Feminism is not a competition

A day or two after I posted about celebs who do the “I’m not a feminist, but…” thing, I saw an article that provided a counter-example: a list of quotes about music, lyrics, and artists from New Zealand singer Lorde. The first one starts with “I’m a feminist.”

Woohoo! Maybe there’s hope!

Lorde goes on to criticize a Selena Gomez song, saying that she’s “sick of women being portrayed” as being passive and always waiting for a man. Gomez, a former Disney child star, hit back at Lorde’s comment, saying “That’s not feminism. [Lorde is] not supporting other women.”

So who’s right? Who’s feminist? Who’s not?

As Lily Allen points out in a recent video lambasting sexism in the music business, it’s “hard out here” for a pop star.  In a business where young, talented, beautiful women are a dime a dozen, it can be difficult to carve out a niche for one’s self. I have no doubt that Lorde believes passionately in creating music that doesn’t rely on the usual formula of “girl wants boy”, and I agree with her that certain female pop songs are “so unhealthy for young girls to be listening to, you know: ‘I’m nothing without you.’” While it’s frustrating that it seems easier for Lorde to take aim at an individual than it is to address industry-wide issues, it would be risky for a young artist to openly criticize the industry that has the power to make or break her.

Side note: I wonder about the context of these quotes, and what questions Lorde was asked to give them. Keep in mind, there’s nothing the media loves more than a feud between women, as discussed in this awesome Facebook post by Jessica Chastain. (More evidence: a post titled “Jennifer Lawrence blasts oversexed behavior from stars like Miley Cyrus,” features careful statements by Lawrence about the film industry in which she never mentions Cyrus by name, and statements like “to each their own” – hardly a “blast”. Also, an article titled “Lily Allen releases new single mocking Miley Cyrus” doesn’t actually mention Cyrus, nor does it cite any part of the single that specifically “mocks” Miley. However, because celebrity media loves girl-on-girl hate, these misleading headlines are put in place).

Recently, other self-identified feminists in the pop music world have tried to address the issue of sexism as an industry-wide problem, often focusing on the way that women are portrayed as sexual objects. Charlotte Church “addressed the issue of women and their representation in music and the media, she berated the ‘demeaning,’ ‘hyper-sexualised’ images of women produced by these industries.” While the quote that was pulled for the headline – “women who say they are not feminist annoy me” – obviously tries to position women against each other, Church’s overall message, which criticized women’s magazines and women’s roles in the UK media industry, was that the culture needs to change.

Sinead O’Connor, in her widely publicized open letter to Miley Cyrus, also took aim at the music industry, cautioning Cyrus that “The music business doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of us.” O’Connor’s letter received a lot of criticism for coming across as condescending, and for assuming that Cyrus has no say in her image or her actions. Earlier this week, Miley addressed some of the criticisms of her performances by identifying herself as “one of the biggest feminists in the world,” justifying this claim by pointing out that “I tell women to not be scared of anything”. She pointed out that her stage persona is part of an act, indicating that she might not be as passive in creating her image as O’Connor implied. While Cyrus’ definition of what is feminist is drastically over-simplified, the fact that she uses the word unapologetically is worth noting.

It’s obviously fantastic that some women in the public eye are proudly identifying as feminists and are addressing some of the structural issues within their respective industries. Every time they do so, they help to both change the public perception of what a feminist is and to remind people why feminism is necessary. However, it’s counterproductive when declarations of feminism turn into “more feminist than thou” standoffs like the ones above. Feminism is not a competition. Let’s take these opportunities to discuss the issues, not to immediately dismiss other women as less feminist.

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