Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

Don’t you ever say I just walked away… Celebrity endorsements of the feminist brand

As a young conservative, I’m not sure that anybody cares — or should care, for that matter — about my views on feminism.  Back in 2011, I wrote that men can’t be feminists:

There’s no way for a guy to not think like a guy.  We’ve been socialised to do it.  Feminism requires non-guy thinking.  It’s the external critique to show us that the things we think are ‘normal’ or ‘obvious’ or ‘default rational’ aren’t.  That critique, that discourse, can’t happen if we’re on both sides of the fence. […]  Guys can’t be feminists.  Not really, at least, because merely by interacting with the world, we’re taking advantage of all the privileges we don’t need to acknowledge.  We won’t understand what it’s like to be women and, frankly, the guys who describe themselves as feminists are sort of pretending that they do.

The word ‘feminist’ occupies a strange space in (male) popular language, along with ‘communist’ and ‘socialist’.  It’s a pejorative.  Feminists are those transgressive individuals who don’t really fit into (male) society and are a nuisance and you need to be careful what you say around them or you’ll get sued.

This framing of feminism seems to be the pervasive assumption behind M&C Saatchi’s ‘The Modern (Aussie) Man White Paper‘ released this week as part of the Peter Dutton-endorsed ‘International Men’s Day’.

Stepping around the feminist minefield that stops academics, politicians and everyday men from saying what they really think, this research says what every man is thinking. Through their words and perceptions.

It is unsurprising that many people do not feel comfortable self-identifying as feminist.  If the goal in life is to be social, happy, and loved by a guy, what incentive is there to make people suspect that you’re disruptive and threatening to men?

The question of women publicly disavowing feminism has predominately played out in celebrity culture.  In December 2012, Katy Perry was — for some reason — awarded a ‘Woman of the Year’ award by somebody who was handing out a ‘Woman of the Year’ award.  Her acceptance speech included the much criticised comment:

I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women. I don’t really like to call myself a role model for my fans. I hope that I am an inspiration for them, especially young women. My mantra, especially for the [‘Part Of Me’] film, was: If you believe in yourself, you can be anything.

Does not identify as a feminist
Does not identify as a feminist

I find Katy Perry far more interesting an artist than Lady Gaga.  There’s something authentic and honest about how entirely fake Perry is: it would be stupid not to think that it’s a persona.  I’d not be surprised if, one day, she decides that she’s had enough of being Katy Perry, strips off the hair, makeup, and latex clothing and slinks away into anonymity.  Lady Gaga, on the other hand, is nothing but convenience store depth and fast food philosophy, profiteering off minority mantras and slogans by feeding back to her consumers that which they themselves have generated authentically.  Singing ‘Oooh, aaah, [here is the slogan that you created which I’ve lifted for my song],’ is modern pop music at its most cynical.

Meanwhile, Taylor Swift gave an interview in which she vaguely denied being a feminist:

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.

Does not identify as a feminist
Does not identify as a feminist

There was considerable criticism of both artists, captured nicely by Jezebel.

While the ignorance and ridiculousness of Perry’s comments — especially in the context of accepting the Woman of the Year award — is enough to set the teeth of any feminist on edge, can we really be surprised? […] This is a woman who had a special bra created so that she could spray whipped cream from her tits. If she’s who you’re looking towards as a representative of feminism (or as someone who can even understand the basic concept of feminism), then you’re bound to be disappointed.

As for Taylor Swift:

Yes, what you’re describing is equality, and equality is what feminism is all about! Except we live in a country where, when you work as hard as guys, you make less money if you’re a woman, or worse, a woman of color. It’s like she doesn’t understand what a feminist is. Is this what happens when you’re homeschooled after the age of 15?

Both instances were underpinned by a common assertion: ‘If you believe in equality, you’re a feminist.’

The problem is that it assumes that ‘equality’ is an easy-to-grasp concept.  Men’s Rights Activists would argue that, if you believe in equality, you believe in Men’s Rights.  Although both parties are using the word ‘equality’, they are using it in a substantially different way.  What is equal to one is unequal to the other, and both would argue that their definition of the word is the correct one.  (For the record, the MRA definition is the incorrect one)

There is a troubling tendency to divorce the word ‘feminism’ from the theoretical aspects.  These parts are considered ‘hard’ and ‘hard’ means ‘unpopular’ in our Lady Gaga-enjoying society.  We want political philosophy to be easy, preferably chanted at us by an attention-seeking pop music icon.

In a sense, this view of feminism is not so distant from the view of feminism first mentioned at the top of the article.  It’s not about the ideas or the content, it’s just about the label.

This is reinforced by the idea that we should enthusiastically applaud every person who identifies as feminist.

Miley Cyrus recently said, “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women to not be scared of anything. Girls are all beautiful.”

On one hand, how freaking cool is it that two young influential stars and one Courtney Stodden admit to being feminists. In a world where my nemesis Taylor Swift won’t, that’s a big deal.

Identifies as the world's biggest feminist.
Identifies as the world’s biggest feminist

One of the repeated messages of the celebrity women who identify as feminists is that girls should be allowed to do what they want, but there’s no recognition that what they ‘want’ is socially conditioned.  It’s this vapid, narcissistic, and — most importantly — extremely profitable version of feminism which seems to dominate celebrity culture.  Feminism is less ‘Understand the pervasive ways in which men have colonised your bodies and infected the way you desire’ and more ‘You should do what you want, and buy what you want, and consume what you want.’  The same people who profit from exploiting young people are the same people who are conditioning the word ‘feminism’.

We are becoming less aware of how our desires and intuitions are developed, preferring instead to afford them some mystical status as a pre-linguistic, natural reality.  ‘Get in touch with your real self,’ say the adverts, selling pampering products.  ‘Your real self wants to be pampered by our products.’  There is less recognition of the self which is self-interpreted and constructed, and a growing sense of entitlement over the reality of one’s wants and desires.  ‘I was not taught the coordinates of desire by culture; I was born this way.’

You should be a feminist so you can buy the feminist boots and the feminist music and get the feminist haircut and eat the feminist tofu while reading the feminist magazines which are filled with glossy pictures of your feminist idols, like Miley Cyrus.  Feminism™.

If a celebrity says that they’re not a feminist, then you should boo them and tell them how wrong they are.  Better yet, share and retweet these articles by authoritative grumpy women about how important it is to identify as Team Feminist (and why not click on some of our sponsors’ adverts while you’re there?).  Stamp your feet and shake your fist and then buy a bottle of the latest feminist perfume released by the fully authorised and licenced feminist franchise.

Feeling left out, guys?  Fear not!  Now you too can identify as a feminist!  It’s a great way to meet banging-hot chicks. It’s preferable to add the prefix ‘male-‘ or ‘he-‘ to your feMenism.  We can’t have you identifying with something feminine, can we?  You can order your feminist street cred in two different colours: ‘Army Green’ and ‘I’ve Got A Penis Blue’.  Show how liberal and progressive you are by insisting that people refer to you with gender-neutral pronouns while you tell people to kill themselves.  Nod sagely at everything a feminist woman says and then explain to her patiently why she’s purchasing the wrong music: Feminist™ isn’t a fully authorised and licenced franchise of Feminism™.  After you’ve explained why your feminist friend isn’t really getting into the feminist consumer spirit, go back to earning more than women doing the same job.  It’s not your fault that you earn more, after all.  It’s just the system and nobody can do anything about the system.  If anybody tried to do anything about the system, it would probably result in inequality for guys and that wouldn’t be very feminist at all.

Welcome to the feminist brand.

As an aside, I highly recommend this excellent piece by Eleanor Robertson on Joss Whedon’s comments about feminism.

7 responses to “Don’t you ever say I just walked away… Celebrity endorsements of the feminist brand”

  1. I’m totally with you about the inherent problems in expressing feminism through capitalist participation. It can be hard not to get sucked in sometimes though – I recently found myself about to share a commercial for children’s toy that seemed somewhat empowering for girls before realizing that I would still just be promoting a product. I enjoyed the Eleanor Robertson piece you linked to. I hadn’t seen it before and was also extremely disturbed by Joss Whedon’s speech and the reaction in the “feminist” blogosphere (I wrote my own response when it happened and it’s always nice to see that others had similar concerns). It’s irritating to see feminism reduced to something so vague it hardly means anything, all for the sake of making it a more marketable commodity.

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