Between Taylor Swift’s “sudden” revelation that she actually is a feminist and Beyonce’s seizure-inducing glittertastic celebration at last month’s MTV Video Music Awards, it seems the term is making a mainstream comeback. Or at least the glossy, easy-to-swallow version of celebrity feminism, which for the record I’m totally cool with. I’m all for anything that will balance out the whack jobs on the “why we don’t need feminism” Tumblr.
But I have a feeling these sudden outbursts have left some a bit confused about what the term actually means. For those still on the fence, let’s have a little chat about what it really means to be a feminist on a very basic, simplistic level before you commit to your own Gloria Steinem quote tattoo.
Feminism, at its nitty-gritty core, is a two-parter. First, feminism is the idea that men and women should be equal in the work force, at home, in society, on all of the levels. Most people except for some unsavory, trolly extremists can get behind this general notion. Please note that saying men and women should be equal is not saying they are the same; women don’t have to “act like” men or vice versa, and yes, the obvious biological differences still exist. It is saying women should not be treated as inferior in the eyes of governments, religions, societies or families.
The second, more vital and often contentious part of feminism is the understanding that men and women currently are not treated equally. I think Part 2 is where a lot of young women and men balk against feminism because A) they don't see the inequalities in their lives or B) they can't or refuse to see the bias other women face because of their gender.
It’s one thing to say you haven't experienced sexism; that [bleep] is naive and generally understandable from young, white women whose lives revolve around the endless cycle of love, break-ups and never ever ever getting back together. But it is incredibly self-centered, irresponsible and unjustifiable to say there are no women who experience injustice because of their gender, as Taylor believed when she refused to call herself a feminist because she didn’t believe in “boys vs. girls.” To ignore the fact that Native American women experience rape at higher rates than other women, that limited access to safe abortions disproportionately affects women of color or that women across the board still get paid 77 cents to the dollar is the ultimate form of willful ignorance.
Not to hate on Ms. Swift too much; she is a product of our society, which doesn’t do a great job of educating young men and women about systematic injustices surrounding gender, race, class or sexual orientation. For all the feminist newbies, if you want to be part of this hip new feminist movement, it is time to start educating yourself and those surrounding you.
Feminism is not one thing; there are more nuances when it comes to all the gloriously complex and confusing intersections. And there are a ton of issues surrounding men’s issues and masculinity as well. With all these complexities, feminists, especially new baby feminists, will get confused and mess up. But no worries: You can be a feminist and do/make/say unfeminist things. Being a feminist does not require perfection. Feminism in general is a process, one that relies on goofing and then talking about it with some T-Swift-style vulnerability and honesty.
So if you’re on board with all that, bring the glitter and let’s bedazzle the crap out of this new wave of feminism.
Niki Fritz is a RedEye special contributor.