Everybody wants to be a feminist these days! It’s like a fashion trend, being a feminist is cool; cue for all self-titled feminists to appear out of the woodwork.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed quite a resurgence of feminism, or rather should I say, of people labeling themselves “feminists”. That got me wondering, what exactly does being a feminist mean? Don’t worry, I will not bore you with the philosophical and political definitions that have already made for countless amounts of studies and endless research. In fact I’ll answer this question very quickly: being a feminist is inherent to being human; it is embracing the fact that women are human beings. As humans we all bleed and sweat, have fears and doubts, hopes and aspirations. There really isn’t much more to understand here.
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”
“What feminism means to me is simply that women, like men, are complete human beings with limitless possibilities.”
However, in pop culture, I’ve come to realize that feminism often finds itself manipulated by celebrities for their own personal gain, just like charity. Celebrities who truly have principles and stick to their guns are very few, in fact you could probably count them on one hand. You just have to think about the amount of “causes” famous people “support” without having the slightest clue what they really are standing for. I mean, think about it, do you really think that half the celebs who dumped ice on their heads last month really truly cared about ALS or even know anything about that disease? Probably not. But it made them look good to dump that ice on their head. They weren’t really taking a stand for anything, they were merely satisfying their hero complex (I do believe that a minority of them really did care, but most of them were really giving into a form of mass peer pressure). Look at it this way, how many celebs responded to the Ice bucket challenge, while hardly anyone publicly reacted to what happened in Ferguson? Talking about Ferguson meant taking a stand for something that could potentially make them unpopular, while supporting ALS is devoid of any risk-taking whatsoever. Is is neither political, nor controversial. It’s easy.
I know what you must be thinking, what does any of it have to do with feminism? Well in pop culture, feminism has become just another cause like fighting breast cancer or ALS. Calling yourself a feminist will never have a negative impact on your career, if anything, it’ll make you even more popular, especially if you’re trying to attract a wider female demographic. The hard part is really standing for equality in everything that you say and do, and basically practicing what you preach regardless of the (often negative) consequences it may have on your career and how unpopular it might make you. If you keep bragging about being a feminist and then turn around and call yourself and your fellow females “bitches”, then it’s pretty clear that you don’t stand for feminism. You can’t have the cake and eat it, but apparently, in pop culture you can.
This is of course an ethical issue. People might (and will) say that it doesn’t matter if celebs really don’t care about feminism and are just labeling themselves that way to make more money, because what matters is that, thanks to their fame and popularity, they get the message of feminism out there. But that’s just the problem. A lot of times, artists completely buy into the patriarchy while labeling it feminism and that is disgusting not to mention dangerous.
What generally happens is that they do what everyone does; use the cheapest ploy in the book: provocation. They use sex to sell their material. The raunchier, the better. We had that back in the day with Madonna, we had it with Miley, and more recently with Beyonce. The problem isn’t that their performances are solely meant as shock value, but rather that they try to be all righteous about it and justify it by calling it feminism. There’s a whole generation of artists (men and women) who call women “bitches”, objectify and disrespect them while labeling it feminism, and not only do they gain more followers (which means money) but also find themselves revered as great examples of feminism, or men standing for women’s right. A hog in armor is still but a hog.
You see, I always have a problem when people try to excuse provocative behaviors solely meant to boost record sales and get attention, by saying that it is nothing but women “owning their sexuality”, in the name of feminism.
First of all because, like I said, most of the time, it is nothing but a cheap excuse. In Wrecking Ball, Anaconda or Partition, who is really owning their sexuality? Are Miley, Nicki and Beyonce really any different from the girls in Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video? Why do people consider the latter offensive, but when it comes to the former, those seem to be healthy examples of womanhood? Just because these women are okay with objectifying themselves doesn’t mean that they’re owning their sexuality. The truth is that there’s isn’t much of a difference between being objectified and letting yourself be objectified. The end result remains the same. When a music video (or movie) meant to be seen by millions, depicts a half naked woman giving a lap dance to a fully clothed man, it is sending out a message, especially when half the music videos out there depict the same thing. Why does the woman have to be half-naked and not the man? If both were half-naked there would be less of a problem because both would be equally objectified (that is not to say that objectifying anyone is okay), but you never see that whether in music videos, movies or magazines. The woman is always the one being objectified, just as she’s been for centuries. She’s portrayed as a piece of meat simply there for consumption. A lot of people, including young girls, get confused when they see people like Miley Cyrus or Beyonce Knowles strut the stage with confidence and nothing much else on. They are generally considered “sassy” and “sexy”, admired, idolized, and taken (whether they like it or not) as role models. Young girls (and guys) figure, “Oh, look how confident they are! They’re not afraid of being sexual. That’s what a strong confident woman is all about!” And that is the main danger, the public, and sometimes the artists themselves think they are breaking the rules when really they are only supporting the status quo. The same status quo that has oppressed women for centuries. Here’s the misconception: being sexual doesn’t equate owning one’s sexuality. Being sexual is what we see everyday, all day on our screens: women (and men though not nearly as much) objectifying themselves. Slowly but surely, it gives the impression that the only way a woman can own her sexuality is by being overtly sexual in everything she does. That sends out a really messed up message which only contributes to strengthen the despicable rape culture we live in.
Feminism is about knowing that women are human beings (oh my!). As human beings we are all different. We have different qualities, flaws, dreams, doubts and ambitions. Each and everyone of us is unique. We cannot be put in a box, relegated to a meager stereotype as we often are in the media. Therefore, it is only logical that it be the same with one’s sexuality. We don’t all have to own it the same way. Thankfully, or that would mean that we’d all be condemned to swing naked on Wrecking Balls or lap dance Jay-Z!
I’ve come to the conclusion that owning one’s sexuality is really about having the strength of character to stay true to who you are, despite the pressure everyone around you (society, family, friends, etc.) may put on your shoulders to act a certain way. What I’m saying boys and girls is that if you truly want to own your sexuality, just be yourself! Stay true to your personal beliefs and principles, whatever they may be. Newsflash, the so-called prude who decides to save him/herself for the right person, especially in a world where such a thing is made out to be weird and unhealthy, is owning his/her sexuality just as much as the person who chooses to be promiscuous, in a world where such behavior is praised. Whatever your choice is, as long as you know why you’re doing it and that it isn’t the result of peer pressure, wanting to “look cool”, what’s going to sell, or [insert any other shallow reason], then only will you truly own your body.
So no, I do not have an answer for you. I don’t know if Madonna, Miley, Nicki or Beyonce are owning their sexuality because I don’t know what their true motivations really are. Are they simply doing it for attention, fame and money, or are they doing it because they’re trying to express what they really believe in? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
All I know is that pop culture would gain a lot if, instead of solely promoting that kind of sexual ownership, it showcased the infinite other ways people can truly own their sexuality. Because in truth, most people do not need to (nor particularly enjoy) owning their bodies in glittery g-strings or sequined leotards. Most of us real people manage to do a much better job at it, in a much classier, meaningful and healthy way, sometimes even in sweat pants and with no makeup on! Maybe the media ought to show that side of the coin as well, don’t you think?
Second of all, why does everything always have to be about sex? Why does being a woman, always have to do with being sexual? Why does it always have to be about the body and not about the brain? As if the only kind of power women can have lies in their beauty. The type of “feminism” we see in pop culture solely tends to be about women owning (or supposedly owning) their bodies, but what about owning their brains? Why is there nothing deep and cerebral about being a feminist (according to what mainstream media feeds us)? Because in the end, that is what being a feminist really is about, isn’t it? More than anything, it’s about going further than just the package that you see (and it also works for minorities). Why is there sexism and racism in this world? Because people stop at someone’s outward appearance to judge and discriminate, instead of trying to see beyond the stereotypes they have attached to a certain gender or skin color. Feminism is about treating everyone like human beings because women are human beings! Now I’m not saying that women’s bodies should be something that we ought to hide and be ashamed of; to the contrary, women of all shapes and sizes are to own their bodies with pride, whether you’re wearing oversized sweatpants or sexy lingerie, whether you’re skinny or voluptuous, prude or promiscuous. However, being a woman is also and mostly about owning your ideas, your opinions, your beliefs, because that’s what being human is all about. It is truly tragic that that side of women (which is by far the most important one) seems to be constantly silenced in today’s global culture, just as it has in the past. Women who talk about real issues are often considered “boring” or “ball-breakers” because for generations, people have been conditioned to believe that all a “real woman” worries about is being pretty, sexy, finding a husband and having kids. So when suddenly a woman breaks that mold, some of us (especially men) feel destabilized. Just look how smart, ambitious, cerebral women like Hillary Clinton, Ségolène Royal (French politician) or [insert any powerful woman] are treated (often ridiculed) by the media. The public is made to care more about what they wear rather than what they have to say.
From the dawn of time, women have been relegated to walking, talking bodies ready for men to consume, so when our celebs -whose status offers a platform establishing them as global influences- do just that and call it feminism, it tends to be a little hard to swallow for the rest of us real life feminists. Kind of like a beautiful casket. It may look good on the outside, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is enclosing a decrepit corpse. We’re made to believe that the average audience member would rather watch some scantily dressed woman shake her butt to the camera rather than hear what she actually has to say (or sing), about real issues. Because today, being a “bad bitch” is made to be cooler than being able to have an intellectual debate on how to empower women in a sustainable way.
But ask yourself this, between the “bad bitch” lap dancing some guy in a music video because she F’ing wants to, and the “stuck-up prude” who’d rather place cerebral matters before sex appeal to actively speak up for women, who is serving the status quo and who is questioning it? Who’s buying into the patriarchy, and who’s smashing it?