Feminist Icons in Today’s Pop Culture


Bobbie L. Washington

So I will pose this question, what makes a feminist in this generation of selfie loving social media instagram, Facebook, twitter culture? To understand feminism, you first have to look up what it means and even though this generation may be savvy with posting pics, memes and the what not, information gathering tends to come up short. Feminism, by definition, is the advocating on behalf of women when it comes to the issue of reproductive rights, equal pay, domestic violence, maternity leave, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and genital mutilation at it’s most core principles. Feminism started in France during the French Revolution when the French writer, Olympe de Gouge, wrote about The Declaration of the Right of Woman and Citizen during the French Revolution. She was advocating that “woman is born free and remains equal to man in her rights” and that women should have equality in all areas of life such as education, government, employment and the judicial systems. So now that we have established a point of reference, does the value of feminism still holds up with this crop of celebrity personalities?

Taylor Swift, truly a remarkably talented woman, has been bestowed the title of feminist by some publication. But what is she really doing for feminism? She makes plenty of hit records about her dating life, she decides on how her music will be distributed and by whom, she makes plenty of money and she has donated to numerous charities but I don’t hear her voice in advocating a particular cause. Taylor Swift said in part that she has become a feminist thanks to her friendship with Lena Dunham recently so what does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Taylor Swift has a hardcore fan base that have be vicious if they find their star come under attack. One person, Clara Beyer, a then Brown University student, created a Twitter account called FeministTaylorSwift, that provoked the ire of that fan base who thought Beyer was hater of Taylor Swift. But by her own summation, Beyer’s feel that she started Taylor Swift into the world of feminism. Taylor Swift created a video called Bad Blood, where a lot of her female friends appeared in varied roles as above average women with kick ass abilities. Taylor Swift had mention the fact that she had used the women for these roles for what they supposedly would represent. But you were just playing dress up. That had nothing to do with furthering the cause of feminism. Just because you have a video out pretending to kick fake ass doesn’t mean you are empowering women especially when at the end of the video you wound up having a bitch slap fight with Selena Gomez.

You sort of defeated your purpose with that message of empowerment. But Taylor Swift has power, as stated by Forbes magazine. She is ranked as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women of 2015 at number 64. But power is relative and fleeting. Power is relative to what the people is willing to let you have. Let me repeat that, power — is only relative — to what the people — is willing to let you have. Power is popularity. Paul Simon once sang that every generation finds a hero on the pop charts. And that is true.

Does anyone remember the utter fascination with Lady Gaga? She was everywhere. She had a few hit records. She had her fans listening to everything coming out of her mouth. But then the hit records stopped coming. Her fans became fickle. She still is showing up from time to time but it’s for other peoples work and she shows up just to stay relevant while she still wears the attention grabbing outfits. Here was a woman who also is considered a feminist.

But what is she doing, showing up at an event wearing only a bra and panties. That story didn’t make it over the fold with any relevancy what so ever. As Bootsy Collins once sang, “whatcha gonna do when the novelty wears off of your style?”

Ariana Grande recently made headlines because she tweeted about she’s her own woman and doesn’t belong to anyone. Some took that as her feminist calling because she quoted from Gloria Steinem and then came the “you go girl” attitude as if she had done something significant. Is that really feminism or just a response to so many tweets about your ex-boyfriend that you had to give a response just to get them on another subject? Taylor Swift had recently done the same thing as well when a publication linked her to one of her ex-boyfriends. It seems as if the bar has been lowered a bit when it comes to what constitute as a feminist calling. Journalists need to be more objective when it comes to reporting on these celebrities because they have an agenda and a public relations machine they need to keep oiled and running. And sometimes it seems like many of these journalists are fans of these stars as well and that tends to lead to some bias reporting when it comes to their favorite celebrity. Other than her own self interest and a sophomoric twitter rant, what else is Ariana doing in the name of feminism?

Bree Olsen, once a part of Charlie Sheen’s harem of women and former anal porn star had tweeted a letter that she had penned about girls thinking about entering the porn industry. She advocates for them to reconsider and outline the pitfalls of traveling down that path and yet she wasn’t labeled a feminist by any blogger, journalist or group. In her letter, Bree talks about slut shaming, how there is a double standard with women and with men and the world after the porn lights have dimmed especially if you happen to have children. So why weren’t her words elevated to a level of importance in the same manner as Ariana Grande? Why was there silence. Did it not have value? Did it not have weight? Why didn’t she get praise for speaking out to thousands of impressionable girls who are considering doing porn for the allure of fame and money from the feminist community? Maybe it is because of what she wrote and that is that men are given a pat on the back when they leave porn and women are slut shamed for doing the same and that applies to speaking out as well. Maybe it was because she has done porn and the respect for women who work in the sex industry are not to be taken seriously.

If anyone would have seen Rashida Jones documentary about young girls entering the porn industry entitle, Hot Girls Wanted, maybe Bree’s word would have contained more value and power.

Patricia Arquette gave a wonderful but all to brief acceptance speech at the Oscars when she voiced her position of equal pay for women in her industry. Though to be fair, her industry is based on what an actor can bring in at the box office and usually that means the lead actor is a male who has the box office draw eight times out of ten, especially when it comes to the big box office budgeted films like The Avengers and Jurassic World. The Hollywood game isn’t quite the same as your typical nine to five but the meaning and platform for Patrica Arquette to find those words to be the most valuable for her in the three minute window that was allocated to her. How it translated the next day with everyday people and the corporate boardrooms would be the test.

And Emma Watson has jumped head first into the role of an actual feminist with her work by accepting the United nation’s Women Goodwill Ambassador role and speaking out on behalf of gender equality. In her speech, she invited men to join her in this fight as she recognize that the label of being a feminist had negatives attached to it with regards to it being too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-male and unattractive. She is hoping to change that because she has experienced that when, as she put it, the press started sexualizing her at the age of 14 and at 15, her girlfriends dropped out of sports because they didn’t want to appear to muscle bound. Of all the women celebrities in her age group, she by far has the better understanding of what the feminist cause is or at least is trying to understand instead of it just being a Twitter rant.

Beyonce Knowles, Beyonce, Queen Bey, calls herself a feminist. She has every right to do so, but why? She sings and performs about empowering girls but does that translate into action? Who run the word, girls is one of her musical anthems but let’s look at that carefully. In third world countries, women are subjected to some of the most cruel acts that humans inflict on one another. Genital mutilation in parts of Africa, honor killings in the Middle East, human trafficking in this part of the globe and the reality sinks in. Singing a pop song in 3:45 doesn’t embolden anyone for the better. Charlize Theron spoke before a committee on the human rights commission in regards to the LGBT community.

Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry sat in front of a state commission advocating for children privacy when it comes to the celebrity paparazzi with the latter benefiting Beyonce is she chose to exercise it. These women are doing something with their feminism. Beyonce readily has admitted that she is not a smart as she likes during the inauguration of Barack Obama. She does not have the skill set to have conversations about other worldly topics because its beyond her save world of music. She has been soundly criticized for attending the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight because of Floyd Mayweather domestic abuse charges. From what I understand, she looked great at the fight. Like Taylor Swift, Beyonce has earned her respect in the music business. She knows how that work. Her father has taught her well about it and she has amassed a fortune doing it.

But where do these artist, these icons to female pop culture, do with feminism? You can’t just sing about ruling the world or kicking somebody’s ass. You will have to take a long hard look at who you are, what exactly are you doing with your fame and assessing the finer point of can you do something more with it? Fame is fleeting. Former president, Jimmy Carter, was a one-term president but since he has left office, he has done more for human rights than any president since and I don’t think he’s a feminist unlike his wife, Rosalynn, who was a string feminist with many causes that she was an advocate behind.

And maybe that’s what these icon need is a strong role model because even pop icons need role models too. These are young women who need to look back in history and see what women like Rosalynn Carter has done for feminism and emulate it.

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