Too many women, particularly groundbreaking women and industry leaders, are afraid to be labeled as feminists. They’re afraid to stand up and say, “Yes, I am a feminist,” for fear of what that label means, for fear of being unable to live up to unrealistic expectations.
Take, for example, Beyoncé, or as I call her, The Goddess. She has emerged, in recent years, as a visible feminist. At the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, she performed in front of the word “feminist” 10 feet high. It was a glorious spectacle to see this pop star openly embracing feminism and letting young women and men know that being a feminist is something to celebrate. As the moment faded, cultural critics began endlessly debating whether or not Beyoncé was, indeed, a feminist. They graded her feminism, instead of simply taking a grown, accomplished woman at her word.
When we talk about the needs of women, we have to consider the other identities we inhabit. We are not just women. We are people with different bodies, gender expressions, faiths, sexualities, class backgrounds, abilities, and so much more. We need to take into account these differences and how they affect us, as much as we account for what we have in common. Without this kind of inclusion, our feminism is nothing.
A lot of our ideas about what we can do at different ages and what age means are so arbitrary — as arbitrary as sexual stereotypes. I think that the young-old polarization and the male-female polarization are perhaps the two leading stereotypes that imprison people. The values associated with youth and with masculinity are considered to be the human norms, and anything else is taken to be at least less worthwhile or inferior. Old people have a terrific sense of inferiority. They’re embarrassed to be old. What you can do when you’re young and what you can do when you’re old is as arbitrary and without much basis as what you can do if you’re a woman or what you can do if you’re a man.
If a guy shares his experience in writing, he’s brave. If a woman shares her experience in writing, she’s oversharing. Or she’s overemotional. Or she might be crazy. Or watch out, she’ll write a song about you. That joke is so old, and it’s coming from a place of such sexism.
I’d argue that Twitter is a lovely and appropriate medium for voices that have traditionally been shouted down, shut out or ignored by the places that court the Franzens of the world. There’s a long history – maybe Franzen doesn’t know it? – of women using the materials at hand, whatever’s available to them to make art or make a case. I’d argue that feminist Twitter, women writers advocating for their work, one hundred and forty characters at a time, is a part of that history.
[T]here’s not a lot of factual awareness of feminism. It’s more like this word, this scary word, that maybe doesn’t apply to our lives for most of these students. And then some of them are curious and starting to dabble in thinking about feminism and what that might mean in their lives. And some of them are just downright hostile toward feminism because they think it’s something it’s not. And so you’re going to get a range of things. But mostly, I see a lot of ambivalence.
I think the world is ambivalent about feminism. So I can’t blame college students. I think they’re reflecting the greater culture’s attitude toward feminism. So what I can do is, in ways that are appropriate, advocate for feminism and help the students learn what feminism is about.
We must stop pointing to the exceptions—these bright shining stars who transcend circumstance. We must look to how we can best support the least among us, not spend all our time blindly revering and trying to mimic the greatest without demanding systemic change.
from “The Politics of Respectability”
in Bad Feminist (260)