Join the Feminism Club

JavaciaIs feminism becoming trendy?

By Javacia Harris Bowser


Last December, Beyoncé almost broke the Internet.

The pop star released her self-titled fifth studio album online, at night, and with no formal prior announcements, causing chaos on the Web. Phrases such as “OMG! Beyoncé just dropped a new album!” filled social media timelines and music journalists scrambled to report and review the new release.

Being an avid Bey fan myself, I promptly downloaded the album and spent my weekend listening to it on repeat. On first listen I knew my favorite song from the release would be “Flawless.” The second verse of this track features excerpts from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.”

For years, pop culture critics have wondered if Beyoncé is a feminist due to her girl power anthems, all-female band, and statements she’s made regarding gender equality. This song not only blatantly declares that she is indeed a feminist, but also seeks to clear up confusion about what that means. “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes,” Adichie says in her talk, offering the clear dictionary definition of the word that has nothing to do with burning bras or hating men.

Feminism is having a moment.

Celebrities are boldly embracing the f-word and brands are realizing that female empowerment could be good for business. But is this good for feminism?

Beyoncé isn’t the only big name publicly identifying as feminist. So have actresses Ellen Page, Claire Danes, and Rashida Jones, in addition to Lena Dunham, star and creator of the HBO show Girls.

Lorde, the 17-year-old singer who took home this year’s Grammys for best pop solo performance and song of the year for “Royals,” freely discussed feminism in an interview last year with Rookie magazine. She said, “I think I’m speaking for a bunch of girls when I say that…feminism is completely natural and shouldn’t even be something that people find mildly surprising; it’s just a part of being a girl in 2013.”

Ad agencies seem to be jumping on the bandwagon, too. The search engine Bing recently came out with a womanpower commercial celebrating the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Thatcher, Gabrielle Giffords, and American female soldiers.

Late last year, Pantene rolled out an ad campaign in the Philippines that spoke to the double standards women can face at work. In the spot, the man is called “boss,” but the woman is called “bossy.” While giving a speech, the guy is labeled “persuasive,” but the woman is “pushy.” When dad works late, it’s because he’s “dedicated.” When mom does the same thing, she’s “selfish.” At the end of the commercial, this message appears: “Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine.”

Even the fashion world seems to be on board as feminist-themed lines take the runway and industry leaders seem more willing to address the need for more women of color in fashion.

All this begs the question: Is feminism becoming trendy? And if it is, what does this mean for the movement?

Online culture critics have been grappling with this question for months now. Some writers fear that folks are treating feminism as if it’s this season’s hottest accessory, easily cast aside when no longer considered cool. Moreover, a shallow understanding of feminism based on celebrities or ad campaigns is unlikely to lead to real change. After all, that Pantene commercial might cause you to pump your fist with girl power pride, but you aren’t going to end gender inequity in the workplace simply by having shiny hair.

Nonetheless, I am optimistic.

No, I’m not naïve enough to believe that every company touting feminist-themed campaigns truly care about gender equality. I know that many, if not most, are simply concerned with selling products. But these commercials can spark meaningful conversations that can eventually lead to meaningful actions.

As a feminist, I want people to be aware of the sexist attitudes that hold women back in their careers, and I don’t care if it takes a shampoo commercial to open their eyes.

And perhaps a conversation about racial discrimination in fashion will spur discussion about a lack of positive representations of women of color in other areas of pop culture and media and talks on issues of race in our everyday lives.

Furthermore, I think the recent string of feminist declarations by celebrities should be celebrated, not bemoaned. I’d rather young women be introduced to feminism through a Beyoncé album than not at all. And perhaps after listening to “Flawless,” fans will then listen to Adichie’s entire TED talk and other TED presentations on feminism. Perhaps young women will read Beyoncé’s essay, “Gender Equality Is a Myth” (published earlier this year in The Shriver Report), and realize why feminism is still needed in the 21st century.

And perhaps with so many feminists in the limelight, people will slowly start to realize that Lorde is right: Feminism is natural, indeed.

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