August 15, 2014

Labels Matter. (So Does Everything Else)

Please don’t stop asking celebrities whether or not they’re feminists. It’s important on like, a million different levels. It matters to me, and it should matter to you, too. Now that I think about it every celebrity interviewee should have to divulge if they’re a feminist before they get the privilege of answering anything else. It would save me so much time, knowing exactly what I’m investing my time in, right from the start.

And I know the risk that comes with asking people questions, in general. I’m well aware that I may be disappointed in their answer. But, ask my parents, disappointment has become my trademark, and I’ve prepared myself to accept whatever response we get. Because it matters to me. Because its an important question. Because feminism is important.

At the core, my motivations in seeking such knowledge from my favorite pop culture mainstays are selfish, naturally. I need to make sure I can sleep at night. I deserve to know who and what I’m buying into, and how it enhances my personal brand (and ultimately, makes me a better person). We are faced with so many choices every day - the magnitude of possible outcomes in every single decision we encounter - its overwhelming. Its stressful. I can’t afford to make decisions as haphazardly as I did when I was 25, I don’t have the energy for it. Most of the time I don’t make any decisions at all, but if I must, I do my research, and act accordingly- in a way that aligns with the personal brand I’ve spent years meticulously building.

“Are you a feminist?” is becoming a standard inquiry in exposes of the rich and kinda-famous. And like I said, I haven’t always been pleased with the responses. It is glaringly obvious that, even in 2014, there is some confusion over exactly what feminism is.

A definition, by definition, is a statement expressing the essential nature of something. The ‘essential nature’ of feminism or being a feminist is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Thankfully, this definition leaves a lot of room for inclusion to account for the ever-changing societal hellscape we happen to exist in. Like everything else, language and definitions are fluid, in the sense that they can be added to, sharpened, enhanced, but their basic meanings cannot be changed.

There is no way to ‘redefine’ what it means to be a feminist linguistically or culturally. And most importantly, there is no need to. If a pop star is ‘redefining feminism’ with record sales rivaling that of her male counterparts or by being a wife, mother and entrepreneur all at the same time then it is your definition of feminism that needs tweaking. If you operate under the assumption that an actress represents a modern feminism by defining herself and her sexuality the way that she wants to, you’re wrong.

There are many types of feminisms, just as there are many types of - say, mammals, but at the end of the day you can count on both me and a dolphin giving birth to live young with fur. The face and display of feminist ideals is as dynamic as feminists are themselves, but the equality is the ultimate goal. The battles are different but the war remains the same. And shows no signs of ceasing.

Whether we realize it or not, gender inequality affects us all, to varying degrees. 1 in 5 American women will be raped in her lifetime. Domestic violence is the number one killer of women aged 18–45. Women are more likely than men to be poor, live below the poverty line, and be affected by memtal illness. Only 24 percent of CEO’s in America are women, and they, on average, earn 75% of what their male peers do. The United States comes in at 69th place for the number of women we’ve elected to govern. The swords are drawn, ladies. We might as well fight back.

Marilyn Monroe famously said “a journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step,” and you know what? She’s right. In this case, the first step is a declaration of your feminism and it is by far the most important. The seemingly inconsequential act of declaring yourself a feminist is one of the most important arrows in your “You Go Girl!” quiver.

Personally, disappointing my parents turned out to be reason enough for me to be a feminist, but even that high couldn’t last forever. Which is okay, because there’s a million other reasons to be a feminist, in case you have a ’good relationship with your father ’rents or whatever.

A feminist-identity is an invaluable weapon against a patriarchal hegemony that pits us against everything: ridiculous beauty standards, each other and most detrimentally - against ourselves.

Most research proves my point, of course. A 2006 study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly found that a more developed feminist identity correlated positively to a woman’s psychological well-being. In Mauthner’s 1998 survey, the data shows a negative correlation between exposure to feminist views and depression. Being a feminist actually can make you happier.

In 1997 a survey of Psychology Today readers showed about half of non-feminist women were unhappy with their overall appearance, while only 32% of “self-proclaimed feminists” expressed the same dissatisfaction. Women who strongly identify as feminists are also less likely to suffer from eating disorders. Feminism improves the lives of women within and without - supporting both the politcal and the personal across the board.

56.4% of women in a study from researchers at the University of Vermont reported being “picked on, hit, shoved or threatened with harm because of being a woman.” Yikes. Of those threatedned, the women who were feminists not only recognized sexism and harrassment but were more likely to exhibit a resistance to such behavior. Its a start, right?

Yes. Perhaps what feminism truly offers is a sense of community, a sisterhood, if you will (I will) and the recognition that as women we share a common bond of experiences - both good and bad.

But even with all the benefits a feminist awareness and identity brings, so many women remain reluctant to take the plunge. According to a recent survey done by Huffington Post and YouGov, only 23% of women consider themselves feminists. Frustrating as it is, I don’t blame them because I can relate, and I know its not their fault. I avoided any sort of feminist labeling (or feminist-anything) until very recently. I didn’t want to be thought of as a man-hating, rude, unattractive cunt, especially since I’m actually so pretty. I worried that I’ll never get married, have children and that my Dad was right all along. My first understanding of feminism was so embarassingly off the mark I had no choice but to start from the begininng, there’s no sense in redefining bullshit, after all.

The misconceptions and stereotypes of the “ugly, man-hating, overly aggressive, mean feminist” perpetuated in the 1980’s are the basis of how many women my age define the movement, and most of us are incorrect. The effect of anti-feminist attitudes of decades ago have lingered and remaind ingraned in so many Americans’ cultural consciousnesses. We have been left with a generation of young women who agree with the tenets of equality between the genders but who refuse to devlop their own feminist identities. The percentage of women today who claim they are scared to call themselves femininsts, all while enjoying the rights and freedoms that sheros of the past fought for. The way in which someone qualifies her feminism (or lack thereof) serves as a powerful reminder that although such rampant ignorance gives me something to complain about, in the end our status is far from blissful.

So please, red carpet reporters, I’m begging you: keep asking celebrities whether or not they’re a feminist. I need to know exactly how they, themselves, personally feel about equal rights for men and women. I may not always or ever be happy with the answer, but I can handle it, I promise. I need to what I’m incorporating into my own identity and how it will enhance my daily life. Most importantly, I deserve to know exactly what they’ve got in those quivers.