Barnard College's Monthly Magazine
What do Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Carla Bruni have in common, aside from being celebrities with questionable talent? They all shy away from the word “feminist” and choose not to define themselves in this way. When talking about feminism, these women’s assertions suggest that they don’t even know the correct definition of this much-debated term. When receiving the Billboard Woman of the Year award, Perry declared, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” No one even asked Perry if she was a feminist or not; she’s so averse to the term, she actually felt the need to make it known that she wasn’t one in her acceptance speech.
When Carla Bruni was specifically asked about being a feminist, she gave the answer: “I’m not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I’m a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day.” This confusing answer suggests that feminists hate their families. Lady Gaga’s response was even more baffling. She declared, “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture—beer, bars, and muscle cars.” For someone whose name is synonymous with unconventionality and defying stereotypes, this is a pretty heteronormative conception of what it is to be a man.
Even Beyoncé, who seems to personify everyone’s inner goddess, gave a wishy-washy answer when asked about feminism. Though she reluctantly defined herself as a feminist, she also added, “That word can be very extreme… Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything?” Though Beyoncé’s answer is disappointing for its lack of enthusiasm for feminism, it does point to a possible reason as to why celebrities, as well as women in general, cringe at the term. Women fear being categorized as extreme, man-hating and bra-burning militants in a fight that they might think has already been won. They overlook the simple definition that believing in feminism is equivalent to believing in equal rights for women and turn the term into some sort of monstrous label with negative connotations. Celebrities in particular may feel that being branded in this way would ruin their image.
But, honestly, who cares what celebrities think? They aren’t worshipped for their philosophy or political views. They are admired for the talent, however mediocre, that they are perceived to possess. However, the troubling trend of fleeing from feminism has spread outside the realm of stardom. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, who has been applauded for breaking gender barriers, announced, “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think that feminism has become in many ways a more negative word.” Mayer acknowledges the bad reputation the term “feminism” has but, at the same time, she qualifies herself as a feminist, contrary to what she may think. She believes in equal rights for women.
Another argument for why celebrities hold the term “feminist” at arm’s length is that it belongs to a different generation—one that needed to fight during a time of true gender inequality—and that the word is now outdated. This is why it’s so disconcerting to find that Sandra Day O’Connor, a member of this older generation said, “I never did [call myself a feminist]. I care very much about women and their progress. I didn’t go march in the streets.” As the first female Supreme Court justice and a supporter of women’s rights who is actively pro-choice, it is saddening to find that O’Connor does not consider herself a feminist.
However, among these well-known figures, there is a bright spot. Actress Zooey Deschanel, whose girly quirk seems to either enchant or nauseate people, loudly and proudly declared her feminism. “I’m just being myself. There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f–king feminist and wear a f–king Peter Pan collar. So f–king what?” Deschanel denies the assumption that being a feminist means that you are supposed to act a certain way or be seen as a particular person. She sees the term for the beliefs it entails, embraces those beliefs and isn’t afraid to say that she does. Deschanel’s voice is a fresh one among celebrities who shy away from feminism. Her fearlessness in espousing feminism is something to be admired and emulated.
By Hannah Miller