To be an important part of popular culture in the twenty-first century, you’ve got to combine the sex appeal of Kylie Jenner’s Instagram with the roast-worthy controversy of Justin Bieber – no easy feat. But, powerful celebrities like Beyonce, Emma Watson and Lena Dunham have managed to turn feminism into a household concept. Vv Magazine’s Danielle Jobb investigates social movements’ latest trend: professional feminism.
Like bell-bottomed jeans and crop tops, feminism seems to drift in and out of fashion. The movement was officially revitalized on August 24, 2014, when Beyonce took off her pants and performed in front of what Jessica Bennett, in her article for Time Magazine, refers to as an “epic declaration of the F word, the ‘holy grail of feminist endorsements’.”
If you’ve been living under a rock, you don’t know that the lyrics on the track “Flawless” sample key lines from the infamous speech by Nigerian scholar Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie, which defines “why we should all be feminists.” Beyonce shakes her bootylicious bod around on stage, singing about cunnilingus and female sexual empowerment. The performance ends with her husband by her side, holding baby Blue Ivy while Mommy Bey accepts her MTV Lifetime Achievement Award.
Beyonce’s performance returned feminism to the spotlight. The performance doesn’t clarify exactly what feminism means; however, we can hope that this performance and other celebrity moments of feminist activism have finally cemented the movement’s place in popular culture.
Television evangelist Pat Robertson once proclaimed that feminism would cause women to “leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” That is an extreme example of ignorance, but there are a surprising number of celebrities who still associate feminism with radical offshoots from the movement’s history. Casey Cavanagh, in her article for Huffington Post, says that the negative stigma surrounding feminism is a result of the way the media has historically depicted, “the feminist as a man hater who hates lipstick, crinkles her nose at stay-at-home moms an unapologetically supports abortions on demand.”
The focus of feminism is to get rid of the gender binary. Luckily, there are celebrities out there who are giving clear definitions of what feminism is really about. As Emma Watson points out in her influential UN speech, “I have realized that fighting for women’s rights is too often synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.” Or the creator of HBO’s revolutionary Girls, Lena Dunham, publicly announcing her opinion that: “women saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ is my biggest pet peeve… Do you think that women and men both deserve equal rights? Great, then you’re a feminist.”
The inclusion of both genders is what was missing from Patricia Arquette’s Oscar Acceptance speech. By saying how hard everyone worked to arrive at civil rights for the gay community and people of colour, “she represents questions of race and sexuality as separate from gender, and she implies that justice in those areas has already been achieved,” explains Sarita Srivastava, a professor in gender studies and sociology at Queen’s University. “Many feminist activists and scholars today see questions of race, gender, and sexuality as interlocking, ongoing struggles.” Arquette’s speech was problematic because her choice of words excluded a huge number of people, but “as a society, we need to be able to recognize what’s missing from these moments of feminist activism,” says Srivastava to Vv Magazine.
On the same token, Srivastava continues to point out that we need to stop disavowing celebrities for these “incomplete” moments of feminist activism. “A movement needs scholars and academics to do the work, the critical thinking, and the research. It also needs activists and public figures to get out there and spread the message.” Professional feminists have marketed feminism in a way that the average person can understand. They have done it through the sexualisation of the movement via Beyonce, a YouTube video via Emma Watson, and through Buzzfeed articles that highlight commonplace moments of celebrities responding to sexism. Celebrities have a tendency to dumb down the ideology in order to make it easier for the average person to consume and “who wouldn’t want to be a feminist with Beyonce as the face of feminism?” Gay points out, even if the message is diluted.
Professional feminists are making an impact, no matter how watered-down the rhetoric is. As Srivastava says, we just have to hope that hearing more and more about the movement will encourage people to pick up a book or take a course and really understand the sociology behind it. The more we as a society understand about the ideology, the fewer misconceptions we accept, and the more comfortable we become with the notion of feminism, the longer it will have the spotlight.
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