When Emma Watson made the bold move of stating that feminism was “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities,” the world applauded her. When Beyoncé appeared at the 2014 VMAs with “FEMINIST” emblazoned on stage in her signature font, people cheered her daring move. More celebrities have come out to endorse the global push for equality, but it isn’t always turned into sunshine and rainbows.
For many of those who express their intentions to fight for change in how we think and act regarding gender inequality, backlash can be strong. For example, when Watson made that speech as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, members of the Internet community 4chan claimed that they would distribute nude photographs of her. On the less extreme end, some are accused of being too sensitive and overreacting to issues that don’t truly exist.
Others, like Beyoncé, are criticized for not being radical enough. Feminist scholar bell hooks, for one, spoke her concerns regarding the singer’s confident expression of her sexuality in her music. When speaking to students from the New School, hooks said, “If I’m a woman and I’m sucking somebody’s dick in a car and they’re coming in my mouth and we could be in one of those milk commercials or whatever, is that liberatory? Or is it part of the tropes of the existing, imperialist, white supremacist, patriarchal capitalist structure of female sexuality?” However, hooks’ statement speaks of something past criticism for what should simply be seen as a manifestation of feminism from Beyoncé’s perspective. It’s difficult to think and act counterculturally when embedded in the narrative of the world we live in, and it especially isn’t easy when considering the intersectionality of her identities as a black woman.
The pressure on female celebrities to speak their positions on feminism has grown large within recent years. Many follow Watson and Beyoncé in defining feminism as the fight for gender equality. Others, like actress Shailene Woodley, have stated that they do not believe in feminism for a myriad of reasons; in Woodley’s case, she stated, “The reason why I don’t like to say that I am a feminist or I am not a feminist is because to me it’s still a label. I do not want to be defined by one thing.” Oft-cited reasons include not wanting to hate men or fall into the trope of men-haters.
The reduction to becoming a caricature and stereotype of being a feminist often plagues those dedicated to the cause. It’s difficult to be taken seriously regarding how we perceive and act in the context of behaving as a feminist, when some only choose what they want to hear and twist what comes out of our words. Instead of aiming to engage in conversation about differing perspectives, people engage in accusations in hopes of taking down the other. Unfortunately, this can’t simply be reduced to “one kind of person,” people who staunchly believe that gender equality is the answer can be just as harsh and cold as those who don’t. Sometimes, that harshness is just what’s necessary to being heard in the conversation. In many cases, it is not.
Being a spokeswoman for feminism isn’t simply limited to being a celebrity, nor should it be limited to having just these trains of thought. As evidenced by Watson and Beyoncé’s differing experiences, feminists can have a wide range of thoughts and experiences, so long as they adhere to a similar principle: a belief in gender equality and strength.
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