Feminism and Fame-inism

Article by Jin Sun Park

What do you think of when you hear the word “feminism”? Does the image of women rallying for voting rights during the twentieth century pass through your mind? Or do you envision screaming crazy, man-hating and bra-burning women? More recently, do you think of Beyoncé’s VMA performance in which the word “Feminist” lit up behind her or Emma Watson’s speech on feminism to the United Nations’ General Assembly?

According to Merriam Webster, feminism is merely “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Yet the media and pop culture has rendered it taboo by creating and giving power to myths surrounding feminism.

In order to gauge the effect of this media-induced stigma on the ISM community, a survey was sent out to the high school recently asking the following questions:

  1.      Do you support gender equality?
  2.      Would you call yourself a feminist?

The options were simply yes and no and the results were quite disappointing. 94% said they do support gender equality while only 39% would call themselves a feminist. On top of the shocking 6% who claim to not support gender equality, there is the disparity between those who do support gender equality and those who identify as feminists which is troubling given the two should be synonymous. So what is stopping an innocuous notion like feminism from being accepted universally? Many blame those “femi-nazis” who are allegedly taking the limelight in making feminism look bad with their misandry-infused atrocities. If so, where are they? Many others blame the apparently confusing nature of the word itself and opt for ridiculous substitutes like “humanism.” However, not only do such words mean something else altogether, they also again undermine women’s voices in what is already an imbalanced setting. Yes gender inequality is, quite obviously, pertinent to both genders but it victimizes more women on average. Thus, without explicit recognition of women, the conversation about gender inequality would merely be dominated by male voices as it already has been for millennia. It is this same logic that runs central to minority group quotas at colleges for instance. Centuries of oppression and systematic enfeebling of these peoples’ self-images have made it so much harder for them to avail of the same opportunities as others despite similar accomplishments and qualities. Thus quotas are an immediate way to mitigate this imbalance. Similarly the word ‘feminism’ isn’t about espousing female superiority—rather it is like a quota to ensure females get to have a say in an issue that affects them disproportionately. But very few understand that.

And this is where celebrities like Emma Watson and Beyoncé have stepped in to openly accept and “rebrand” feminism—movements now being coined as “fame-inism.” Their recent campaigns—especially Emma Watson’s “He for She”—are about making feminism more “accessible” to men in addition to women. While such efforts are admirable and truly thrilling, their implications are worrying. It is definitely disturbing that the notion of gender equality is so radical it needs to be rebranded and made more accessible. It’s important to realize that such a condition contradicts the intended goal by putting the responsibility of clearing up ignorance on feminists rather than citizens. This condition also again systematically puts men back at the center of the conversation. Here’s food for thought: have you ever seen men having to sugarcoat their demands for simple decency and equality? Have you ever seen white folk doing so? How about straight people?  Probably not.

The truth is, it should be on us and not celebrities to see feminism for what it truly is: a movement for freedom, equality, choice, love, compassion, respect, solidarity and education. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves rather than expect other people, especially celebrities, to do so for us.