feminist: i know you are, but what am i?
A glossy lifestyle mag interviews a swish “It” girl. She’s at the top of her field. She’s worked hard to get there, and has plenty of tips for goal setting, confidence and “keeping calm, carrying on”. The journalist fawns over this success, and asks if maybe the equal rights movement had anything to do with it.
‘Do you consider yourself a feminist?’ the journo asks.
‘Oh, no,’ replies the prodigy. She pauses. ‘I mean, I feel like men and women are equal and stuff, but I don’t see myself as one of those!’
The above might be exaggerated, but conversations like this are being played out in online news and newspaper supplements across the nation. The “Not a Feminist!” headline is click bait for many an otherwise run-of-the-mill profile piece.
It’s problematic to make it compulsory for public figures to identify with any “ism”, so it’s probably best not to condemn these pieces outright.
That said, the anxiety held by stars about the F word does indicate a disconnection between the opportunities women have today and how these were achieved. If you are a female CEO or an entrepreneur, how can you not identify with the movement that secured everything from your vote to opportunities for work and the expectation you’d participate in it?
How could naming yourself a feminist be damaging to your brand?
This was the question thrown the way Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. The internet didn’t hold back in sensationalising her assertion that the feminist movement didn’t apply to her. This was despite her ascension to one of the most powerful jobs in the world, a step up the career ladder that she’d achieved while being pregnant.
Mayer’s reaction to the request for feminist pride featured an interesting barb: her refusal to associate with the idea because of the ‘militant drive, and the sort of, chip on the shoulder that comes with that’.
The idea of feminism as militant isn’t new, nor is it particularly original. So why would a wealthy professional woman refuse to redefine it in softer terms? When you’re on the pedestal and have the power, surely you can define the movement however you like?
There seem to be a couple of schools of thought on this one.
The reaction to Mayer’s comments has seen anti-feminists galvanised and social commentators flummoxed. Regardless of one’s stance on the movement, the idea that Mayer could be so groundbreaking on one level and so conservative on another seems to be a big deal to the zeitgeist.
Add to this the reality that she’s but one in a string of women successful in male dominated fields who shy away from feminism, citing a concern about “labels”. Jackie O, Lady Gaga and actress Melissa Leo have all provided sound bites that refuse identification with the equal rights movement.
It’s been posited in the press that these ladies are simply uninformed and ungrateful – that they don’t get why feminist movements were and are important, and that they don’t really care how they gained their own success, as long as it continues. Perhaps there’s some truth to the lack of understanding, but it seems a large leap to assume that all successful women are fundamentally selfish.
Then there’s this notion: that feminism is still bad for your brand. If Marissa Mayer was to rebut the militant nature of the movement and fly a flag of solidarity, would this have overshadowed her achievements? Would the assertion influence how people responded to her decisions in business? Even if she explained that she supported equality and discussion rather than militancy and protests? In short, would the feminist label be used against her in the press and business worlds?
It’s hard to tell. The interesting thing about famous women who talk about feminism is that they don’t condemn what it has brought them. It could be categorised more as coyness towards the question than an outright dash away from it. But the ladies are cautious to put their names to the cause.
Perhaps their managers are afraid of how women are pigeonholed once they endorse to F word. The question is, should they just take that risk and do it anyway?
What do you think when you hear women you respect say that feminism doesn’t apply to their lives?(Image credit)