The Blog

When Did Feminism Become Weird?

I find Gwyneth Paltrow'swebsite a bit weird or Donny Osmond's wig on last weeks, but feminism itself? If indeed there is something unnatural or unearthly about this so-called 'crossroads' we hashtag-feminists are tweeting at, is it right to finger-blame an entire movement? I'm not sure that it is, really.

Last week Time magazine ran an article entitled It's Not Just You. Feminism Does Seem To Be Getting Weirder. In it, the piece asked how we can push things forward despite pop-culture spinning feminism round faster than a fairground waltzer in reverse.

'On one hand, an increasingly diverse chorus of academic, pop culture, and male voices is claiming the F-word label', it began. 'On the other, it can sometimes look like this diverse set of voices - each with its own set of demands and priorities - will doom the movement through internecine warfare over everything from abortion to hashtag activism.'

The headline itself made me feel weird, much like the celebrity feminism we're calling out these days, but for different reasons.

I find Gwyneth Paltrow's goop website a bit weird or Donny Osmond's wig on last weeks Strictly Come Dancing, but feminism itself? If indeed there is something unnatural or unearthly about this so-called 'crossroads' we hashtag-feminists are tweeting at, is it right to finger-blame an entire movement? I'm not sure that it is, really.

Headlines are, in fact, part of the problem between feminism and the media these days: the personification of feminist theory is a baffling development that increasingly makes feminism accountable for the individual feminist's own interpretation: at least it does to sell columns.

There is an increasing trend in sensationalising feminism like it's Kanye West shooting his mouth off at the MTV Video Music Awards. So many articles these days seems to slap on a headline that rolls an eye and groans "Oh god, what's feminism done this time?" like it's Shia LaBeouf on the rampage again. It's not just Time magazine: feminism finger-pointing headlines are everywhere. My 'feminism' Google-alert this morning emailed me Feminism can make women feel inferior. If you want to talk about weird, what's weirder than the concept that feminism is a flawed individual who's intimidating the very people it's committed to liberate?

At the heart of this Time magazine article, feminism's crisis lies at the crossroads between ill-informed celebrity comment and well-earned academic chorus. Its point of contention is where gender, race and sexuality overlap yet its main query - like many feminists - is the authenticity of celebrity involvement. How educated can an A-list Hollywood actress' opinion really be compared to an academic professor? According to its own headline, feminism itself is in a crisis-of-sorts. Yet the piece goes on to affirm these crossroads stating: 'Being at a crossroad doesn't mean that feminists should be paralysed by fear of making a bad choice or going in a "wrong" direction.'

Yet women are becoming becoming fearful of making a wrong move: and it does involve Hollywood and the perils of editorialising complex feminist debate into simplistic pull quotes. The very article that questions celebrity involvement is sandwiched between a gallery entitled: HERE'S WHAT 18 FAMOUS WOMEN THINK ABOUT FEMINISM. (Their capitals). I found myself swiping through a myriad of conflicting soundbites photoshopped on red carpet mugshots like I was picking a date on Tinder. When did the media make feminism into a scene from Gladiator? And if I'm Joaquin Phoenix giving a thumbs up/thumbs down, that must make non-feminist Lana Del Rey my Russell Crowe. Now that's weird.

Google the term 'feminism' yourself, I urge you, and you'll see just how celebrity-baiting the media has become: Kristen Stewart Is The Latest Celebrity To Talk Feminism!, Emma Watson's Feminism: Is It Enough?, The Perils of Glitzy Feminism Having a Moment...the list goes on. The danger feminism faces isn't it's own reflection, it isn't ours either, it's the projections we place upon feminism that warps the image.

When it comes to celebrity and feminism, everyone has an opinion. Time magazine rightly quotes Salamishah Tillet, a cultural critic and professor at the University of Pennsylvania: "Because of their celebrity status, women like [Sheryl] Sandberg and Beyoncé are forced to become "icons" at the stage when other women are still figuring out their own feminist identities." Roxane Gay, feminist author of Bad Feminist, expanded on this in a recent article for the Guardian when she argued: 'There's nothing wrong with famous women (or men) claiming the cause. But the fame-inist brand ambassadors are a gateway to feminism, not the movement itself.'

Those last two quotes sprung to my mind when reading about the latest 'Fame-inist' Kristen Stewart: a seemingly right-on nod to feminism was quickly followed by a warning to "overly-aggressive" activists who are scaring people off gender-equality altogether:

I think it's a response to overly-aggressive types," Stewart said. "There are a lot of women who feel persecuted and go on about it, and I sometimes am like, 'Honestly, just relax, because now you're going in the other direction.' Sometimes, the loudest voice in the room isn't necessarily the one you should listen to. By our nature alone, think about what you're saying and say it - but don't scream in people's faces, because then you're discrediting us."

Herein lies the crux of a problem that now seems so permanently etched into modern feminist discourse: the unachievable and damaging assumption that there is a right and wrong way to embody feminism. The reason Kristen Stewart's interview caught my eye is that it shows it's not just magazine editors who are scaring people off feminism by establishing rules that shouldn't exist: now even celebrities are giving it a go. Shout too loud and you're discrediting the cause, stay too quiet and you don't care enough. Misquote its meaning? You're a gif on Buzzfeed within the hour.

Whizzing past all the gifs, galleries, hashtags and headlines, some of us feminists may be in a bit of a spin on that fairground waltzer, there's no denying that. I certainly scratched my head more than I'd like to last week. Like all fairground rides, however, the cars eventually stop spinning. What we need to keep our eyes on is the steady ground beyond our own individualism for when they do: because there's a greater cause at stake here and sometimes we forget feminism is a movement, not a person. The only shared truth about 'us' and 'it' is we're both in a state of flux: that's how we push things forward. Feminism has, and always will be, a collective movement fuelled by its intersectional ideology: we may not always agree but you know what? I like to think feminism is strong enough to support us all when we step off that waltzer, whatever stage in our own personal development we're at. Despite our fears that it won't. For me, Roxane Gay... and even Lana Del Rey...