The F word: F is for Feminist. F is for Fuck It.

Today I taught Pamela Aronson’s article on why many women believe in gender equality but really don’t want to identify as a feminist. Its because feminists don’t love men.

princess bride feminism

Besides awesome classes like mine, where do people get ideas about feminism? That’s right, it’s your friend and mine: the media. Gone are the days when youngsters listened to Rush Limbaugh’s disgusting rants about “feminazis.” Nowadays, we enter the cult of celebrity through young Hollywood: Miley Cyrus. Lorde. Lena Dunham. Beyoncé. Taylor Swift. Jennifer Lawrence. Emma Watson. All individuals who have all weighed in on the F word. Not only if they identify as feminists, but also what feminism is.

Hold on, why do we care what celebrities say about feminism? Well, celebrities are public figures, so what they say has a national and international forum. Celebrities are also fancy and sparkly, and we idealize their bodies, their jobs, their romances. This means we give more weight to what they say. We’ve all seen young celebrities berated for not living up to their “role model” status. Like it or not, what comes out of celebrities’ mouths has the power to influence.

When asked in a May 2014 interview if she considered herself a feminist, Divergent star Shailene Woodley  confidently explained “No 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 […] And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either […] My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism. I don’t know how we as women expect men to respect us because we don’t even seem to respect each other.” According to Woodley:

  • Feminism works to elevate women above and at the expense of men.
  • Feminists are not balanced between masculine and feminine?
  • Feminists hate men. At the very least, they don’t love ’em.
  • Feminists don’t respect other women. Those bitches.
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nice try buddy

First, a lot of that shit doesn’t even make sense. TAKE MY CLASS, WOODLEY! Second, a lot of that shit is what Aronson calls the “I’m not a feminist, but…” response. Women advocate for feminist goals—like treating men and women equally and with respect—but don’t want to associate those goals with feminism. Third, a lot of that shit is what we in the biz call the “straw feminist trope” (Feminist Frequency has an amazing video on this.) See, the straw man presents an ideological standpoint in such a way so as to be easily discredited. So the straw feminist embodies all extreme or ridiculous aspects of what people think feminism is: feminists are man-hating. They want to attain power at the expense of others. They are shrill and illogical. They are nasty or ugly and or otherwise socially unpleasant.

But Saucy you say, I know for a fact that some feminists hate men, want to take power away from men, and are mean or whatever. Let me break that down for you, like I do for my students.

  1. some people are assholes.
  2. some assholes call themselves feminists.
  3. this does not mean feminists are assholes.
  4. case closed.

It’s not just Hollywood ladies getting in on the action. Self-identified feminist (but media identified “male feminist”) Joseph Gordon Levitt explained in an August 2014 interview that feminism means “you don’t let your gender define who you are—you can be who you want to be, whether you’re a man, a woman, a boy, a girl, whatever. However you want to define yourself, you can do that and should be able to do that, and no category ever really describes a person because every person is unique.”

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nice try buddy

No, that’s not what feminism means.** I know we want to give Levitt some cred for being an ally and calling himself a feminist. But he doesn’t get a pass either, because his explanation in no way addresses how gender intersects with race, class, sexuality, or ability. He’s not talking about how institutionalized racism or sexism might prevent someone from “being whatever they want to be.” He’s not talking about how socialization indoctrinates us into gendered expectations and behaviors. Or how femininity is stiflingly connected to beauty and sexualization, and masculinity to success and violence. He’s not talking about hegemony (who holds social power and how they maintain it). He’s not talking about gendered ideologies tied into romance, marriage, domestic work, childcare. He’s not talking about very real dangers queer and trans* people face when they diverge from normative sex, gender, or sexuality. He’s not talking about the privilege some people have to not see how these issues affect the lives and opportunities of individuals.

In class, I screen a video that identifies feminism as the study of—and efforts to combat—multiple and intersectional social issues. Its Chimamanda Adichie’s speech “We Should All Be Feminists” (You probably know Adichie because Beyoncé sampled her in “Flawless,” but you should know her from her literature and her incredible speech “The Danger of a Single Story”). Not only does Adichie model the range and breadth of feminist concerns, she models feminist behavior by grounding her talk in her own cultural knowledge and lived experiences.

Loyal readers, let me leave you with a bit more on what exactly feminism is and does. Feminism is a lens for seeing fucked up shit that we’re so used to seeing, it’s become invisible to us. Feminism is a tool to scrutinize how social systems work and to name how social inequalities are rooted in our ranking of difference. Feminism is a way to identify ourselves as active thinkers and doers. Feminism is a way to reclaim politics around stratification, discrimination, and inequality. We should all be feminists. F is for feminist. F is for fuck yes.

**“But Saucy, why can’t celebrities define feminism however they want? They’re just expressing their opinion!” Yes, they are. It’s an uninformed opinion. I might have the opinion that the earth is flat. This opinion does not change well-researched, empherically proven, and mutually agreed upon definitions. Yes kids, social science is actually a science!

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About Meredith Heller

The Saucy Scholar is Faculty Lecturer of Queer Studies in Women's and Gender Studies at Northern Arizona University. She holds a Ph.D. in Theater Studies and a doctoral emphasis in Feminist Studies from UC Santa Barbara, and specializes in performance and entertainment, gender studies, and queer theory.
This entry was posted in celebrity, classroom, feminism, gender. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The F word: F is for Feminist. F is for Fuck It.

  1. A.D. Martin says:

    It’s become an obnoxious problem of semantics where people think they’re against feminism primarily because some genius gave it a new and horrible definition.

    Also, If you reword JGL’s statement and say “us” and “we” instead of “you,” so responsibility falls on society as a whole rather than a potentially oppressed individual, it works a bit better.

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