The Case Against 'Fad' Feminism

Although feminism was once ignorantly considered a radical subculture full of man-hating, bra-burning lesbians, the movement has now arguably been integrated into mainstream culture. Pop culture icons like Beyoncé, Emma Watson, and Taylor Swift are encouraged and even pressured to identify with the “f-word” and to furthermore serve as feminist role models for young girls everywhere. While it's encouraging that immensely successful women are publicly identifying as feminist and, by doing so, inspiring their fans to embrace the term as well, it's important to remember that feminism is so much more than a trend. We must not forget that feminism is a social movement and, as such, requires much more than just a willingness to identify with the label.

Feminism might be about believing that men and women deserve equal rights and opportunities (the definition that celebrities usually reference), but it's undeniably more complex than that. In fact, that very definition fails to account for transgender individuals or individuals who identify with a non-binary gender. It also fails to mention intersectionality, which I believe is an essential part of feminism's definition and practice.

I don't mean to undermine celebrities' understanding of feminism just because they're famous. It's entirely possible that they do understand feminism in a more complex, non-binary way. But if celebrities are going to become the new spokespeople for the movement, they must be willing and able to educate the general public beyond a relatively uncontroversial and indisputable sentence about equality.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but feminism shouldn't be so easily and immediately understood. While it’s completely absurd that the word feminist was ever on Time Magazine’s list of "Words to be Banned in 2015", its inclusion demonstrates that as feminism has adapted to better fit into mainstream culture -- to be more easily tweeted and digested by the masses -- the word has lost much of its substance and value. Feminism should be challenging. It should change the way one views and interacts with the world. It should offer people an entirely new lens and framework through which they can critically think about themselves and their surroundings. These tools, which take time and effort to adapt, are what make feminism so valuable: they are what help us to identify and understand pressing issues and, most importantly, to effectively do something about them. Furthermore, these issues should not be limited to the ones that mostly effect individuals as privileged as celebrities, who almost universally fall into a high socioeconomic class, fit society’s beauty norms, and are arguably most commonly white and heterosexual. They should also be issues that are systemic and difficult -- but crucial -- to understand.

It's necessary that we make sure feminism isn't seen as a product, as something to be mass-marketed in mainstream culture and altered to appeal to the widest possible consumer base. While it's encouraging that more people seem open to the idea of feminism, especially since feminist activists deserve to have their work widely acknowledged and supported, feminism is ultimately far too important and necessary to become a fad. It's possible that widespread attention given to the movement can be beneficial: Media attention does, after all, have the capacity to raise more awareness about the injustices feminists work to end. But this attention should focus less on celebrities and their feminist awakenings and more on individuals doing incredible feminist work and helping their communities, countries, and the world -- especially those that have been persistently doing this work since the time when mainstream culture thought they were busy burning their bras and hating men.

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Martine K
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