Is celebrity feminism hurting the women’s movement?

// 13 January 2017

Celebrity feminism

This is a guest post by Rachel St Clair, a Glasgow girl living in Brighton. She’s a performance artist, currently moonlighting as a flight attendant.

Feminism is in right now. Taylor Swift knows it, Beyoncé knows it and so do Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson. This list of celebrities who have used the word feminist to define themselves recently is not exhaustive. It seems that feminism has become quite the buzzword in Hollywood.

Of course, the identification of oneself as a feminist is nothing to be suspicious of. After all, each of these women are wholly entitled to their opinion and to identify as feminist. But should we perhaps be wary of those who use the word feminism as part of their branding strategy? Andi Zeisler notes:

Emphasising the personal empowerment of individual actors, comedians and pop stars – whether for itself or in relation to others – only serves to pull focus from the ways in which their industries make money from stereotyping and devaluing women

Do the efforts of said celebrities to include feminism as part of their aura dilute and mask the grassroots efforts of more diverse groups of, well, non-famous women?

One might argue that celebrity feminists make the women’s movement more palatable by giving feminism a pretty face. But it doesn’t look like many are listening to what they have to say. A study carried out over two years examining the relationship between celebrity feminists and our perception of the women’s movement found that celebrity involvement may actually be hindering the cause by making it appear trivial.

To boot, despite a celebrity’s ability to reach a wide audience, just 20% of people said that celebrity involvement made them care more about gender equality issues. Taylor Swift was named specifically as a key reason for this: 30% said that because of her, they care less about feminist issues.

This may be because it is difficult to take a celebrity seriously when we know, ultimately, that their main goal is to support and promote their own brand.

It may be that Taylor Swift’s own take on feminism doesn’t come across as very genuine. After all, as Rebecca Bohanan points out, despite the image Swift has created of her working with women there were no female producers on stage with her as she accepted the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2016.

However, despite this lack of sincerity from Swift, perhaps one thing can be said for her involvement in feminism: she stands to serve as a role model for a group of young fans that without her may never have a stepping stone into the world of women’s rights. In this instance, Swift acts as an excellent gateway for young women to further explore issues relating to their gender.

In 2014, Emma Watson made headlines when she was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and began the HeForShe campaign, which called on men to become a part of and support feminism. The campaign highlighted the ways in which the patriarchy had not only failed women, but also men. This sentiment was widely celebrated for its ambition to make feminism more inclusive. I would argue that feminism should not need to be made more inclusive for men but rather that men should be more accepting of it.

As best put by Rosie Fletcher:

If a man can hear that 85,000 women are raped in the UK each year and only care when this is labelled FOR MEN like a horrifying statistical Yorkie, he probably isn’t that much use to the feminist cause in the first place

So while it may be that Watson’s intentions were good, she seems to be somewhat missing the point.

Ultimately, the fact remains that if feminism is so trendy at the moment, why aren’t we seeing more meaningful change in discrepancies such as the gender pay gap or women in senior and leadership roles? Why are we still fighting battles for cultural and social equity if the celebrities can help us turn the tide of popular opinion?

The answer is simple — these high profile, glamorous celebrities do not represent the pressing issues facing women every day. The attention and limelight they are given in the media is almost a slap in the face for the many women fighting day in and day out to have their voices heard.

Image is of Taylor Swift wearing a black hat and red lipstick. She is smiling, and facing the camera but looking slightly past it.

Image Taylor Swift RED tour 2013 by Jana Beamer, some rights reserved. Photo has been cropped at the bottom.

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