Lady Gaga doesn’t call herself a feminist. Neither does Susan Sarandon. Why? Roy Ward examines the ongoing feminist identity crisis.
Let’s talk about Lady Gaga. She’s sexually overt, fiercely independent and cultivates the public image of herself as a strong, powerful woman. She’s released songs about loving yourself no matter who you are, and Born This Way’s arguable highlight “Scheiße” is all about female empowerment. However, when asked a few years ago if she was a feminist, Gaga said no – “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men.” A genuine facepalm moment.
The inference from this seems to be that, in her view, feminism teaches that women are superior to men, or at least that it advocates actions inherently damaging to men. The worst part is that she isn’t the only one who thinks that way. Recently, in an interview with The Guardian, Susan Sarandon also distanced herself from the feminist label:
“I think of myself as a humanist because I think it’s less alienating to people who think of feminism as being a load of strident bitches and because you want everyone to have equal pay, equal rights, education and healthcare.”
What’s wrong with this picture? Both women clearly support gender equality but for some reason feel that the label “feminist” does not represent them. Speaking to friends and people online has highlighted to me that there are many others out there who would prefer some alternative label, such as Sarandon’s suggested “humanism”, because they have issues with feminism as they perceive it. Feminism is in the middle of an identity crisis of sorts – but where has it come from? And what’s the solution?
A very quick and very unscientific Twitter survey I carried out a few weeks ago highlighted some of the issues as my followers see them:
“I think [‘feminism’] sounds like women are superior. My aim is not to drag down men, it’s to raise up women.”
“I dislike the world feminist because that suggests we want to be ‘more’ than men. So I like equalist. I want fairness.”
“I prefer socialist, when used correctly should include women’s rights just as much as men’s!”
What is particularly interesting about those responses was that all three came from women. All of them want to dismantle the patriarchy but don’t feel like “feminism” quite fits the bill to describe them. One point which comes out again and again when discussing this issue is that some feel that if you are committed to fighting for equality for all , the term “feminism” seems too limiting. To a certain extent, I agree with this, but only in terms of the unsatisfactory inclusion of trans* people, women of colour, sex workers, disabled women, etc., within a feminist movement which has been historically dominated by white, able-bodied cis women. This is the reason why many people (myself included) choose instead to refer to themselves as “intersectional feminists”. For an excellent and thorough examination of intersectionality, complete with super-handy glossary of terms, check out this great blog post by Anna Carastathis over at Kick Action. But the point is, these so-called alternatives miss the mark – “feminism” exists, and has to exist, as a separate movement from just “wanting everyone to be equal” because it has to be acknowledged that women of all kinds are dealt a particularly shitty hand because they are women.
Recently, the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen provoked some interesting discussions on Twitter, and unfortunately plenty of white feminists chose to cry reverse racism (which isn’t a thing, by the way, just like misandry and heterophobia and unicorns) rather than listen to the experiences of women of colour who feel excluded by mainstream feminism. Clearly, there are some issues that need to be worked out within the feminist movement. Nobody can deny that.
I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that some people have had their perceptions of feminism negatively impacted by their experience of feminists who “hate men” or want women to receive special privileges over and above men. Speaking from my own experience, I’ve never come across any feminists like this. Part of me wonders if any even exist, or if it’s just part of that age-old problem where women who passionately argue for the feminist cause are simply dismissed as angry, man-hating buzzkills, because some people don’t want to have their privilege threatened.
Also, let’s not forget the TERF problem. As a little aside, a week or so after that article went live, it was brought to the attention of the UberTERF herself, Cathy Brennan. Needless to say, she wasn’t very happy that I’d dared to support trans* people.
It pales in comparison to the abuse she regularly dishes out to trans* people online, and because she couldn’t attack me for my gender (cis privilege at work) I just found it vaguely amusing that I’d managed to piss her off so much. But she is a truly nasty piece of work who has warped radical feminism to suit her own heinously transphobic ends. So, if you’re reading this – get fucked, Cathy Brennan.
Feminism is not a monolithic entity – very few things are, when you really get down to it. There are different waves and different strands. Historically, it has evolved since the early 20th century feminism of the suffragettes, and it’s likely to continue to change and adapt as feminists become more conscious of the historical exclusion of trans* people, women of colour and disabled women (to name just a few of the minority groups which intersectional feminism strives to include). It will continue to evolve, but ultimately it still needs to be feminism. It needs to be focused on women – all women.
Yes, the ultimate goal is to ensure equality for all, but feminism is there to fight for female equality and challenge the patriarchal system which adversely affects women of every possible origin and background. By all means, eschew the feminist label and call yourself a humanist, or an equalist, but to me it seems a little disingenuous to suggest that you’re championing the feminist cause under a name which erases women from being its focus. Modern feminism has its problems, without a shadow of a doubt, but the answer should be to try and fix them and thereby fix the movement, not just abandon ship.