Feminism is becoming fashionable, but Ellie Hutchinson asks what it means for the movement to have celebrities embracing it
Ellie is a communications, campaigns and prevention worker for a national violence against women charity, she has one baby, one cat and enjoys activism and emoticons. Find her at @elliehutch_
Wait… what now? There was a….herstory reference on the catwalk? Shut. The. Front. Door.
I’m confused. What with Beyoncé donning the leotard of power©, Taylor Swift ‘coming out’ as a feminist, Emma Watson’s okbutnotexactlygroundbreaking call to not-arms and now this, feminism is mainstream.
A version of feminism anyway. Whilst it is awesome to hear women publicly use the word feminism in a positive way, it’s also not so surprising that it is certain types of women talking about certain types of feminism. What feminism definitely doesn’t need is more white privilege.
However, every single one of these women will have started a conversation about feminism, equality and women’s rights. We all have to start somewhere – none of us are born with a fully realised and accountable political understanding of the world, nor should we be. No one is a finished product; if we are, then…well, let’s all just pack up and go home, because some bright spark is about to end inequality. Clearly, this isn’t the case.
The pop version of feminism is many things- and radical is not one of them. It doesn’t advocate a structural overhaul, it doesn’t examine who gets to speak where, nor does it make connections between mundane, everyday instances of oppression with violence. It situates the individual’s personal story as the most important one.
This is really where I am conflicted: yes, it is a version of feminism, and yes, it represents the very privileged, but all of our individual life experiences lead us to the politics we have to begin with. Whether it’s the communities we grew up in encouraging us to think about others, whether it’s our own experiences of rape and sexual assault, racism or homophobia, or whether it was our mentors at boarding school à la Emma – our world views begin with us.
How and who we are shapes our initiation into a political ideology. The plan is that this initiation leads us to examine our own roles in power and make change. Real, structural, accountable change. This individual initiation becomes problematic when the dialogue of pop feminism is focused on the experiences of some women – when their voices, world views and cultures become the dominant story – and before long the only one. Just as corporate feminism hides the needs of the women who allow some women to lean in – the cleaners, the child carers, the nannies – pop feminism hides the needs of the sweatshop workers who are making those catwalk clothes.
The question is then how do we use this moment of pop feminism for good. Feminism really is everywhere right now and to not pick up on that, or use it to kick start real change would be criminal. We need to find ways in which to present alternative stories and worldviews- to explore issues around privilege, power, and voice.
To use a gross phrase, these are all teachable moments. They can help us to ask those questions and raise these issues. Revolutions don’t happen overnight, they are incremental and these teeny tiny baby steps can help start a conversation. Dialogue and discussion are some of the ways in which change happens and using pop feminism as a way to talk about and move the movement might, might just get us somewhere.
The photo is by Jay Morrison and is use under a creative commons licence. The words “I [PICTURE OF A HEART ICON] FEMINISM” are in black block capitals, graffiti on a grey wall.