It seems like every day another female celebrity comes out of the woodwork to declare that she’s not a feminist but she definitely believes in all the basic concepts of feminism. The latest perpetrator is Kelly Clarkson, but other offenders have included Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. It usually takes the same basic format: “I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but… [insert feminist belief here].” It happens way too often, and every time it bugs me. It bugs me because it’s a result of ignorance.
Thankfully there are people in Hollywood who understand what feminism is and want to explore why in our society there is a stigma placed on that word and all its correct and incorrect connotations. One of those people is writer-director Joss Whedon, who gave a speech at Equality Now’s “Make Equality Reality” event earlier this week. He begins his speech by saying “I hate feminist” and then clarifies, “I didn’t say I hate feminists. That would be weird. I said I hate feminist. I’m talking about the word.” What ensues is an incredibly fascinating argument about the very word “feminist” and what it implies. He explains that being a writer is partly about creating universes, but it’s “also about living in the very smallest part of every word.”
His speech is quite long, and I highly encourage you to watch it yourself, because it’s very interesting and funny, but here’s part of his argument.
“You can’t be born an ‘ist.’ … ‘Feminist’ includes the idea that believing men and women to be equal, believing all people to be people, is not a natural state. That we don’t emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human. That the idea of equality is just an idea that is imposed on us.”
He suggests we use a new word to classify people who are not feminist as “genderist,” similar to “racist,” to establish whether “you either believe that women are people or you don’t.” He calls out Katy Perry in particular for her “I’m not a feminist” comment, and he comes to the conclusion that introducing the word “genderist” would lead Katy and other celebrities to change their word choice: “Katy Perry won’t say, ‘I’m not a feminist but I like strong women,’ she’ll say, ‘I’m not a genderist but sometimes I like to dress up pretty.’ And that’ll be fine.”
Joss Whedon has spoken out about the role of women in entertainment before, and I really admire him for it. I think the fact that this speech was given by a man is also significant. We complain all the time about how women misconstrue or fail to support feminist ideas, but it’s also important that men join in on the conversation. Feminism isn’t about separating the genders. It doesn’t mean that women are in competition with men, and it also doesn’t mean women are banned from criticizing other women. It just means that men and women were created equal and should be treated as such in the eyes of the law and society. That’s a belief both men and women can ascribe to and express without shame.