A favorite sport of feminist-leaning bloggers and journalists is to write in-depth features debating if public figures are feminists. I’m guilty of playing the Feminist-or-Not game myself, but a new list by The New Inquiry is making me question if these debates are necessary, and if they are in fact ultimately detrimental to the cause. The New Inquiry lists over 50 articles from around the internet that debate the pro-gender equality leanings of musicians, actors, politicians, and even fictional characters. This list includes everyone from Margaret Thatcher to Taylor Swift to God to Cathy. Expending energy determining if someone is a feminist or not seems like a waste of time and resources when there is important, vital work that needs to be done.
What criteria do we use to discern who’s pro-woman and who isn’t? The easiest litmus test might be that if a figure furthers equality and empowers women, then they are a feminist. As we’ve seen recently, whether or not a person identifies as a feminist is largely a semantic issue. As The New Inquiry effectively shows, we (journalists, bloggers, people with access to the internet) spend a good deal of time and energy trying to figure out which public figures pass this test. Why do we do this? Perhaps anyone fighting for a cause based on ideas and philosophy likes to know who’s in their ranks. And we can support individuals who are furthering gender equality, and conversely, know to stay away from people who work against us.
While the idea of supporting those who support your cause is not inherently negative, I wonder how useful it is to pick apart public figures to see if they fit in with us. After reading countless articles debating the feminist tendencies of the likes of Tina Fey, Joss Whedon, Barack Obama, Carrie Bradshaw, and about a thousand more (many featured on The New Inquiry‘s list), I don’t feel enlightened or that figuring this out did anything to help women or increase gender equality. Now that you’ve decided that God is or isn’t a feminist, do you feel empowered?
There is so much work to be done, and spending time picking apart every comment made by a celebrity or fictional character to see if they agree with us frankly seems like a huge waste of time. Instead of expending time and resources debating this, how about journalists and bloggers spend time bringing attention to the very real and very scary women’s issues that affect us all: legislation limiting access to abortion and reproductive healthcare, the lack of sexual education available to our country’s students, vast pay disparity between men and women, and violence against women the world over. Figuring out who’s a feminist and who isn’t might bring us some comfort, but it does little to advance any feminist ideas or fix any of the problems just enumerated. Instead of making lists of who’s with us and against us, let’s shift our focus to these real, timely problems.
Photos: Getty Images and Shutterstock