One’s claims of being a feminist do not hold water if it just a mere belief that men and women are equal. To be a feminist is also to do feminism because just claiming it is not enough. Feminism is a serious commitment towards understanding how the patriarchy, heteronormativity, gender roles etc… play out in our lives; how they shape and limit our thoughts and actions. It requires a constant evaluation of our beliefs on our part and most of the time, leads to a shift in the beliefs that have been ingrained and institutionalized for years. Feminism is a lens that needs to be developed by experience and introspection, and should be looked at from an intersectional angle.
In just carrying it around like a flimsy term, an accessory at best, we are at risk of dismissing the ideology as too simple and too easy. When famous public figures like Ivanka Trump and Gal Gadot reap the benefits of being hailed as feminist icons simply because they say they support women or want to empower little girls, the feminist movement is at a risk of being oversimplified.
Ivanka Trump is a perfect example of a poster-child of white feminism. A self-described advocate for equal pay and paid family leave, Ivanka’s role as adviser to President Trump seems to completely contradict that. Simply tweeting out her throwaway hashtag #WomenWhoWork and creating “a solution-oriented lifestyle brand, dedicated to the mission of inspiring and empowering women to create the lives they want to lead” is just quasi-feminism. Where do her feminist morals go when she sits by idly as her father revokes transgender participation in the military? Or when he defunded Planned Parenthood and repealed Obamacare? While she claims to disagree with her father at times, she follows this with appreciation and support for the Trump administration. Feminism that suits her when convenient and aims to uplift cis-gendered, working-class white women alone is not intersectional at all. Ivanka Trump’s ‘brand’ feminism is as capitalistic and consumerist as it can get. And it comes from a place of incredible privilege and ignorance to those women who aren’t as privileged as her. As the Daily Show’s Michelle Wolfe so aptly said “she’s not trying to change the patriarchy, she’s telling women how to silently slide into it.”
If Ivanka’s version of feminism is quite clearly sugar coated, Gal Gadot’s feminist views have been met with mixed responses. Fans do tend to associate the choice of character with the kind of celebrity an actor may be. The overtly feminist nature of Wonder Woman can lead one to believe that Gal Gadot is an enthusiast for women empowerment. In testimony to this assumption, recently, Gal was appreciated by her fans when she apparently refused to be a part of the Wonder Woman sequel if Brett Ratner (the producer who was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment) was still on board. Media outlets and twitter folk were quick to hail her “the feminist hero we deserve”. On the flip side, a now-deleted Medium post narrated a vivid personal account of how Gal engaged in victim-blaming and rape-apologia when a friend told her a mutual friend raped her. The post was taken down and the victim was silenced. The “feminist hero” remained jarringly silent; she didn’t address the issue at all. Thus, being skeptical about believing her when she vaguely tweeted out “Together we stand. We are united in this time of change” is a warranted reaction. Many argue that the Medium article was published anonymously and may not necessarily be true. However, it is our responsibility to believe the survivor and seriously examine Gal’s behavior that contributes to rape culture. Yes, she could have changed in recent times, but with her silence on the entire thing, we shouldn’t be quick to laud her back-handed feminism that she uses only when she is in the limelight.
Another problematic feminist who should be discussed is Priyanka Chopra. Granted, she is not afraid to embrace the ‘feminist’ tag, call herself one and is frustrated with those who reject the label. She also insists diversity should be the norm and not a novelty in the movie industry. However, Chopra’s feminism comes from a place of undeniable privilege. Her outspoken stances on women in the industry and on feminism in general are neither intersectional nor inclusive. For example, in a recent interview, she was quoted saying “I don’t like the phrase ‘woman of color.’ I feel like that puts women in a box. I’m a woman, whether I’m white, Black, brown, green, blue, or pink — whatever. I think we need to start looking beyond that.” Seemingly unproblematic at first, her lines actually erase an integral part of the identity of a woman who comes from a historically oppressed community. By eroding the identity of such a person, she stands to say they are equal on paper when in reality they are hardly equal and would benefit from a careful understanding of intersectional feminism. Priyanka is now famous not only in India but on a global scale. She could really use her platform and fame to educate herself on what she is saying before saying it. Her feisty and “badass” comments are of no use when they are carelessly and from a place of ignorance.
There are many other celebrities who fall under the category of preaching different iterations of ‘feminism lyte’ such as Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, J.K Rowling and Caitlyn Jenner. So, while the western media is very quick to toot these women and so many more as “feminist icons we need”, it would do us better to examine their views and actions as many of them do not successfully represent intersectional feminism. Encourage everyone around you to educate themselves and by extension, practice intersectionality, inclusiveness and the broader philosophies of feminism.
The feminist movement is gloriously empowering, extremely inventive and far too large to be just a fad or a buzzword. It is too important and necessary to be practiced in a half-assed manner. And certainly, it doesn’t deserve to be mainstreamed or reduced beyond it’s scope. We need transformative feminism and not feminism that is just trendy.