The problem with celebrity feminists

Today, more and more celebrities like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Emma Watson are choosing to embrace feminism. From what I’ve observed, celebrity feminism is the cool new way of presenting gender equality to the masses; the colorful highlight of mainstream feminism. More and more fans are inspired. Young teenagers look up to these celebrities with stars in their eyes. And this isn’t surprising.

Now, as I said in my last post, this does have good things. Even if these guys are just trying to get attention, there will be people who do take their words seriously. Totally. Take me, for example. As a really big Potterhead, I absolutely did take Emma Watson’s speech seriously and yes, I thought she was the awesome new goddess-like figure of feminism, who really wanted to make a difference. So do many other Potterheads. As a kinda-new Sherlockian (both book and show), I was thrilled when I found out Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey were feminists. Practically all of the Sherlock fandom became feminists when those guys became feminists. More people are now aware that while society has taken great steps to achieving gender equality, work is not yet done.

But wait a minute! I thought at one point. Why is feminism now more on the focus of celebrities? I noticed that feminist ideas, which people have been saying for a long time, are regurgitated by celebrities and then suddenly they’re pioneering in the sense that they start a typhoon of hashtag feminist selfies on social media. #HeForShe #feminist #thisiswhatafeministlookslike #genderequality

When Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are crammed with feminist selfies, this creates an illusion that what the celebrities are doing is groundbreaking, when it’s usually not. The ideas the celebrities are promoting just has a glittery stamp, which calls tons of attention. In reality, while these celebrities may mean well, the ideas they’re promoting don’t call for real change–most of what they say is: feminism is not a man-hating movement, it just means that people should have equal rights; feminism is for everyone and thus should be made more accessible; you should totally buy these stylish shirts that say “This is what a feminist looks like”.

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These alone are not going to do much. We need everyone’s help to make positive feminist changes in the world, but we’ve got to transcend empty statements, merchandise, and selfies. Which leads me to another problem with celebrity feminists. Most of them haven’t really gotten around to analyzing feminism and feminist theory. Celebrities also may not have good leadership and political training. These skills are what the feminist movement really needs and should require in a feminist figure–it should not praise feminists just because they’re glamorous celebrities who believe in gender equality. Even if these celebrity feminists do mean well, they are inadvertently taking the spotlight from these feminist activists who know their arguments well and have worked so dang hard to get their comprehensive research and issues up there–only to be ignored by the masses in favor of the people who belong to the glitzy (often white) bourgeoisie. And when teenagers start looking up to these celebrity feminists, there is a tendency to hail the celebrities as the definite, leading authority on feminism. So what happens is, we have a bunch of young people who proudly label themselves as feminists but have a very narrow version of feminism because they’ve gotten it from the celebrities only, and the young people therefore do not know their arguments on gender equality very well.

Like HeForShe, celebrities are a good start to feminism, but they aren’t where we should end. Feminism that is endorsed by celebrities is now more of a stylish, trendy fad that largely ignores the power relations between the sexes, ethnic races, and classes; it does not usually call for real change. Working for real change is something hard and messy to do, which won’t be achieved by selfies and hashtags. Power to the activists.

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4 thoughts on “The problem with celebrity feminists

  1. It is that way with all movements, political ideas, etc. For whatever reason our society thinks that celebrities are experts. But the good they do is draw people’s attention to the situations. I think of George Clooney and Darfur. There was a huge humanitarian crisis that everyone was ignoring, so he used his celebrity status to draw attention to it. With Taylor Swift, Emma Watson and such and feminism, well, maybe only a handful of the people they attract will look deeper and see the the issues and try to understand, but without them, these people might not have bothered. And the masses that just see the messages that can be printed on a t-shirt? Perhaps they will start seeing the inequalities, injustices and double standards and start making changes. Changes on who they vote for, on where they spend their money, etc.. People are shallow, but a large group of shallow people may be able to make a real difference. When minds change, even by shallow methods, the world change.

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