Abbie Lauten-Scrivner is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Recently, it seems as though the trendiest accessory celebrities are toting is feminism. It’s edgy, it’s bold and it looks great in a headline.
On the one hand, it’s exciting that more and more celebrities are feeling empowered enough to claim an identity that was historically met with condemnation and violence. For individuals who are so susceptible to backlash from the public and the media, it takes bravery to risk their reputation and career in such a way.
It’s definitely valuable for celebrity feminists for provide an amiable face to a movement often perceived as menacing. Their fame provides a simple introduction to feminism for an enormous audience that traditional feminist scholars would likely never reach.
On the other hand, I find the particular narrative of feminism promoted by many pop stars to be so hollowed out and weak that it scarcely resembles feminism at all.
Celebrity feminists often dilute feminist values into a bland, two-dimensional brand that is pleasant, palatable and extremely passive. Their feminism strives to avoid the political and the controversial through vague, nonconfrontational statements manufactured to appeal to the masses. Thus, it fails to challenge any specific institutionalized patriarchal norms that foster unequal environments for women.
Feminism is about furthering intersectional equality. Dialogue that replaces the struggles of the marginalized with “squad goals” is not effective feminism. Advocating for “girl power” while accepting roles that reinforce sexism or racism, like Scarlett Johansson’s whitewashed portrayal in the film “Ghost in the Shell,” is not feminism. Collaborating with artists who degrade women, like Miley Cyrus’s 2013 Video Music Awards (VMA) performance with Robin Thicke, is definitely not feminism.
Feminism is not simply another name for female pride. While it certainly includes this, claiming to be a feminist mandates actual action toward equality. Celebrities identifying as feminists are making a political statement. They are committing to use their influential platforms to advocate for equity and respect.
This is not to suggest that every individual must act one specific way to be truly included in “the feminist club,” but there are basic guidelines that form a feminist school of thought. Using the label of “feminist” to excuse any real effort toward change is a perversion of the movement itself. It reduces feminism to a flashy buzzword and publicity magnet.
Like many trends, the recent spike in celebrity feminists can be traced back to the queen herself: Beyoncé. When she concluded her 2014 VMA performance against the backdrop of the word “FEMINIST” in dazzling lights, it became the performance of the year. Not wanting to be left in Bey’s dust, other stars quickly followed her example, many without attempting to understand what they pledged to advocate for.
This caused the conversations of celebrity feminists to center almost exclusively around hardships faced by wealthy, white, cisgender, straight and able-bodied individuals. While such individuals’ experiences are valid, it is crucial that they do not overpower the voices of the marginalized.
Because marginalized communities are so underrepresented in pop culture and Hollywood, celebrities have a unique insight into the disparity the industry so heavily relies upon. Seventy-nine percent of Hollywood films have more male roles than female ones. Just 28 percent of speaking roles go to women of color, despite the fact that this group makes up 40 percent of the population. Coachella finally has its first female headliner in 10 years. One cannot claim to be an effective feminist while failing to hold their own industry accountable for prospering off of inequality.
Lena Dunham’s self-proclaimed feminist show “Girls” is a prime example. While it should be celebrated as one of very few successful television shows that is about women, created by a woman and produced by a woman, it features an almost entirely white cast. Yet the show takes place in Brooklyn, the population of which is only 35 percent white. So-called feminism like this enforces the toxic narrative that feminism excludes women of color.
Self-described feminist Taylor Swift promotes a similar narrative. When she tweeted support for the Women’s March, people were puzzled by the criticism she received from other feminists.
Despite Swift’s commitment to her image as a politically engaged feminist, she is notoriously silent and absent when it comes to real conflicts. During the entirety of the 2016 election, she remained nonpartisan. Even after President Donald Trump’s pussy-grabbing statement was publicized, she had nothing to say.
The day of the Women’s March, Swift gave her most political statement: a quick tweet in celebration of womanhood.
Swift’s particular brand of feminism is almost exclusively limited to celebrating her “girl squad” — a group of wealthy, conventionally attractive cisgender women who are mostly white. She does little to expand her feminism to women who are not like her. Yet she continues to masquerade her shallow efforts behind the powerful label of “feminist.”
A few celebrities are effectively using their distinctive platform to raise awareness of the institutional injustices they have suffered in their own lives and those of the less fortunate. Such stars stay politically and socially vocal via interviews, social media, activism and performances.
Despite her worldwide fame, Rihanna managed to march alongside women in New York City for the Women’s March. Beyoncé regularly uses her art as a form of activism and harnessed her enormous wealth to donate $1.5 million to the Black Lives Matter movement. Laverne Cox frequently speaks about being black and transgender, and collaborated with feminist author and activist bell hooks on a discussion of the patriarchy. Following her famous United Nations speech, Emma Watson used her privilege to create a scholarship that seeks to unite intersectional feminist activists from around the world.
Even more celebrities are calling out specific individuals for paying actresses far less than their male counterparts. Others draw attention to the shameful lack of roles for people of color. Individuals who feel emboldened enough to speak against Hollywood’s toxic norms are beginning to hold the industry accountable for fear that anyone could be exposed next.
These inclusive acts that target precise institutional problems are what effective celebrity feminism looks like. It is so much more than an occasional, calculated but vaguely noncommittal tweet that superficially supports a movement.