The New Feminist
I have noticed, over the last number of years, there has been a shift in what traditionally quantifies as feminism. A new fad has arisen among popular culture. It is now somewhat fashionable, to call yourself a ‘feminist’. Whether this development happened organically or intentionally is not clear, but, as a result of this trend, many uber celebs are associating themselves with feminism. In this article I will discuss the recent advancements of feminism and its’ relationship with celebrity culture, among other things.
I am a feminist and I am not afraid to say that or identify as a feminist. I believe in, and support wholeheartedly, the feminist movement. To me, feminism means a society in which I can go to a club and dance without being leered at by old men in the corner, or have my ass grabbed by a drunk guy, or be harassed and jeered at by a stag do. A society where I can walk the streets at night and not feel scared for my safety because I am a girl. A world where young women’s handbag contents don’t consist of lipstick and pepper spray. A world where I can wear what I want, where I want and not be judged. A world where how a woman looks does not determine her intelligence or social standing.
A Brief History.
Throughout history, feminism has taken many forms; The Ladies of Langham place, The Suffragettes and Women’s Liberation, all of which, consisted of women speaking out against injustice and impingements of their rights, not only as women, but as human beings. Women have been battered, imprisoned and even killed fighting against inequality. They have marched in the streets, undergone hunger strikes and committed arson in the name of a brighter future for women.
Emmeline Pankhurst, British founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903, wrote; “I want to say to you who think women cannot succeed, we have brought the government of England to this position: either women are to be killed or women are to have the vote.” Later a member of the W.S.P.U named Emily Davidson famously stepped in front of Kings George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby, June 4th 1913 and suffered injuries that would prove to be fatal. It was not until 1928 that women’s suffrage was achieved in Britain. History is peppered with the courageous acts of women in their efforts towards a common goal. The goal itself has remained the same; equality, but, the acts of courage have changed with the times.
For example, radical feminists of the 1960’s were far from quiet spoken and were not afraid to go against social norms and ideals of what it meant to be female. They deduced that in order for an equal society to develop, male supremacy must be overturned and patriarchy re-ordered. Radical feminism dealt with issues regarding traditional gender roles, sexual objectification of women and sexual violence against women. During that time, the Supreme Court of Canada was witness to many debates surrounding sexual violence and harassment against women and one lawyer, Catherine MacCinnon, when describing sexual harassment said; “To be about to be raped, is to be gender female in the process of going about life as usual.”
The 70’s and 80’s saw many legal and institutional rights extended to women and with this came the birth of ,what is now called, Third Wave Feminism. Third Wave Feminists believe that in addition to the legal and institutional changes, changes in female stereotypes and media portrayal are needed. Third Wave focuses mainly on societal interpretation of gender and sexuality. Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, in their book Manifesta: Young Women Feminism and the Future write; “Consciousness among women is what caused this, and consciousness, ones ability to open ones mind to the fact that male dominantion does affect women of our generation, is what we need. The presence of feminism in our lives is taken for granted. For our generation, feminism is like fluoride. We scarcely notice we have it – it’s simply in the water.”
What does it mean to be a feminist in 2016?
It seems to me, that the mainstream feminism we see in the media, is becoming more and more about the de-objectification of the female body and attempting to ‘own’ or reclaiming ones sexuality and in this way inadvertently striving for equality of the sexes. I absolutely think it’s fantastic that feminism is once again in the public eye and getting attention in the media but the fact of the matter remains that while in the West women enjoy much of the same privileges as their male counter parts, extreme patriarchy and horrific traditions like female genital mutilation are still a reality for women around the world.
UNICEF estimates that in 2016, 200 million women were mutilated in 27 countries in Africa, in Indonesia, Iraq and Yemen. It is not only female genital mutilation that these women must suffer through. Their lives are a myriad of male domination, violence and lack of basic human rights. Women in Saudi Arabia are accustomed to daily restrictions such as not being allowed to drive a car or go for a swim, these activities are against the law for females. Much of these laws are rooted in conserving traditions and religious views but that does not make it any easier to be a women living in such a segregated and misogynistic society.
So, while Mylie Cyrus shocks the world with her underarm hair, a young girl is being mutilated as part of a cruel, sadistic tradition. Is this right? Which story do you think the media will focus on? Really our Western obsession with body image seems quite petty in comparison but it is not without its’ own implications on the minds of the young generations to come. In fact, the development of a healthy body image in a young woman (and man for that matter) is hugely important and the de-objectification of the female body is not only essential for women in the West, but, for women everywhere.
Although I do not totally agree with the methods employed to bring about this change (stars taking naked selfies), I do agree with the idea behind it and it is the idea that matters. If women continue to be objectified in the media and used to sell products, we will NEVER achieve equality. It’s true, there are other pressing matters surrounding equality in the West, like the fact that women still are not paid the same wage as men or that in Ireland, abortion is still an illegal act, but the day to day lives of women and girls are massively affected by unrealistic, idealistic views surrounding the female body and that has got to change.
If women are expected to look and dress a certain way, wear our make up a certain way, tie our hair up a certain way all to the benefit of what society deems appropriate or attractive, then how can we ever expect to change the ideals created around a patriarchal view of what constitutes as femininity and be set free from sexual objectification?
It is slightly ironic that the pioneers of this movement toward the reconstruction of ideals is mostly spearheaded by models, singers and actresses who all fall into the category of thin, ‘beautiful’, young women and continue to be portrayed in films and magazines as such, but I think what is more important, is the mentality that is driving them. That is what we should be focusing on. Take the model/actress Emily Ratajkowski for example. Although undeniably, conventionally stunning, she herself is openly feminist. In a recent interview with feminist author Naomi Wolf, when asked about a topless selfie with Kim Kardashian that made rounds on the internet she said; “…. I wrote (under the image); We are more than just our bodies, but that doesn’t mean we have to be shamed for them, or our sexuality.”
It is a bit of a double edged sword, I will admit. Young girls being exposed to airbrushed, flawless perfection can create a distorted idea of what the supreme female body ‘should’ be but again, I respect the idea driving these celebrities and think we should be paying more attention to their words and less attention how they choose to convey them. Their whole idea, is that women should be able to take a topless picture, or be seen topless without all the stigma surrounding it and therefore de-objectifying the female body. In other words reclaiming our feminine sexuality, taking it into our own hands.
In the last five years there has been a huge progression of our views on gay marriage, same-sex marriage is now legal in the USA and most of Europe. Celebrities like Mylie Cyrus and Cara Delevigne encourage youths to be open about their sexuality and not to place so many restrictions on themselves or others. Mylie stated in one interview; “I’m not hiding my sexuality. For me, I don’t want to label myself as anything. We love putting people into categories, but what I like sexually isn’t going to define me as person.” It’s also now widely acceptable to be transgender. This has, as well, been encouraged in celebrity culture by Bruce, now Caitlyn Jenner. The whole L.G.B.T community has been revolutionized in the last five years so why hasn’t feminism? Why is there so much stigma still surrounding the female body and around being a feminist?
Emma Watson, now Goodwill Ambassador for Women’s UN had this to say on the matter; “...the more I’ve spoken about feminism, the more I have realised, that fighting for women’s rights, has too often become synonymous with ‘man hating’.” I believe this unfortunately came about during Second Wave feminism, when feminists where extremely outspoken and started to experiment with lesbianism whilst fighting for equal rights. Of course, this subsequently threatened collapse of heterosexual society and so people began to fight back against what they saw as a wave of fierce feminists. It’s like anything new, people are afraid of change and will do anything they can to stay in their bubble and I believe this is how feminism got a bad name.
So I implore you now, instead of condemning these stars for sharing their bodies and their views, can’t we celebrate them instead? Can’t we listen to the message they are spreading and instil confidence in the minds of young women instead of insecurities? Can’t we be proud of our bodies, instead of ashamed? Let’s stop being afraid of feminism and embrace it!
In the words of Bette Davis; “When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”
Free the nipple!