Oh, look. It’s time for another “I’m not a feminist” article about a female celebrity. This time, it’s Kelly Clarkson. In a recent interview with Time magazine, Clarkson said, “I wouldn’t say [I’m a] feminist, that’s too strong”. Too strong?? Kelly, your best-selling single is titled “Stronger”. You write songs called “Miss Independent”. Why the hate?
I don’t mean to pick on Clarkson – she isn’t the first celeb to deny the label “feminist,” and she probably won’t be the last (sob!). Every few months there is a slew of articles that follow this pattern; an interviewer asks the celebrity if she is a feminist, and the celebrity responds with something like “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls” or “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the power of women”. As I was working on this blog post, Jezebel posted a handy round-up of celebs’ answers to the question… guess I’m not the only one thinking about this these days!
Journalists ask this question because they know that they will get an answer that people will be interested in. The celebrity’s PR person wants to make sure she gives an answer that makes her look good. Why are we so interested in whether or not female celebrities are feminists? (That’s not a rhetorical question – seriously, if you have any ideas, leave them in the comments!).
It’s not just the fact that celebrities deny being feminists that is dangerous: it’s the WAY that they answer this question that gets me all riled up. Their responses (deliberately or inadvertently) reinforce the negative stereotypes that exist about feminists. So, when a celebrity says that she’s not a feminist because she “loves men,” she’s agreeing with the idea that feminists hate men. When she says that she’s not a feminist because she’s “not angry and militant,” she is promoting the idea that feminists are angry and militant.
Obviously, this also bothers me on a personal level. I did my undergraduate degree in Women’s and Gender Studies, and recently completed a masters degree in Women’s Studies. Quite often, when people find out what I study, I get the wary question “So, are you like, a feminist?” (Once, a guy I was dating looked confused and said “Wait, don’t you have to be a feminist to do that?”. Obviously he didn’t last very long!)
These questions exhaust me. Partly because every time someone asks it, I feel like I’m single-handedly put up against the whole of the negative cultural conversation about feminism. I used to respond sarcastically – *eyeroll* “Yes, I shave my legs; no, I don’t hate men” – but then realized that my sarcasm wasn’t really making any kind of point. These days I smile, say “yes,” and wait to hear what they have to say.
A large part of my frustration in these situations comes from the fact that in order to fully answer their questions and make sure they’re clear on what “feminist” means, I’d have to brew a pot of coffee and clear my schedule, because it’s not a conversation I can have in five light-hearted minutes. I’m frustrated that I haven’t figured out a way to condense a Feminism 101 lecture into a friendly conversation. And I’m frustrated that I still have to. I have to wonder if sometimes the female celebrities who are being asked these questions feel the same frustration. Maybe it’s easier to say something like “I’m not a feminist, but…” and move on to the next question.
So I will leave you with a quote from Zooey Deschanel: