Fedora Abu on why Feminism is finally cool again
From the UN Headquarters to the cover of ELLE magazine, it seems feminism is the buzzword du jour. It wasn’t long ago that the F-word was synonymous with aggressive man hating. So when did it become so … cool?
Celebrities get a lot of stick. As the scapegoats for negative body image, obsessive consumerism and digital narcissism, they’re probably the last people to whom we’d attribute a positive social movement. That being said, women’s rights activists definitely have Hollywood to thank for slowly helping rid feminism of its stigma. In an age where Kardashians are revered more than politicians, A-List endorsement is PR gold.
I’ve always held particular admiration for stars such as Keira Knightley, Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, Ellen Page and even Joseph Gordon-Levitt who considered themselves feminists even when it was considered a bad career move to do so. Whether through an interview, a book, a speech or a hit TV-show, celebrities like these never shied away from bringing up issues of gender discrimination.
The biggest mistake we could make is thinking that simply having more people identify as feminists is enough
And of course there’s also Queen B, who finally ‘came out’ when she featured the words of feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche in ***Flawless. Though Beyoncé’s sex-positive ‘Single Ladies’ brand of feminism has long been scrutinised, you can’t deny that when the most powerful woman in music declares herself a feminist, millions listen. Other influential celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, who had previously shunned the label, now seem to have been educated on its real meaning and are flying the flag. All this, coupled with regular coverage of women’s issues from media channels such as ELLE, The Guardian and BuzzFeed, seems to have encouraged a new generation of young women to finally re-appropriate the word.
Still, it worries me that this new adoption of the label risks being nothing more than a media craze, with feminism losing its essence amidst a whirlwind of magazine covers and publicity stunts. Like all those thrust in the spotlight that eventually sell out, it’s easy to imagine feminist ideals being watered-down or sexed-up to give them greater public appeal. And considering that Taylor Swift’s impressionable fans would probably imitate her feminist views just as easily as they would her outfit, it makes you wonder whether such a celebrity-driven movement has any depth or drive. What’s to say the enthusiasm will even last? After months of being inundated with feminist articles and constant debate over what is and isn’t sexist, might feminism eventually be side-lined in favour of a less controversial and confusing initiative?
Of course, this fourth wave of feminism has already been rejected by self-proclaimed ‘real’ feminists who, like smug fans of an up-and-coming indie band, pride themselves on having supported the movement before the hype. These are the ones who look down on the ‘so-called’ feminists for not knowing their Gloria Steinem from their Gloria Gaynor or even for just enjoying stereotypically feminine activities. With them, feminism is treated like a club with a strict code of conduct to adhere to before one can gain entry. Sadly, they seem to be forgetting that inclusivity is at the heart of feminism and, at the end of the day, greater public interest is a step in the right direction.
Even so, the biggest mistake we could make is thinking that simply having more people identify as feminists is enough: it only takes a look at the stories on Everyday Sexism, the leaking of Jennifer Lawrence’s nudes in August or the recent Dapper Laughs incident to remind us of misogyny’s prevalence in Western society (not to mention the plight of women in countries where they are denied the right to education just for being female).
This new zeal for feminism is effectively pointless unless it actually brings about social change and, admittedly, this will take much more than a T-shirt or a hash tag. The responsibility now lies with all proud feminists, male and female, to ensure that the F-word represents a movement for gender equality, not just a fleeting media trend.
Featured image credit: James Stencilowsky