Should we stop asking celebrities about feminism?

I think maybe it’s time to stop asking celebrities if they are feminist or not. If they don’t do feminist work, what’s the point? It’s like asking me about Judaism or the raw food movement — I have no opinion and if you force me to come up with one I’m going to come off as an idiot. Those are not my areas of expertise. Lots of areas are not my areas of expertise.

What’s with so many interviewers asking female musicians or actresses about feminism? Why not just ask a feminist? The vast majority of the time they have no real answer, don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word, and then end up being pushed into controversy because they made some stupid/offensive statement about not being feminist because they “love men” (à la Lady Gaga). If the purpose of these interviews is to convince me that celebrities are just not all that smart, then fine. I believe you. But if not, I don’t know, maybe we need to stop asking them to form opinions on political movements when they really don’t have any.

In an interview published at Spin today, Kelis was asked: “Songs like ‘Milkshake,’ ‘Trick Me,” and ‘Bossy’ made you this empowered female figure to a generation for women. Would you consider yourself a feminist?”

First of all, what?? In what universe was “Milkshake” empowering for a generation of women?

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard/And they’re like/It’s better than yours/Damn right it’s better than yours/I can teach you/But I have to charge.

First of all, that song was annoying as hell. Second, teaching women that their sexuality is a commodity is not empowering.

Kelis reponds to the interviewer by saying:

I’ve always shied away from the word “feminism,” only because I think to truly be feminist I think it’s a word that’s unnecessary. I don’t have to stamp it on my forehead or pass out T-shirts to prove that I’m happy to be a woman, or that I feel like I deserve equal rights.

For my generation and for your generation, I’m not negating the fight that women made before us. It’s the same thing as when you talk about civil rights. Well, are things perfect right now? Hell no. Is there still racism in a lot of the world? Absolutely. But the same fight is the fight of change. I don’t feel the need to walk around with a rifle. It’s just not beneficial; it doesn’t make any sense. And for me, I feel like that puts us as women back. I’m in no way, shape, or form ignoring the fact that these things were astronomical in our world and they were necessary because people were smart, and brave, and powerful. But in this year, right now — yeah, do we get paid less than guys do? Sure. Is it equal? No. Should it be? Absolutely.

I’m not here to dis Kelis. All I’m saying is that it’s clear she doesn’t really get why feminism exists or what it is, so why lob the question her way? In fact, it seems like she’s got a fairly conservative view of the roles men and women should play in this world.

So am I a feminist? I don’t know. Call it what you want. I am extraordinarily happy to be a woman. I would not change it for the world. I think men should run the world because if not there would be no balance. Men cannot have children, they will never know what that feels like. To actually have life — to give birth and life to someone. If we ran the entire world also, we would annihilate. There would be no balance whatsoever. So I’m fine with that. If men want to run the world, great. Congratulations. If that makes you feel equal to those that can actually create life. But I don’t care. There are so many more important things to think about. I feel like people are constantly complaining about injustice. And like I said, it’s different than when we had to fight to vote, okay? But right now, if you want to be a successful woman, are there going to be challenges? Yeah. But so what? It’s possible, it’s possible. You know. Be a woman and make it happen. Just do what you have to do. I feel like all my friends, my sisters, my mom, my aunts and all the people who I value, they’re brilliant. And are they aware of the fact that things might be a little skewed? Yeah. But it doesn’t make them any less awesome or capable. All these titles are just so useless.

A lot of people learn that men and women should have different roles in this world in order to create “balance” and, therefore, end up with this idea that feminism is not only “anti-man” but “anti-woman” because it’s “against” femininity (or masculinity). If you think that masculine and feminine gender roles are not only innate but good, then you’re likely to see critiques of those gender roles as attacking actual males and females, rather than attacking those socialized roles and behaviours, as well as the hierarchy that is attached to said roles. This leads women to say things like “No, I’m not a feminist, I love being a woman,” because they believe their womanhood is attached to a subordinate gender role which they have been told is not only natural, but empowering.

It seems to me that asking celebrities to talk about feminism only contributes to the mass confusion around what feminism actually is (Is it about feeling “empowered?” Is it about hating men? Is it about equality? Is it about being a lesbian? Is it about labels? Is it about being angry all the time?) and causes controversy as people feel disappointed when their idols turn out to be not all that smart or progressive.

Taylor Swift responded to the question “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” by saying “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls.” Bjork took the old I’m more into positivity than negativity route, reinforcing the notion that fighting patriarchy is just about a bunch of angry, whiny women who hate everything (and should just think positive!). Geri Halliwell bought into the idea that “feminism is bra-burning lesbianism” and therefore “very unglamorous,” suggesting a “rebrand” that celebrates “femininity and softness.” Famous burlesque dancer, Dita Von Teese just seems totally and completely confused, saying: “It’s not a word I don’t really like to address, you know? It’s not even that I want to call myself that. I just sort of go, ‘Oooooh!’ It’s an eyeball roller. (laughs) You know what I mean? It’s like, oh man, it’s a weird question. The word “feminist” is so broad.” … Come again?

This list could go on, but you get the picture. The question seems worthwhile if the goal is to educate, but that doesn’t seem to be the point when these stereotypical, anti-feminist, or nonsensical answers are just left hanging out there. Who cares what celebrities think about feminism? They didn’t become pop stars because of their deep commitment to social justice (though if they happen to be both a celebrity and committed to social justice, great). If I want to learn about feminism, I’ll go ask a feminist. Just like if I want to learn about veganism or climate change or physics, I’ll go ask an expert, not some rando on the street and certainly not some twenty-something pop star.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.