A Celeb’s Guide To Misrepresenting Feminism

“[I’m not a feminist] because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.”

Shailene Woodley – “Shailene Woodley on Why She’s Not a Feminist, Time, 2014-05-06

There’s been a lot of talk of Shailene Woodley of late. Having taken on the role of Hazel in the movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, and Tris in the recent adaptation of Divergent. For weeks, the media representation of her has been, on the whole, positive. 

It didn’t take long, however, for the above article to find itself gaining attention through Tumblr, and rightly so. 

The problem we have is that the aims of feminism have been distorted by the patriarchy sufficiently enough throughout the years that, even when attempting to resurrect a women’s group in my home town two years ago, the previous chair of the group interjected “We’re not crazy feminists, though. We’re not ripping off our bras and burning them, just trying to get a woman friendly space.” (Does anyone even remember where the bra-burning trope came from?)

Women are picking up on pro-woman messages, feminist messages, but even upon citing them feel the need to rebuff them. After all, we’ve been taught that feminism is a dirty word, usually by people who have no problem calling any woman who says otherwise a ‘bitch’, or likening her to Hitler. We’ve attached a stigma to the words ‘I am pro-woman’, ‘I am a strong woman’, and so forth that many celebs feel the need to suffix these words with ‘but I’m not a feminist’. 

But the problem we have as women is that we so frequently take our definition of feminism from men, whether we intend to or not. My first exposure to the ‘dirty word feminist’, was whilst calling out a customer’s sexual harassment, at which point, it was asked whether I was one of those ‘bloody feminists’. Feminism wasn’t something that was discussed in my household, nor in my school. And whilst I was reading articles in Bliss, More and Company about sexual harassment, rape and abuse, none of them ever name-checked feminism itself. So whilst women-produced media sets out the basics of feminism for so many young women, albeit the bare basics and an often contradictory message, so many girls and women first meet the term with a side order of derision. 

We need to stop allowing men to use feminist as a silencer, and this needs to stop. But what also needs to stop is the culture of celebrity dismissing feminism as wanting nothing more than female superiority and that ever pervasive myth of misandry. 

What we need more recognition for, however, are the celebrities who make pro-feminist statements beyond stating a woman’s right to be ‘sexy’. We need more women like Anne Hathaway, (although the only declaration of Hathaway being a feminist comes from another self-proclaimed feminist, Lena Dunham) and we need a fuckton more women like Ellen Page, and Louise Brealey who cites herself as a feminist very publicly on her Twitter biography. And, as I leave, I think we all need to consider this quote from Ellen Page, who puts it more succintly than I ever could. 

“But I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists. Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?”

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