With 'Woman of the year' and honorary UN ambassador going to men and cartoons over real women, you have to ask: Who are we trying to impress?
Bono seems to have a particular gift for showing up in places where he's not overly welcome. A few years back it was our iTunes libraries after Apple unceremoniously foisted 'Songs of Innocence' upon the unsuspecting ears of millions of their customers. Now, it's atop a glittering stage at the Glamour awards ceremony, following in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor Caitlyn Jenner, as the magazines ironic choice for 'Woman of the year'.
My personal reaction to this news produced thoughts not terribly dissimilar from some of the wonderful tweets which collected after the choice was announced, my favorite being: "It's so important that our daughters understand they can grow up to be Bono."Of course, we shouldn't only take pot shots at Bono. Even he accepted the ridiculousness of his new title himself, reading tweets like those above aloud in his acceptance speech and laughing to the crowd, "I'm sure I don't deserve this" (before moving on to accept it anyway). In justifying the decision to adorn the male rock star with this accolade, one which will surely just gather dust next to his knighthood, 22 Grammy awards and Time person of the year certificate circa 2005, Glamour editor in chief Cindi Leive stated;
However, it seems that 13 years was just about as much as they could stand before deciding that giving awards to actual women at the actual women of the year ceremony...
"We've talked for years about whether to honor a man at Women of the Year and we've always kind of put the kibosh on it."
And no one wants that, right?
"Might be an outdated way of looking at things."
Glamour isn't the only organization seemingly unable to approach female empowerment without reverting to irony. The new honorary UN ambassador for women is none other than Wonder Woman. Yes, the cartoon. I may be unhappy with Glamour's choice but at least Bono has a beating heart, at least his selfless efforts for humanity generally extend beyond providing inspiration for the formative fantasies of prepubescent teenagers.
What's most worrying to me about these appointments is the question of who organizations such as Glamour are trying to impress and inspire with them? I'm reminded of a passage written by Gillian Flynn in the popular novel Gone girl. In the book, Flynn describes the culturally resonate trope of the "Cool Girl." She writes;
"Men always say that as the defining compliment, don't they? She's a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping. (...) She jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she's hosting the world's biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want."
Sitting around the table at Glamour, was it really other women editors were looking to inspire or excite, or was it men? I don't disagree that feminism is a movement that needs male action more than ever. However, what I think it should crave less far less, is male approval. The hashtag #HeforShe and campaigns such as 'This is what a feminist looks like' were excellent in mobilising positive male action. But to me, its male approval and acceptance that these sort of awards and appointments seem to be catering for which seems a little backwards.
In a similar vein to cool girl, this approach to gender equality is just more likely to produce women who avoid voicing their opinions or engaging in debates out of fear that their actions could lead to the realization of the 'angry, bra burning feminist' stereotypes. In fact, they'll reject the term all together favoring 'humanist' instead, so desperate are they to distance themselves from 'man hating' connotations. Connotations that are perpetuated only in the misappropriation of feminism as anything other than "a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes."
Crucially, to achieve gender equality today we need the support of men, the action of men, the understanding of men. But, we also need to stop being afraid of what people might say if we promote and award powerful women and start being angrier when the opportunity of a woman is lost to a man, regardless of who that man is and regardless of whether it's cool to do so, or not.