Note: This was originally written for Thought Catalog shortly after Shailene Woodley’s first anti-feminism quote1 was released, not the second one.2 Thought Catalog decided not to published it there, so I’m posting it here.
The world is full of people who use words that they don’t understand. Unfortunately, sometimes those people happen to be individuals who are famous. When their faux pas relates to a social issue, you can rest assured knowing that people will point this out. Sometimes it seems that simply pointing out the mistake doesn’t do any good, so maybe instead of just telling these celebrities that they are wrong, we should start explaining to society as a whole why what they said is construed as being so offensive.
One of the most common words that people have issues with is feminism, especially when it is maligned by women who might be described as feminists. For some very strange reason, celebrities like Kelly Clarkson, Shailene Woodley, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and even Madonna have decided to go on record as non-feminists while, at the same time, continuing to push for things like equality and strength. Excuse me, ladies, but if you believe that men and women should be afforded equal rights and the same level of respect, that makes you a feminist.
Equality is what feminism is about. It is not about being anti-men. It is not about being perceived as more masculine or about bashing femininity. It is not about asking to be given favors because you’re a woman. It is simply about every person being treated as equals. I honestly do not understand how any person, unless they were really into being a bigot or a zealot, could not be a feminist.
Somehow, though, people have gotten it in their heads that feminism is a group of angry white women who just want to bash all the men in the world, have wild body hair, hate the color pink, think porn is always bad, think sex itself is even worse, believe that having kids is the worst thing in the world, and just want to be alone and miserable. Some of these things may apply to some feminists, but, as with other groups, we aren’t all the same. First of all, not all feminists are women. Yes, there are actually men who identify as feminists. Another thing is that we aren’t all white. There have been issues within the movement regarding racism, some more recent than others, but inclusiveness is something that is being addressed.
We don’t hate all men. I know that some people find this shocking, but many feminists find men to be really awesome people that they can either call a friend or a family member or a significant other. Yes, I just admitted something that many anti-fems don’t seem to recognize: feminists can actually be attracted to men. I know this may have caused some people to faint or to feel dizzy, so, for them, I would suggest taking some deep breaths and come back to this later. Everyone else is stuck with me for now. Where was I? Oh, yes, we don’t hate men. We advocate against a system that bases a person’s value and dignity on the genitalia that they happen to possess. Many times it is the feminists who you might see when a man is being trashed for doing something that is considered to be a female role, i.e. when Daniel Murphy took paternity leave for three days instead of playing with the Mets after the birth of his child. His masculinity was ridiculed for deciding to spend time with his newborn son. It wasn’t the anti-feminists and “men’s rights activists” who were rallying behind him; it was the feminists.
Painting all feminists as being volatile and strange is annoying and unfair. We do not deserve to be continuously stereotyped. We are a movement made of individuals, so each member of the movement is different from the next. Feminism is a lot like ice cream. There are many flavors, like sex positive feminism, ecofeminism, trans feminism, black feminism, postcolonial feminism, radical feminism, etc. Each type takes into account the individual’s actual feelings on not just sexual politics, but other less-gender based issues. Maybe differences in types of feminism make it harder for feminists to get the word out that feminism isn’t something dirty that one should be ashamed of claiming.
Being a feminist is something that people should take pride in claiming. It shouldn’t be something that we have to hide. And it shouldn’t be something that we are constantly forced to defend because people come out as being not-a-feminist and participate in some verbal diarrhea trashing the movement. It would be nice if people would look into feminism a little more thoroughly instead of continuing to perpetuate the falsehoods that they have heard about it. It would be a lot easier to have the equality we fight so hard for if the ignorance about the movement would just stop.
“No because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.
“My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism. I don’t know how we as women expect men to respect us because we don’t even seem to respect each other. There’s so much jealousy, so much comparison and envy. And “This girl did this to me and that girl did that to me.” And it’s just so silly and heartbreaking in a way.
“It’s really neat to see: there’s that new Judd Apatow [sic] movie coming out, The Other Woman, and that looks really good because I think it’s really neat that it shows women coming together and supporting each other and creating a sisterhood of support for one another versus hating each other for something that somebody else created.”
“And the word “feminist” is a word that discriminates, and I’m not into that. I don’t think there has to be a separation in life in anything. For me, bringing up the whole “sisterhood” thing was about embracing each other’s differences. Embrace my point of view even if it’s different from your point of view, but see that our end goal is the same. The way that we’re getting there might be different, but as long as we approach life with kindness and compassion, that’s all that matters. So it made me sadly laugh that a woman who I was trying to say, “Let’s embrace one another,” distinctly chose to do the opposite. But you know what? Everything is out of your control, and you can only be truthful about how you feel.
“I was talking about this with one of my close girlfriends because I read it and I was really disappointed and sad, actually, because I do consider myself someone who’s so embracing of women and loves women, and the way the journalist decided to say, “So, Shailene is trying to use men to prove women’s power” or whatever she said was hilarious to me because that’s not what I said at all. But I was talking to my close girlfriend about it and she said, “Listen, Shae: labels are labels. I don’t need to label myself because I know who I am.” That clicked for me really hard, and it was this defining moment in my life that I’ve taken with me and encourage others to do the same. Labels are for other people to understand us, so for me, I know how I feel and I don’t need to call myself a “feminist” or “not a feminist” because I know what my truth is. If you need in your own mind to say that I’m a feminist so you better understand where I’m coming from and what my ideals mean, then that’s for you. Labels are for people to understand one another, not for us to understand ourselves. I know where my cayenne sits in my spice cabinet. You can go and label each distinct spice, but I know what my flavors are. Once that clicked, I didn’t feel any sadness or disappointment at all anymore because I know how I feel, and I know what I do in the world with other women, and I don’t need to prove that to anyone online.”