatever type of life they want to. Clarkson’s choice to seek this lifestyle is hers to make, but it shows how comfortable some women are assuming gender roles like these, even aspiring to meet these expectations. This is also extremely evident in the way young women dress and behave increasingly sexually, to the point that promiscuity has become an expectation of young women. These women may not realize they willingly objectify themselves.

This is especially true of celebrities. Just look at Katy Perry’s cupcake bra, Miley Cyrus and her restless ass syndrome, not to mention swinging naked on a wrecking ball, and don’t even get me started on Rihanna. It’s no secret these women are selling their sex appeal, which not only reflects their personal values, but also speaks to the values and expectations of their fans and listeners.

Celebrities perform their music videos and shows and pose for photo shoots dressed up in next to nothing, flashing the camera their bedroom eyes. It’s like virtual prostitution. Although, last I checked, prostitution was illegal, making these women walking felonies. Okay, maybe Clarkson’s just a minor misdemeanor, but Katy Perry is guilty as charged.

KATY PERRY: WOMAN OF THE YEAR, YET NOT A FEMINIST

Camille Paglia, a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, elegantly ripped Perry a new one in an article last year, criticizing her and Taylor Swift on their “insipid, bleached-out personas.” Paglia describes Perry as a “manic cyborg cheerleader,” with her “flawless 1950s girliness, bedecked in cartoonish floral colors”—the guise of innocence behind which she hides “the overt raunch of her lyrics, with their dissipated party scenes.” Need I remind you the words to “California Gurls” a statewide bitch-slap if you ask me, being as I am a girl from California:

Sippin’ gin and juice
Laying underneath the palm trees, undone
The boys, break their necks
Trying to creep a little sneak peek, at us…
California gurls
We’re unforgettable
Daisy dukes, bikinis on top
Sun-kissed skin, so hot
We’ll melt your popsicle
Oh oh oh oh…

Paglia goes on to say that the example Perry’s setting for her listeners, both with her songs and body image, contributes highly to the promiscuity that’s swept across this generation. Casual sex and hooking up at parties have become the norm and expectation. As Paglia puts it, “Partying till you drop has gotten as harmless as a Rotary Club meeting.”

And yet, despite all this, Perry miraculously (perhaps mistakenly) managed to win the Woman of the Year award. What qualifies her, I have no idea. Especially considering how readily she denies being a feminist in her acceptance speech: “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” She goes on to say, “I don’t really like to call myself a role model for my fans. I hope I am an inspiration for them, especially young women.” Well, honey, with great power comes great responsibility, as we all learned from Spider Man, and being a role model for your fans is simply part of being famous. If she can’t take the pressure of her own influence on listeners, why is she the woman of the year? She continues, “People don’t want to look up to someone. They want to look across at someone and say, ‘That’s my girl. She’s singing something I don’t know how to put into words. She’s captured something and became the soundtrack of my life.’” Perhaps Perry should scroll up and take another look at her lyrics.

TAYLOR SWIFT: NO WAY IS SHE A FEMINIST

In an interview last year, The Daily Beast asked Taylor Swift a simple question, “Do you think your music empowers women?” Her answer was this:

It’s funny when you write a song and you don’t expect it to turn into what it turns into when it goes out in the world. I wrote a song called ‘Mean’ about a critic who hated me. I put it out, and all of a sudden, it became an anthem against bullies in schools, which is a refreshing and new take on it. When people say things about me empowering women, that’s an amazing compliment. It’s not necessarily what I thought I was doing…”

This answer is hilarious for several reasons.

To be clear, nobody said her music does empower women; Setoodeh, the interviewer, simply asked her if she thought that was the case. Swift was flattered, nonetheless, despite making no conscious effort to empower anybody whatsoever, not even the kids she inadvertently inspired to rise up against their bullies after misinterpreting one of her songs. By the way, critics are paid to criticize, and criticism isn’t the same as hate. I doubt even Camille Paglia would venture as far as to say she hated Swift.

Pity, perhaps, or disappointment might be more along the lines of what Paglia was feeling when she said, “Swift’s meandering, snippy songs make 16-year-old Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit “It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry if I Want to)” seem like a towering masterpiece of social commentary.” Taylor’s songs do seem to have a patent trend of bashing on ex-boyfriends. Much of Swift’s music career so far has consisted of an assembly line of men who she dates briefly, just long enough to squeeze out a petty song before moving along to the next. As though women are dating machines, but I believe there’s more to life than being hung up on ex-boyfriends.

The Feminist Taylor Swift Twitter account has illuminated readers to some of the questionable subtext of Swift’s lyrics. For instance, “It’s a love story / Baby, say yes.” Translation: “Because consent should always be freely and enthusiastically given” (Posted 12 June 2013). This speaks to another point Paglia makes in her critique: “We’ve somehow been thrown back to the demure girly-girl days of the white-bread 1950s. It feels positively nightmarish to survivors like me of that rigidly conformist and man-pleasing era, when girls had to be simple, peppy, cheerful and modest.” To be fair, Taylor is simple, peppy and cheerful by choice, but I can see how her image may seem like a giant step backwards to the women who lived the era Taylor’s look alludes to, because it glamorizes a lifestyle they’ve worked so hard to get away from.

GAGA: NADA FEMINIST

Let’s move on to Lady Gaga—no doubt a strong and influential female who’s reached the hearts of many listeners, and slapped the faces of many feminists, metaphorically of course. Lady Gaga, who claims to be “a little bit of a feminist” one minute but “hails men” the next, has confused and offended many fans. Her exact words were:

I’m not a feminist—I hail men. I love men. I celebrate American male culture—beer, and bars, and muscle cars.”

Her word choice here, which is insensitive at best, and her defensive reaction to the question only perpetuate the false notion that feminists hate men. Loving men is perfectly allowed, but hailing the male culture glorifies the gender roles that feminism seeks to extinguish. Even worse, she specifies, “American male culture—beer, and bars, and muscle cars,” a spitting image of the macho expectations prescribed to masculinity, specifically in the US. I wonder if she realizes how intensely people suffer to uphold these gender roles, and just how many they exclude, many of whom are in the gay community that she so avidly supports.

BEYONCÉ: A ‘BOOTYLICIOUS’ FEMINIST

Finally, a famous woman who identifies as feminist! Although, sadly, has no idea what it is. Earlier this year, Beyoncé told Vogue she considers herself a “modern-day feminist.” She goes on to say she does “believe in equality,” reassuring readers that at least she knows the dictionary definition. However, it’s her perception of sexual equality I question, considering how much of her career revolves around her sex appeal.

In a 2011 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Beyoncé said, “I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.” I agree that feminism could use a new name. I disagree about it being ‘bootylicious.’ All this does is perpetuate the widespread misconception that a woman’s only asset is her body. There is a difference between embracing one’s sexuality and pelvic-thrusting it in everybody’s face. It’s gotten to the point where I feel violated just watching music videos. Is it too much to ask to see a woman sing wearing the same amount of clothes as male singers? Am I the only woman who aspires to be more than bootylicious?

FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYONE

Further illuminating female aversion to the ‘F word’ are these men, who not only advocate feminism, but actually know what it is. This March, John Legend boldly stated, “All men should be feminists. If men care about women’s rights, the world will be a better place… We are better off when women are empowered—it leads to a better society.” Yes, Sir! Another male feminist, Jay Baruchel, said in March last year, “I’m constantly annoyed how terribly written most females [characters] are… Their anatomy seems to be the only defining aspect… As a viewer, I get a kick out of watching real characters, so I take it upon myself to… write actual women. And I like writing strong women, because as a straight male, there’s nothing more attractive to me than a strong girl.”


 

Image courtesy of Peter Cruise
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With any luck, I will rewrite this crazy world into the kind that you and I would like to live in.

3 thoughts on “One Big Step Back for Feminism? Celebrity stances on the ‘F-Word’…

  1. So good to hear this fresh, passionate and right on writer’s voice. Sometimes it does feel like celebrities are throwing us back into the dark ages, whether deliberately or simply acting out of their own unconscious suffering of the gender roles that even today get imprinted deeply in the feminine psyche every step of the way. Waking up to all the ways that we as women sell ourselves short, in a desperate attempt to get affirmation from men, based on the old model of gender power dynamics, is a practice men and women alike have to be committed to, to increase awareness and ultimately to grow into our individual wholeness with integrity.

  2. Feminism is equality of the sexes.

    Really? Now why should we laud a struggle to be treated equally in a system that treats all people horribly?

    Feminism is about female liberation from the Patriarchy in all of its forms, including the gender binary which you allude to.

    We have laws mandating “equality” in work and treatment under the law. So equality sorta of low bar considering the evidence so far.

    Perhaps changing the focus from equality for women, to emancipation for women from patriarchal norms would be a step in the right direction.

  3. @Journeys into Healing: Exactly! Let this be a wake up call, not just to women, but to men and everybody in between. It’s time to shed the sexist expectations that weigh us down and continue to deny us opportunities to reach our true potential. Thank you for the support!

    @The Arbourist: Having laws mandating equality is not the same as personally practicing equality. I think the fact that we have to resort to mandating equality by means of legislation is an overwhelming indication that many institutions and cultures and people are still plagued with sexist expectations and adhere strictly to gender roles. But forward thinking can’t be forced on people just by passing laws; acceptance is something that has to come from within, which is why I wish celebrities would do their part in setting an example that would illuminate a better way for fans and listeners.

    -Dakota Snow (author)

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