Is Celebrity Feminism Mostly White Feminism?
Deconstructing Taylor Swift
Recently many celebrities, like Taylor Swift, have labeled themselves feminists. They have become feminist icons . While some women in the movement have praised these celebrities, many are critical of their message and intent and have labeled these celebrities as white feminists. A white feminist is someone that does not take into account race, class and other factors into their feminism. There does seem to be a disconnect between celebrity feminism and the feminism of everyday women.
bell hook’s essay on sisterhood and solidarity explains why there is this divide between the feminism of celebrities and the feminism of ordinary women. Historically, the face of feminism has been white, middle and upper class women and like contemporary mainstream feminism they refuse to acknowledge race and class in their feminism. This isolated, and still isolates poor women and women of color from the movement. In this form of feminism, commonly labeled white feminism, the goal is not equality for all but equality for white rich women. This can be seen in celebrity feminism.
The Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj “feud” is a perfect example of celebrity white feminism. In July of 2015, Nicki Minaj spoke out against the MTV Video Awards and for the fact that her video did not get nominated for music video of the year even though it broke records. Taylor Swift, who did get nominated, responded back saying Nicki Minaj should not pit women against women. Swift thought the tweets were aimed at her. It was not about pitting women against women or about Taylor Swift at all. It was about race and the fact that black women are rarely recognized for their achievements. Swift at first did not seem to understand; she advocates for a feminism where all women should be united and not hostile to each other. Like bell hooks has said though, white feminists see criticism as hostility. This leads to white celebrities ignoring race and class issues. Celebrity feminism ignores racial problems for the false illusion of unity between women and allies. Race is important for many ordinary women and celebrity feminism dismisses it.
Miley Cyrus is another example of celebrity white feminism. She focuses her energy on helping LGBT youth and body image. While her work helping LGBT youth is wonderful, the other aspects of her feminism are lacking. She advocates for the Free the Nipple movement, a movement centered on the desexualization of women’s bodies. The movement calls for the end of censoring women’s nipples. The criticism for this movement is similar to the criticism for Miley Cyrus's brand of feminism.
The Free the Nipple movement has been criticized for having the support of mostly white women. The movement also does not acknowledge the over sexualization of women of color compared to white women. The restriction on nudity is a rich white women’s problem.While it is an important issue, there are many more other issues women face that need attention like workplace discrimination, sexual assault and the lack of proper maternity leave in America. Women of color still are not at on the same level with white women. The problem is not Miley Cryrus and other celebrities supporting the movement, the problem is that they only support movements that help white rich women.
Scarlett Johanson‘s new role in the film adaption of Ghost in the Shell is yet another example of white celebrity feminism. She was cast to play a character who in the original version is Japanese. When asked about the controversy Johanson said, “ having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity” and completely ignored the actual problem. Female lead roles are important but more especially are lead roles for women of color. There have been a rise in female lead films in the last few years but almost all of these where white female leads. Scarlett Johanson is putting gender issues over race issues when they are both equally important. White feminists, like bell hooks has said, do not care about racism. Scarlett Johanson does not want to think critically about her racism and how that affects other women.
Celebrity feminism is in most cases white feminism; they only advocate for problems directly affecting them and solutions that can benefit them. This is causing a divide in the feminist movement and it needs fixing. Celebrities have the platform and resources to accomplish great things. bell hook offers a few ways to unify the split feminist movement. Celebrities, and all women, need to accept criticism and use it to better themselves. They need to critically think of their own racism, classicism and sexism and not just dismiss the issues surrounding them. They need to advocate not just for their own problems but problems facing other marginalized groups. After that, we can truly have unity in the feminist movement.