Why Are Young Celebrities So Afraid Of The “F” Word?

Here’s what’s happening to women right now: The Hobby Lobby ruling was two weeks ago, Senator McCaskill released findings that colleges aren’t reporting their sexual assaults, and we still have young, influential female celebrities who don’t know what feminism means. I had to say that out loud, to myself, to hear it and to feel in my bones how backwards the world can be sometimes; how people still don’t know what’s in their best interests or how to fight for it. And, mind you, I’m not blaming anyone for not knowing what feminism means, and I’m also well aware young celebrities are not the end all, be all, of feminism. But still, it’s 2014, Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to cover women’s birth control, we have undisclosed sexual assault cases all over our nation, there’s an anti-feminism movement afoot and, in a time when we need it more than ever, we have smart, articulate, young singers and actresses, role models, who fundamentally misunderstand what a feminist is.

According to Merriam-Webster feminism is, “the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Now, as a man, I don’t find this threatening in any way to the male sex. I don’t think that it sounds manipulative or antagonistic to society. The image that it brings to my mind is that of man and woman on an even plane, balanced, everything in its right place. I don’t see women conspiring to become the rulers of men, or furious females deciding to forego the male sex entirely, nor do I picture Laura Dern in Jurassic Park telling Jeff Goldblum that, “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.” But, I’m afraid that what I find so beautiful and evocative about the word, “feminism,” others find fear in­­, the fear of being labeled a feminist. Surely simple equality of the sexes isn’t sending quivers of terror down anyone’s spine (well, maybe half of the Supreme Court’s). So, what is it that has young Hollywood so spooked about the word feminism? I think that there’s simply been confusion over what exactly is a feminist. Let’s review.

During her press blitz for The Fault In Our Stars, Shailene Woodley was asked in an interview with TIME magazine if she “considered herself a feminist.” She replied:

Who, on God’s green earth told Shailene Woodley that the feminist agenda included usurping all control from men? I ask this not to shame Ms. Woodley in any way, after this interview the blogosphere already had their way with her on that end. No, Ms. Woodley is speaking her truth, from the heart, and I applaud and support her, but I do wonder how we live in a society where educated young women only recognize such antiquated stereotypes about feminism? Not only that, but how, in 2014, is feminist still looked upon as a pejorative term?

Shailene is not the only one confused by the “F” word. When asked if she was a feminist during the release of her album RED, Taylor Swift announced that, “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Recently, when Carrie Underwood was asked if she was a feminist she replied, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a feminist, that can come off as a negative connotation. But I am a strong female.” Which, in my extremely biased interpretation translates to I’m a feminist, but I’m afraid to call myself that. Which, frankly, sucks. It sucks that Carrie won’t call herself a feminist because she’s afraid of the repercussions. It sucks that Carrie has to worry that declaring she’s a feminist might negatively impact her career. It sucks that patriarchal stereotypes are still steeped so deeply in our culture that we’re still having this discussion. And it sucks that there are entire movements and Tumblrs by women dedicated to bringing feminism down.

But we are still having this discussion. And what speaks so loudly to me in our culture right now is the need to begin re-appropriation of the term “feminist.” There are people (misogynists) who will always think feminists are shrieking banshees or bra-burning lesbians, and may never come around to the term, but that’s on them. There are still plenty of men and women in this country confused by the terminology, who if made clear, might stand proudly as feminists. And we all know this is far bigger than Hollywood; this is about equality of wages, it’s about sexual assault, it’s about healthcare, it’s about reproductive rights, but we’d be fools if we thought that the young men and women who our children listen to every day and watch on the TV every night didn’t have an effect, even a small one, on the collective conscious.

Not that everything is doom and gloom. For every young singer or actress trepidatious about dipping their toe in the feminist waters, we also have our Tina Feys, our Lena Dunhams, and our Meryl Streeps cannonballing in. God bless them. This year brought us a spectacular speech by Meryl Streep illuminating her and Emma Thompson as both being a “rabid, man-eating feminist” (sarcasm people!). It also brought about a great discussion by our very own Ms. Deschanel evoking her “fiery feminism” over why only female celebrities are asked about having kids in interviews. And, it’s a year in which we’ve seen Beyoncé finally claim her birthright as a feminist and an unstoppable force in the music industry.

Look, there’s a lot of injustice and marginalization in the United States, and sometimes it feels like for every three steps forward we take four steps back. The Hobby Lobby ruling in particular made me feel deflated and powerless, because I love women and I want to see them treated equally and with dignity. But it’s all about moving forward, even an inch. I think that making clear what feminism is will be a powerful inch forward. It’s time, once again, to take ownership of the “F” word and re-appropriate it to the beautiful and positive word that it actually is. Hopefully, continuing the dialogue on feminism and its meaning of equality for all will make “feminist” a more accessible term. In the meantime, let’s not shame those in the spotlight who are afraid of it, but instead encourage them to dip their toe in first and see just how warm and wonderful the water truly is.

Much Love,

Your (Feminist) Gay Best Friend

All images via Shutterstock and via

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