OR SHOULD I say, feminism doesn’t need everybody. We have recently seen an overwhelming push to get anybody and everybody to adopt this label. We cheer when a celebrity comes out as a feminist. The internet went absolutely mental when Emma Watson said to the UN, in quite simple terms, that she subscribes to ‘feminist’ ideology in its simplest, whitest, most capitalist incarnation:
“I am from Britain and I think it is right that I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body, I think [applause break] … I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and the decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.”
We nevertheless applauded Emma’s simplistic claims, as if they were novel or exciting – ignoring the fact that feminism has moved on from this basic ideology. Intersectional feminism, transgender feminism, queer feminism, Laurie Penny’s “feminism that challenges”, etc. are now staples of the online feminist’s diet.
Feminism as a movement has accepted that empowerment isn’t about cheerleading from the sidelines, or about teaching women how to succeed in a white, capitalist men’s world. It’s about creating a new system and environment that’s conducive for all types of people to obtain fulfilment. Feminism is (or should be) intersectional, and it should question the systems that have led to inequality, rather than viewing the issue as a numbers game.
But for some reason, we still don’t consider these points as essential components of feminism as it applies to the public sphere. This becomes apparent whenever a female celebrity insists in public that she is not a feminist. The response is an assumption that the celebrity in question doesn’t “understand” feminism as basically “equality for both the genders”. But as always, over-simplification is the enemy of precision.
In all likelihood, celebrities do understand that feminism is essentially about “equality”. However, having already achieved basic “equality” in the West (the right to vote, the theoretical ability to do what they like with their bodies, the ability to pursue whatever career they choose), they don’t believe there are any battles left to fight. They prefer their gender lines binary and defined. They want to feel like “women”, so that males can feel like “men”, and they are satisfied with the status quo.
When these celebrities finally adopted the label, as soon as it became en vogue, their justifications often left something to be desired. Katy Perry said something to the effect of “not having realized that feminism was about loving men”. Not that feminism is incompatible with loving men, but it might be a stretch to say that that’s what it’s about. We accepted this lacklustre definition nevertheless, but perhaps we shouldn’t have.
There is nothing essentially wrong with having people like this – but we absolutely must stop diluting the definition of feminism in order to get them on board with the cause. We similarly need to stop compelling men to join the movement by appealing to their protective natures (“protect women because every woman is somebody’s daughter or wife!”) Feminism doesn’t need to be stretched and re-shaped and over-simplified to include everyone. Feminism is complex and difficult – anyone that is unwilling to grapple with this complexity should get off board.
No movement has ever needed everybody on board in order to be successful – feminism is no different. Nay-sayers, as well as people happy to perpetuate the status quo, will always be present. Inevitably, despite these people, the world will progress and move on. There is no need to water down a powerful message in order to get more people to sign up to a cause that has already got a substantial amount of manpower and brainpower behind it.
Written by Sahar Shah
Picture credit: ursulakm