Have you seen the Feminist Taylor Swift twitter account?
A Taylor Swift fan (and Brown University student) edits her famous lyrics to have feminist messages like:
Now, I’m not sure Taylor Swift is a fan of those tweets. She’s been quoted saying she doesn’t consider herself a feminist because she doesn’t view life as “guys vs. girls”. I’m not here to tell Taylor that she should call herself a feminist, but that statement made me wonder how she defines “feminist”.
The word “feminist” can stir negative emotions. We hear it associated with unattractive traits. You know what I mean: bra-burning, male-hating, cold-hearted… Even today I think a lot of people imagine most “feminists” to be middle-aged women’s studies professors… in a pants suits… who are probably divorced and childless. Am I right?
There are so many different kinds of people who believe in the feminism cause. I’m one of them. When I titled this post “Proud Feminist,” I wasn’t referring to myself, though. Or Taylor Swift. I was actually referring to this guy:
This is Ryan Gosling. He’s the star of The Notebook which is a movie that fails the Bechdel Test. [Another topic for another day.]
My favorite people in the whole wide world are the people who believe that women are people, too. I admire Ryan Gosling for being an advocate for gender equality. He talks candidly about equality in parenting and how – when he’s a dad – he wants to be an active and present parent. In fact, he was quoted saying, “I’d like to be making babies but I’m not, so I’m making movies. When someone comes along, I don’t think I’ll be able to do both, and I’m fine with that. I’ll make movies until I make babies,”
I love Ryan Gosling for openly identifying himself as a feminist icon. And I love all of the Feminist Ryan Gosling memes that have popped up as a result. I love them because they’re entertaining but also because these messages are so, so necessary. I was reminded of one a few weeks ago when I heard about the Wimbledon commentator.
Right after the incredible Marion Bartoli won the Women’s 2013 Wimbledon Champion, the commentator, John Inverdale, casually mentioned that as a child her father probably told her to work extra hard on the court because she would “never be a looker” like Maria Sharapova. He later apologized for this, but the fact that he had the audacity to
comment on her beauty of all things attribute her lack of beauty to athletic success IRKED me. She responded super cool and casually, saying: “It doesn’t matter, honestly…Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No.” She dreamt of being an awesome tennis player, and she succeeded.
I liked her answer. I said a silent thank you for her ability to demonstrate self-confidence and poise in that situation. I hope Mr. Inverdale feels really bad about what he said, and that he would never actually say this to his own daughter. And I hoped Marion was lucky enough to have a feminist role model in her life to teach her that women should not feel bound to our societal images of beauty. I hope, one day, if I have a kid, that I can be that kind of feminist role model for her/him.
I don’t generally like being labeled as a ________ [anything] because I think a lot of our fear of “other” comes from categorizing everyone and focusing on our differences instead of what makes us the same.
There is one label I’ll carry proudly, though, and that’s feminist.
There are plenty of definitions you could apply to the word “feminist:”
In high school, I was afraid to call myself a “feminist” because I was fearful of what other people – especially guys – would think of me. I thought “feminists” believed women were more important than men. I thought being “feminist” meant I couldn’t paint my nails or wear make-up. (Side note: If you want your teenage daughters to grow up thinking that their words and intelligence are more valuable than their ability to curl eye lashes and apply make-up, you might be a feminist.)
I was accustomed to “feminist” being akin to “chauvinist,” or someone who blindly and enthusiastically believes in the superiority of their cause or people. Even though I believed in equality and wanted to bring awareness to the times I’d been disrespected because of my gender, I thought it was important to disassociate myself from the “feminist” term so that people would think that I’m a nice, approachable person. Basically, Taylor Swift, I was wondering if maybe you feel that way too?
In high school, I knew well-respected adults who said things like, “Sometimes it just makes sense to hire a man instead of a woman because you don’t have to worry about maternity leave.” And, “Women have certain, um, monthly things that prevent them from participating in combat,” and “Women got the right to vote — what more do they want?”
Well, I knew the answer to that question. I wanted to be able to walk to my locker without a 9th grade boy slapping my butt. I wanted to be able to go to a school dance that didn’t play songs with lyrics about money earning men sexual favors. And I wanted to be able to express my anger about these issues without being called a “b*tch”. Mostly, I wanted to not feel inadequate.
For me, this concept of being inadequate started when I was in elementary school. I had a teacher who always asked if there was a “strong boy” available to help her move a desk or a table. I remember feeling so aggravated because I was the tallest in the class. I swam and did dance. I was strong! I wasn’t asked to help move the desk because I was a girl. I wondered if boys have some special strength related to desk lifting that I lacked. [Spoiler alert: They don't.]
Today, when I express my feelings about that situation, the typical response I get is well, that was just boys learning to be gentlemen.
Yes, it’s important for boys to learn to be kind.
If someone opens a door for me because I’m carrying a big stack of books I say, thank you because that’s kind. If a male someone opens a door for me simply because I’m female, well, it makes me feel like a princess who can’t touch door knobs. I still say thank you, but secretly, I wonder if this action – over time – teaches difference or dominance. Am I subtly expected to return that favor in any way? Maybe a flirty smile? I don’t know.
I DO know that I do not want my children to grow up learning that girls and women are fragile/needy/inadequate. I want my children to learn that they take turns and open doors for people. And I want them to learn that they should respect people. And that they should not be quiet or shrug off unwanted sexual advances.
I have no idea why that 9th grade boy thought it was okay to slap my butt, or why that old man thought it was okay to take pictures of me while I walked back to my college dorm, or why that D.C. stranger decided it was okay to grind up against me while I was crammed into a metro car. More than that I wonder why no one else spoke up about that situation. Do you know how many people in that metro car heard me ask that guy to stop? As long as stuff like this is happening… we’re doing it wrong. We need to agree that that behavior is unacceptable.
I recently had a beautiful, enriching conversation with a like-minded woman. We talked about how we are both comforted that our significant others are willing to move across the country for our careers, how we were both keeping our last names despite our marital status, but we also talked about how these individual characteristics do not define us as feminists. I still think Beyonce is a feminist even though her tour is called the Mrs. Canter tour. In fact, I think you can change your name and be a stay at home mom and be an incredibly powerful feminist role model who teaches your kids about equality. That’s one of my favorite things about feminism, actually: women and men recognizing that adults get to choose to lead whatever kind of life they want to. Yes, it makes me sad when I see women forced to give up their careers because they feel pressure to be stay-at-home mom’s, but it makes me just as sad when women who long to be home with their children stay in jobs they don’t love because they feel pressure to be there. Being able to choose… doing what you love… that’s a very feminist concept.
Taylor Swift, I’m not writing this to convince you that you need to walk around identifying yourself with an “I’m a Feminist” t-shirt. I do think it’s incredibly moving when young women and men are comfortable describing themselves as a feminists, but the title itself doesn’t matter much. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a human right. For me, feminism means freedom to follow your dreams and make healthy decisions for yourself regardless of your gender, and also, to embrace a broad appreciation for the incredible women and men who have worked together to pave the way for women’s rights for so many years.
Ultimately, I want us to reach across the gender line and work together – as equals – to achieve goodness: kindness, compassion, support. I want women and men to learn how to stand up for themselves and support each other and stop name-calling double standards. I want to combine our efforts and focus on our individual strengths and work as a collective people for a greater good. We NEED women to be strong and empowered because we need women and men to work together for the greater good. Too much?
I’m trying to keep it light even though I feel so passionately about this topic. (My original opener was: If you think that dumb blonde jokes and rape jokes are funny and not a big deal then you should know that you’ve used your dominance to create an environment that made someone feel belittled and inferior and uncomfortable and I’d really like you to consider that for a minute.)
In short, we need girls who grow up feeling capable and empowered and we need boys who, well, believe women are people, too. And this is in no way supposed to be bashing Taylor Swift. I’m a huge fan. Just like this guy: