“As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all.” — Taylor Swift.
I’ve discussed in the past how frustrated I’ve been by Taylor Swift’s previous aversion to feminism, and her songs which, in my view, have perpetuated some sexist ideas; I’ve also talked about how, despite my occasional frustration, nobody has the right to impose feminist ideals (or any ideology) on another individual. I stand by my assertion that it doesn’t particularly matter if you identify as a feminist. There are myriad reasons why someone might choose to steer away from such an identification, beginning with the truly negative way the movement’s been portrayed since its inception—I’m not bragging when I say that it takes guts to stand up and say you’re a feminist.
Recently though, more and more women have begun to align themselves with feminism—and I wanted to take a moment to be absolutely thrilled by this fact, and talk about the significance of the Beyoncés and Taylor Swifts in the world bringing feminist discussions to the populace. While I have to respect when someone is actively anti-feminist, influential women aligning themselves with the movement is also invaluable.
Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are among the most powerful and influential artists around. People go gaga for their music, their ideas, their work, their words—everything Swift and Beyoncé do is worth paying attention to.
Neither of them was particularly political when their careers first began, both entering the world of pop and celebrity while still in possession of baby-faces. The fact of their success puts an unfair pressure on them to have their ideas and themselves figured out, so that they have an identity to present to the public. This is largely the result of audiences demanding a totally formed person behind the music with whom they can identify.
I lose track of Tay-tay’s age except through her occasional song about being “Fifteen” or “22”; yet I can recall being incredibly frustrated by her previously uninformed definition of feminism when, realistically, she was probably younger than I currently am. Because Beyoncé and Swift emerged as such powerful beings from a young age, we immediately associate them with feminist paragons—women never break through the glass ceiling so young!
But how can we expect a young woman—grappling with identity and a rapidly shifting world that requires her to come up with her “brand”—to know exactly what her stance is when it comes to feminism? More importantly, why should we? The go-to question for successful women is to ask if they identify with feminism. This inquiry (1) is unfairly and unjustifiably gendered (as I discussed in another post), and (2) becomes an annoying, haranguing demand to either identify with all things feminist—including the more negative portrayals which, again, have plagued feminism since its inception—or with nothing feminist at all. All of this, when the road to identifying as a feminist is often long and complicated.
What do you think their choice would be?
Now, I’m not at all saying that age necessarily has bearing on one’s abilities or identity—I don’t believe that it does. It’s common though in youth to solidify what it is you believe, and how that matches up with other people’s beliefs.
That’s why I’m so elated with Beyoncé and Taylor Swift speaking out in support of feminism. There’s been a growing number of women who have come to understand the tenets of feminism, but again, these two women in particular have incredible and widespread influence. Beyoncé’s recent performance at the 2014 VMAs really brought feminism into the spotlight. I think Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth and Full Frontal Feminism, summed it up best in the Guardian:
“Beyoncé, in the midst of an epic 15-minute medley at Sunday night’s MTV Video Music awards, performed her song ‘Flawless’ in front of a giant screen blazoned with the word ‘FEMINIST.’ And, as in her music video, the superstar sampled author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech on feminism and expectations for girls. The zeitgeist is irrefutably feminist: its name literally in bright lights … Obviously, feminism can’t hang its hat on celebrity endorsements—it’s a movement for social and political change, not a popularity contest. But successful movements need support, be it in the grassroots or in Hollywood. And there is no debating the hugely powerful cultural message sent … as Beyoncé sang about feminism, while her husband looked on lovingly, holding their daughter. It was, without a doubt, flawless.”
Beyoncé’s performance was particularly important because we rarely see women who can have it all. We see women in pop culture—especially in TV and movie portrayals—who struggle to choose between work, success, marriage, self-love and -care, parenting, and the like. Beyoncé standing on stage, with her husband and daughter in the front row waiting to present her with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, tells young women watching that you can have it. You don’t have to choose between the multitude of things that, together, make you happy. In a manner that harkens back to Mary Tyler Moore, it told us that we’re “gonna make it after all.”
There will continue to be those who shy away from identifying as a feminist, or who argue that humanism and egalitarianism are better because they aren’t gendered (yeah, tell those people to read this piece from Feminspire.com: they don’t actually understand what any of the three ideologies are).
Nonetheless, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift are paving the way for more celebrities to identify as feminist, and are bringing feminism into more positive and constructive debate. More importantly, they’re making it possible for young girls to read Swift’s statement and realize that they want equal rights and opportunities; for more young women to sing along with Beyoncé and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and to see themselves as flawless.
“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” That’s music to my ears.