The Reluctant Feminist… No Need to Fear the F Word

The Reluctant Feminist... No Need to Fear the F Word

Why are so many female celebrities scared of being thought of as feminist? It seems this lovely and vital thing to be is still a bit radical after all.

One afternoon, a few weeks ago, amid the detritus of Sunday lunch, I mentioned to a friend (We’ll call her Kate) that I didn’t know if I would have children. Kate looked at me aghast and proclaimed, “Ugh, that’s so horrible and feminist.” We had a brief argument on feminism and then moved on to the far less divisive issue of pudding.

But, unlike the apple crumble, the words that Kate used to describe my comment stuck with me. What struck me was not her horror at my not being certain if I’d have children, but the words she chose in her response. Horrible. Feminist. Placed side-by-side and seen as something unfeminine and repugnant. Feminist.

You see what I’m getting at, don’t you? Many young women today think that feminist is something that you don’t want to be. Katy Perry has said it. Carla Bruni told Vogue that women “didn’t need feminism any more”. Taylor Swift mentioned that she didn’t consider herself a feminist because she “didn’t see it as guys versus girls.” And in doing so, these women completely missed the point of feminism.

One could argue that Bruni’s remarks could be construed as a strange victory for feminism; that it has been so absorbed into modern culture that the ideals that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers fought for has worked. Indeed, the rest of Taylor Swift’s comment is about how her parents raised her to be as good as and equal to men in the industry – the very thing that many early feminists fought for.

It can be presumed, I think, that all of these women aren’t in favour of their husbands owning all of their property, legally being able to beat and rape them. They’re also not living in a world where women not only earn less money but have to pick a job from the “Vacancies – Women” column in the classified section of the newspaper. Wherein all of the jobs listed paid up to 40% less than what those in the “Vacancies – Men Only” column did.

What is clear is that women – and men – have become complacent about what feminism is and why it was so dearly needed in the earlier part of this century and more importantly, why it is needed now. For thousands of women around the world, being paid less and treated worse simply for being female is part of their life. Closer to home, young women see fame as a job in itself and not as a rare by-product of excelling at something else. Prettiness, sweetness and coquettishness are seen as a viable career option.

Women all around the world are still beaten and trafficked and earn less than their male counterparts. Women are still judged more harshly than men on being overweight or pretty or sexually active. Women like my friend, who are intelligent, dynamic people still see feminism as unfeminine and in doing so prove that we still need feminism precisely because we are still trapped in the gilded cage of femininity, of This (And Only This) Is What A Woman Should Be.

In staying in that box, we limit ourselves. To see ourselves as Women or Men and not human beings means that we are confined by what society expects of us and do not push ourselves further to be better, to be kinder, to judge ourselves and others less harshly. To spend our lives worried about being unfeminine is to spend our lives worried about being human; to fight for what we believe in, to wear what we want and eat food we enjoy, to speak up for ourselves and to be able to live in a world where women are not treated as lesser in any area of life.

Four decades after the Equal Pay Act passed in the UK, we still live in fear or, perhaps, benign neglect of what it means to be a feminist. Maybe feminism needs a PR campaign because upon asking my friend if she wanted to work at any job she chose and not be beaten by her husband she looked at me and said, “Oh yeah, I believe in that.”

And that’s just the thing: many women, particularly young women, see the “olden days” of feminism, of wife-beating and the forcible adoption laws of the 1950’s and 60’s as a thing that happened in the past and is not relevant to them. The very reason that it is not relevant to them is because of early feminists fighting for those things and it is why Katy Perry and Carla Bruni have the luxury of being able to disassociate themselves with feminism; because they were born at a point in history where so much had already been done to allow women to become self-determined.

Feminism is not about hating men or being into extremist politics. It is not some distant island in the mists of time. It is very much a current issue; about removing a way of thinking that is out-dated, limiting and literally kills women in countries all around the world. Gender essentialism is as harmful to men as it is to women and makes people into their gender, not their humanity or their talents and, ultimately, helps no one. So, before you say you’re not a feminist, double check because you probably are.

Hi, Katy Perry. We’re sorry to hear you don’t identify as a feminist. We wonder why so many celebrities like yourself avoid it.