Quick pre-post disclaimer, I hope this title doesn’t seem too clickbait-y. I really am answering this question by looking at arguments for either side. The journo student in me doesn’t feel bad by using an enticing title if it does sum up the content of my post well but in a post that talks about something so important I really don’t want it to come off like I’m exploiting it in the name of clicks. This is the question I’m answering with arguments for and against.
Feminism. Something we all need in the world. Don’t be misguided by the name of the concept and think that it’s for females only – everyone in the world needs feminism because it means equality, it means no judgement for not conforming to gender roles, it means no gender roles.
The amount of times you hear someone, whether it be a public figure or that familiar face who works at your local saying that they believe in equality but they wouldn’t label themselves a feminist is probably more often than you’d hope or expect. Because that is literally the definition of feminism. In fact, I Googled a literal definition and got this from the Oxford Dictionary:
The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
Yes, ‘the equality of the sexes’ doesn’t just stand alone, instead pre-modified by ‘the advocacy of women’s rights’ but really, women are no longer solely at the forefront of the concept of feminism. In 2018, feminism is just about gender equality, and although most prejudices in professional areas are against women, in the conditioning of society they now pretty much equally affect both genders. Women get paid less than men for the same role, or are just thrown out the window and not considered for a role (especially a more authoritative one) in favour of men. However, in the ideals of society, there are still plenty of people who believe that men shouldn’t show emotion, that it’s a weakness for them to do so, that men in their life should be a hypermasculine #LAD. So it’s not all about us gals. This HuffPost article says it well, we can’t just shut men down because they’re men, we need to get them onside and allow them to say their piece on women’s issues.
Getting more to the point though, in the last few months we’ve seen what can almost be described as a new wave of feminism in popular culture. Brands are printing slogan t-shirts about feminism, celebrities are wearing black outfits or white roses on the red carpet in support of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, there’s been a number of women’s marches with huge turnouts in the last year, TIME Magazine named ‘silence breakers’ the people of 2017 with the cover featuring Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu, Taylor Swift and Isabel Pascual, Love Island’s Camilla was praised heavily for overtly and unashamedly sharing her feminist views on the show. And, yes, whilst feminism is about equality, the focus has been more on female empowerment, and that’s still a good thing.
However, is this doing much for feminsm?
Ok, I don’t want to be that bitch who gets all controversial and states that it’s not helped feminism at all and that it’s all detrimental to the concept of feminism or that we should include the men in this recent focus more. I’m not Piers Morgan. Throw me in the bin if I ever become that. BUT, whilst I think that on one hand this trend has done so much for women, their rights, and feminism, I worry that some of it isn’t doing feminism a favour.
It’s one thing to preach feminism just to keep up with this current female empowerment focus, perhaps you genuinely want to fight this good fight or perhaps you’re doing it so you don’t look like a close-minded, sexist bigot. But it’s another to actually act on it.
I’ll admit, I’m not an absolute saint with it. I believe in equal rights for men and women, I believe that gender stereotypes need to go, I will argue back to anyone I hear make a sexist comment. But I’m not perfect, I enjoy the Fifty Shades franchise (the movies, not the books! pls) when it can be argued that it’s degrading and demeaning to women, I can make the odd bitchy comment or roll my eyes before realising that women should be able to live their lives however they want to with no judgement and instead with the support of other women. Trying to be super PC all the time is almost ingenuine to me, the realisation after those little eye rolls that you are doing the opposite of empowering other women is a good thing. If you can be conscious enough to recognise that you were in the wrong and shouldn’t be judging a woman that way for such a ridiculous reason then you are learning and growing. If you can accept the other side to the argument that something you like and support can be seen as sexist or degrading and take it into account when making your decisions in life then you are being open minded.
What I mean, is people who say one thing and then do another, or people who support it to keep up with the trend and maintain their reputation.
It’s one thing for all of Hollywood to stand up in support of women, women’s rights, and sexual assault survivors. It’s another for them to actually back that up – something we didn’t see at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards where only one broadcasted award went to a woman. The Grammy’s President wore a white rose to the event yet only had one female winner. I understand that Hollywood as in the stars advocating for gender equality and female empowerment didn’t make the decision of who won the awards, but it still does feel like Hollywood as a whole can do better. They’re doing well, they’ve started making the conversation more widely known and commonplace, but they need to progress from here.
The most recent series of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5 was all about ‘the year of the women’, except the added male contestants to the mix less than a week after the all-female launch night, including Dapper Laughs who is known for his sexism and for ridiculing women and the idea of feminism. The first few evictees were all women, though of course this was a public vote and not C5’s idea, it still shows that the public didn’t value the female empowerment message. It all seems a bit fake though. Do we really think Channel 5 care that much about gender equality, women’s rights, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements? From the moment the concept was announced it did seem a bit jumping-on-the-feminist-bandwagon, and perhaps that’s why the public voted out women for the first few eviction nights. Because they could tell that it wasn’t a real advocacy for female empowerment and, rather, a last-ditch attempt at improving their ratings by seeming topical so that they won’t be taken off air. And they now apparently are anyway. (Side note though, since writing this post Courtney Act / Shane won CBB so it’s nice to see the British public being accepting and valuing Courtney for the way she would nicely explain things to some people in the house who perhaps didn’t agree with her views or what she chooses to do with her life.)
When instances like these make people feel as though a certain media outlet is only promoting feminism and female empowerment to follow the trend, it can make feminism look just that – a trend. Something that we’re not going to care about forever, something we’re talking about now because it’s the thing but we won’t be in a few years. It reminds me of a scene from Modern Family, where Jay and Gloria are planning who to leave their children and possessions to should something happen to them, and Gloria says to donate 10% of their money to ‘whatever is sexy at the time, like orphans or something’. Is feminism just sexy in that sense now?
There’s also the #girlboss culture right now which, don’t get me wrong, I love but it can breed another idea that doesn’t exactly empower women. The girl boss culture can make some women feel like, if they’re not ~doing it all~, they’re a failure. It’s like we have the female empowerment side of it, the belief that we can do anything we want now, take charge of our destiny, make something of ourselves, but there’s another side of it where women who don’t do this are shamed because they’re not doing enough when it seems like they should be rejoicing in the fact that they can actually now do more. Being a girl boss may make women feel like they have to do everything on their own and hustle and not rely on help from others, and this then puts women in a position where they can feel like it’s a weakness or it’s anti-feminist to go and ask for help, especially from a man. Forbes have an interesting article about this idea that articulates it more in depth.
There are also a lot of conflicting issues RE feminism. On one hand, we don’t want young women, or women of any age for that matter, to feel like they’re not good enough because they don’t look like that girl on Instagram who is always posting photos of herself fully made up, in her best outfit, from the best angle, with the most flattering lighting, and the nicest filter. On the other hand, we should be happy that these women can do whatever they please, post whatever they please, pose however they please, make themselves look however they please and support them in making their own decisions for themselves. Time and time again we hear the argument that social media is damaging, especially for girls and young women, because it makes you feel like you need to be as pretty as the girl you follow, have as many followers as her, have as many clothes as she does, travel to as many places as she does. And it’s true, it’s an issue, but should we be condemning these girls who are fortunate enough to be in that position, or should we be doing more to educate people about how social media is often a highlights reel, curated to make a person appear a certain way – both physically and personality-wise. It’s a bit like the argument we have when it gets to summer and all those American schools start publishing ridiculous rules about how girls can’t expose their shoulders because it distracts the boys – the boys should instead be taught not to be distracted by a girl dressed normally because it’s frickin hot outside. Perhaps, instead of trying to stop women on social media from looking ~perfect~, we should focus more on how everyone has their down days where they look in the mirror and cry, where something goes wrong and they struggle, except these parts just don’t get shared because why would you want to share it. We can’t call ourselves feminists because we’re defending the women feeling self-conscious because they don’t look like that girl on Instagram by condemning that girl on Instagram, because that’s still bashing another woman instead of empowering her.
Wow I really feel like I’m writing an exam essay, I always start my conclusions with something like ‘taking these points into consideration, I believe that…‘ so, to sum up, here’s what I believe.
Feminism isn’t just a trend, it’s something we should all get behind and believe in and fight for. We’re doing well at the moment, but it needs to progress from here instead of die out after it’s had its run of being the ~cool~, ~sexy~ thing to talk about.
The current media focus on female empowerment is definitely a double-edged sword. If it is ingenuine or can create a new form of sexism or judgement against certain women who don’t fit the idea, then it becomes detrimental to the whole concept and purpose behind feminism itself. If we keep the conversation going, stop shaming those who speak out, act on our words and support the movement because we believe in what it stands for rather than because we want to jump on the bandwagon, then it will do nothing but help feminism.
What are your thoughts on this currently media focus on female empowerment?
PS if you wanna read something in a similar vein, check out my post on sexism in tennis, the BBC gender pay gap and how sexism in high profile careers like sport and media can affect everyone.