Last week an unimaginable thing occurred.
Kween of countless hearts, critically-acclaimed actress and all-around great gal Meryl Streep finally revealed the chink in her armour. Her Achilles heel (about the same size as a Cuban heel, no less mortifying) is on display. Streep has been stripped, and her dirty secret has been laid bare for all to see. And it is this:
Streep shits on the dictionary.
Or rather, she plays fast and loose with her definitions of words. She can't be pinned down or labelled. She's a linguistic maverick. Last week, while promoting new film Suffragette, Time Out asked the First Lady of Fabulous the seemingly superfluous question 'u a feminist, bae?'
Seems like a pretty pointless thing to ask a woman who has worked extensively in a sexist industry, who has lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment, and who in the exact same interview says that she is inspired by Malala Yousafzai and her classmates. Time Out probably thought it was a stock question, a time-filler, something to throw out while they re-shuffled their notes and plucked up the courage to ask The Iron Lady if she'd mind taking a look at their screenplay.
But then Streep responded with this curveball:
"I am a humanist. I aim for a nice easy balance."
In the words of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, "Thank you, COME AGAIN?!"
Streep sure is nimble when it comes to dodging the question. Traditional interview wisdom dictates that when answering someone your answer should bear some relevance to the question being posed. Streep noted that wisdom, and filed it under 'optional'.
Let's imagine for one minute that a certain desert-trekking animal has achieved international fame on stage and screen over the past four decades. It's promoting its latest film Mama Do The Hump (a big-budget epic about the Bactrian struggle in Outer Mongolia) alongside a cast of several other high-profile self-identified Camelidae. Naturally, Time Out interviews this creature and asks, just for lolz, or maybe to check the sound levels on the mic: 'u a camel, bae?'
This animal smiles coyly, and bats its two rows of long eyelashes (useful in sandstorms). It crosses and uncrosses its four shapely legs. It takes a thoughtful sip of the vitamin water it doesn't really need, because it can go for a week without hydration, then eventually replies:
"I am a land mammal. I aim for a nice easy balance."
YES OF COURSE YOU'RE THAT TOO. But what about all the little self-hating baby camels reading who are being teased mercilessly about their wide feet and back fat? What about the persecuted camel communities who weren't born lucky enough to be able to aim for a balance, who just hope for survival? What about all the secret bigots who believe that camels are inferior and stereotype them as hairy, humourless loonies who spit and kick? What sort of message are you sending them, by disowning your camel-ness? Why are you treating camel like a dirty word?
Meryl, it's fine if you're not a feminist (I mean obviously it's not, but hey), but there's an etiquette for dealing with the 'feminist question'. If you are one, own it. If not, tell us why and how. How exactly do you reconcile your highly specific actions to increase the agency of women with an unwillingness to ally yourself with the movement that aims to redress gender inequality?
To be fair, humanism does sound warm and cosy. Like a group hug. But like a group hug, it's pretty ineffective at tackling systemic inequality. As a rich person of privilege it may feel good to have a vague, general mantra of let's just be nice to everybody! but most persecution, oppression and prejudice isn't vague, it's highly specific and intersectional.
Remember intersectionality? It's the school of thought that might have made you think twice about the sartorial choice you made at the Time Out photoshoot. "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave" isn't (just) a punchy slogan or a potentially discarded Simon & Garfunkel lyric, it's an already problematic statement which was given a whole new problematic context when you slapped it on your privileged white American body without explanation. If 'slave' wasn't 'just a word' back then... it sure as hell isn't now.
And finally, since you find my girl Malala inspiring - Ms. Yousafzai didn't get shot in the head because the Taliban felt like being vaguely nasty that day. The gunman asked for her by name. She got targeted because she was a woman. And a poor woman. And a Pakistani woman from the Swat valley. And because she was unafraid to speak out.
Woke up and speak out, Meryl. I've always liked you. And I for one can't wait to see you in upcoming humanist film Suffragette portraying top humanist Emmeline Pankhurst. We're all in this together.
P.S. Oi love. Your humps are showing.