Of all the celebrities who might answer “no” to the question “do you consider yourself a feminist?”, Susan Sarandon seems a pretty unlikely choice. Long known for her activism, Sarandon supports many progressive and human rights-related causes and organizations, from Emily’s List to Occupy Wall Street. And yet, when The Guardian asked her that old chestnut—a clumsy and tiresome question, but which nonetheless speaks to something a lot of people care about—she replied in the negative:
I think of myself as a humanist because I think it’s less alienating to people who think of feminism as being a load of strident bitches and because you want everyone to have equal pay, equal rights, education and healthcare.
It’s a bit of an old-fashioned word. It’s used more in a way to minimise you. My daughter [Eva Amurri, from Sarandon’s relationship with Italian film director Franco Amurri] who is 28, doesn’t even relate to the word “feminist” and she is definitely in control of her decisions and her body.
Translation: Despite believing in the concept of equality, Susan Sarandon doesn’t call herself a feminist because she believes the word has been effectively sullied by its enemies. And guess what? I respect that, albeit a tad begrudgingly.
First, I should point out that she is bundles more coherent on the topic than most celebrities who’ve answered “no” to this question. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and others have all given answers that reveal that they don’t even have a vague idea of what feminism actually is, and that’s just fucking embarrassing. Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, seems to have a firm grasp on its meaning. Her disagreement is primarily semantic.
Does everyone who refuses to adapt the label of “feminist” despite believing in, or having benefitted from, feminist ideals deserve to be roundly mocked? No, they do not. I might disagree with Susan Sarandon’s strategy here, as I think the forces of darkness are always going to find a way to demonize the concept of “fighting for equal rights,” no matter what you decide to call it. But just because she disagrees with me on this particular strategic point does not make her any less valuable an ally in the fight for, well, equal rights. And it certainly doesn’t make her stupid.
As I’ve grown more politically active, I’ll admit I’ve even struggled with this topic myself, because getting bogged down by identity politics can sometimes keep people from seeing the bigger, more universal picture. But even those who run in radical circles are not immune from society’s influence, and history has shown we need a strong feminist presence within our ranks to keep it from reproducing the same shitty hierarchies. A political conference I recently attended, for instance, had a whole bunch of feminist stuff folded into its program, and was better for it. But there was not a specific part of it marked off as “feminist issues,” because women’s issues are human issues, and should be part of the regular agenda.
Has “feminism” become such a big tent that we need to scrap it and start over with something else? Are our ideological enemies winning so hard on the semantic front that we should focus on more important fights? Do I sympathize with strippers and sex workers who don’t want to adopt the same label as say, Andrea Dworkin? These are all questions I’m pretty sure Susan Sarandon thinks about too, and that’s why I’m not ready to condemn her for rejecting a label that I, myself, still find somewhat useful.
(Via The Guardian)