In recent months we’ve heard female celebrities including Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Miranda Kerr, even Susan Sarandon refute feminism as a concept and as an identity. I’m certain that the Suffragettes did not campaign for equal rights so Katy Perry could say she is not a feminist in her Billboard Woman of the Year acceptance speech, or that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy could tell readers of Vogue UK that feminism is no longer relevant to women of her generation. These women have the successful careers and indeed lives they do because of the very concept they have distanced themselves from.
These women are rich, famous, beautiful, talented, influential and aspirational, which means they have a platform to reach out to their fans, predominately girls and teenagers. What does it say to today’s girls and teenagers when these successful women say that feminism and feminists are old fashioned, irrelevant or a label no longer needed? It says there is nothing more to be done to push for gender equality and, to forget about the women of the past who fought for your fundamental rights to vote, to get an education, to find meaningful work, be financially independent and above all, the right to make choices. In an age of celebrity saturation there is unbelievable pressure on women to be everything and everyone (of course in the sexiest way possible). Positive role models are needed more than ever. The Katy Perrys and Taylor Swifts of the world are these role models. Much like Spiderman, role models have great power and with that comes great responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, these women are experts in their field and their achievements and beauty are to be admired, making them (for the most part) ideal role models for young women. But they also need to be held more accountable for what they say or don’t say about how it is they got there and the importance of identifying themselves as strong, independent women – the very foundations of the ‘ism’ they just don’t want a bar of.
By refuting this ‘ism’ – an ‘ism’ as true today as it was in the early 1900s – it tells even the smartest and savviest girls and young women that to not only believe that the opportunities they now have just magically appeared, but to passively accept the opportunities they don’t have. I’m fairly confident you’d be hard pressed finding a young woman under 20 years of age to name a well-known feminist or describe what a Suffragette is. Perhaps a few could name Germaine Greer – and quite frankly that frightens me just a little bit if that’s all young women know about modern feminism. To be a feminist is to believe in a stand for gender equality, the same definition 100 years ago, 50 years ago and now – same end game, slightly adjusted agenda (for example, today, women can vote in an equal capacity to men in developed countries, yet the gender equality in the boardroom is concerning to say the least). This is no reason however, for a perpetuation of the misunderstanding of feminism. Modern feminism is not about angry cat ladies hating on men. Modern feminism is about acknowledging the challenges and achievements of women in the past, what they mean today and how we can use those challenges and achievements in continuing the impassioned and intellectual fight for the women of tomorrow.
Feminism isn’t a dirty word or an ‘unsexy’ one. It’s a loaded one, standing for equality and positivity in all spheres that women occupy themselves in and exceed in, or spheres where women must be given the equal opportunity – and choice – to do so. To be a feminist is something to be proud of. I am a very proud feminist. It is not a single defining quality but a reflection (as one of many) on one’s core values and character. It is something that we should all be, women and men. To be a (female) feminist is to be proud of yourself as a woman and all that defines you in your strengths and weaknesses, achievements and failures, hopes for the future and your ability to source both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to get there. But where do we look for feminist inspiration if our (celebrity) role models aren’t identifying with it?
PS. A trend I’ve noticed lately is the need for women to identify as a ‘humanist’. Excuse me while I scream into my pillow. Is it more desirable and sexy and acceptable to be a humanist than it is a feminist? If it’s not the biggest cop out, I haven’t heard it. By all means, it is your choice to be whatever ‘ism’ you want to be, but let’s be real here, stand for the ‘ism’ with substance and validity. It’s the ‘ism’ that allows you to be sexy and smart.