Imagine there exists a label for people who are against racism. For argument's sake let's say the label is "NoRacist". It is an eight-letter phrase weighted with hope, promise and a desire for change. But, also, one that only exists because all is not right with the world. You cannot be a "NoRacist" without acknowledging that you are part of a social, economic and political movement for change. You cannot be a "NoRacist" without grasping the gravity of what has gone before. You cannot be a "NoRacist" without understanding that unarmed black men killed by white police officers in the USA - repeatedly - is frighteningly problematic. You cannot be a "NoRacist" without grasping the injustice of your Asian best-friend being spat at and called a terrorist for no other reason than skin colour.
Imagine now that a high-profile figure decides to announce that they're not a "NoRacist". They'd prefer to use a different label. Their label of choice promotes freedom, equality and tolerance. It's just not "NoRacist". It takes the very building blocks of the doctrine, but, for whatever reason, that eight-letter phrase isn't going to work for this particular person. They're against racism, but prefer not to be known as a "NoRacist".
Sarah Jessica Parker is the latest star to renounce the label 'feminist'. She prefers to be called a 'humanist' because she doesn't think it's just about women anymore. *Confused pause*. When has it ever been just about women? Giving strength to one struggle doesn't mean you are against every other. The actress told Cosmopolitan magazine,
I see a lot of people trying to sort out their roles ... People of color, gays, lesbians, and transgenders who are carving out this space ... We would be so enormously powerful if it were a humanist movement.
How exactly would that work? Like one gooey, splodge of porridge we all muck in and protest about the gender pay gap in Hollywood, LGBT rights in the work-place, institutional racism in the police force, bias against short men in the work-place, child miners in the Phillipines? Do we ignore the complexities of each issue and just charge forth shouting "Equality!"? Is that how we solve these deep-rooted problems? SJP is one of many women in the public eye who say 'feminist' is too strong a word to apply to them. I'm all for different brands of feminism. I understand that we must not angrily alienate women who say they're not really into it. But, "I'm all for women's rights, but I'm not a feminist" isn't a brand, it's just nonsensical.
Realistically, I think eschewal of the F word is all about perception. Today's zeitgeist is yesteryear's bullied new girl at school. The great strides forward made by first and second wave feminists also brought along an image of demonic women. Man-hating monsters wanting to exterminate men with the razors they refuse to use to shave their body-hair. Perhaps people are uncomfortable with the manner in which this stereotype might destabilise ones femininity in the eyes of others. But, if the concept of femininity has been moulded by the so-called 'male-gaze' then we have a situation in which women are rejecting the feminist label because of what men think. It's frying my brain.
Today, feminism has assumed a Topshop-esque garb; it has been enveloped into the pop-cult fold. To liken it to a high-street fashion outlet is not to belittle it. This is exactly what is needed. Beyonce's last album featured a track that took an extract from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's essay We Should All Be Feminists. Emma Watson, the little girl we saw grow up on the silver-screen, is now the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and she speaks up for gender equality whenever possible. Lena Dunham, the super-clever and sassy creator of HBO's Girls, somehow also finds time to support women's birth control rights in the US. In the last few days she announced her fledgling newsletter project, "Feminism, style, health, politics: we will strive to bring it all to your inbox..." she told her 1.9 million fans on Instagram. Hopefully, this modern fem narrative will echo in the minds of school-age girls and boys. Particularly, those girls embarking on their chosen career paths. Their path is "always-already" much harder, less equal. I use French philosopher Louis Althusser's "always-already" concept here because it perfectly illustrates the fact that women are on a back-foot as a result of social conditioning. In a nut-shell, he argues that all human beings, even before birth, are "always-already" subjects. Life's social structures are ready and waiting. He also says true autonomy is an illusion. I prefer to be a little less gloomy. If we put the leg work in now, in one hundred years feminism may be a concept looked upon with curiosity and incomprehension. It might be studied with an element of disbelief and pity, with incredulous students shaking their heads as they ask questions such as Did women really get paid less than men for no reason? So, hang on, women were raped and then they got blamed for being raped? Wait... women weren't allowed to be part of golf clubs?
This is why we need feminism. Specifically, feminism.
Is there really a need for people with great popular influence to mindlessly disassociate themselves from a cause? These women are to be respected for their achievements; but something about their decision to declare "I'm not a feminist" just doesn't feel right. It smacks of hypocrisy, a lack of understanding and fear.
P.S. In the last few months I have been on an anti-racism rally, marched with the LGBT community at Pride, given a talk at a school for underprivileged kids, cooked dinner for my boyfriend, worn heels, pouted in the mirror because I like my new lipstick and had my legs waxed. I am also a feminist ... by the way.