Feminism: You're Doing It Wrong

Listen up, bloggers, reporters, and lady celebrities. We're overdue for a serious talk. All this gum flapping about who is and isn't a feminist has gone on long enough. All of you -- bloggers, reporters and lady celebrities alike -- are making asses of yourselves. For everyone's sake, you have to stop. Consider this a feminIntervention.

Bloggers, get a new topic. Quit speculating about whether certain lady celebrities are feminists, okay? Just stop. You do this about Beyoncé all the time. "Is Beyoncé a feminist or not?" you always wonder. "She's so strong! But what about some of her dance moves and get ups?"

Let me clear something up for you: Beyoncé is an entertainer. There are plenty of things to admire about her -- like her talent, her professionalism, and the way she seems to get along with her family (Solange elevator incident notwithstanding). Then there are things she does that can leave one shaking her head -- like some of her lyrics and more than a few of the outfits she wears when she performs.

But when Beyoncé does something that distracts me from focusing on her real talent (like appearing in a mesh mask), the question that leaps to my mind is "Why did she do that?" not "Is Beyoncé a feminist?"

That's because I understand that the term feminist means "a person who supports feminism," and I further know the term feminism is defined as "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities." In other words, it's a matter of common sense and basic fairness. Just as I assume people believe in evolution unless they tell me with a straight face that they think the world began 6,000 years ago, I assume people agree that men and women should be treated equally unless they say they don't. That's why I'm confident that Beyoncé, a smart woman with a career and a baby girl, is in fact a feminist. (Beyoncé -- if you want to disappoint the hell out of me by telling me otherwise, here's your big chance.)

And remember, bloggers, even among those who self-identify as feminists, there can be differences in interpretation and degree. I am a feminist, but it would be ludicrous for me to compare myself to someone like Gloria Steinem. I'm certain there are differences in both our beliefs as well as the amount of time and energy we have dedicated to the cause. And even among those in Steinem's league there are differences of opinion on what being a feminist means. For example, some believe women sexually objectifying themselves rather than men doing that for them counts as progress, while others believe this simply indicates how far we still have to go.

It's also important to remember that people's attitudes and views often mature over time. Decades ago as a new "lady lawyer" I was reluctant to self-identify as a feminist, fearing that doing so would put people off -- including men upon whom my career depended. And until a few years ago, I used the phrase "[insert verb here] like a girl" without hesitation, thinking it was both funny and fitting. Today, I'm an out and proud feminist and I've seen enough PSA-type videos on Facebook to know better than to use the phrase "like a girl" as anything other than a genuine compliment.

So, rather than going all House Committee on Un-American Activities and labeling everyone, let's give people the benefit of the doubt as well as a little room to figure things out as they go along. Let's not hunt people down and kick them out of the feminist tent; let's roll up all the side flaps so it's easy for people to make their way in.

Reporters, use smaller, less scary words. When I read stories about lady celebrities who claim they are not feminists boy, do I get frustrated -- with the lady celebrities, sure, but even more so with the reporters who asked them the question in the first place. If you're going to ask a dumb question, don't half step it. Go ahead and dumb it down all the way, because tons of lady celebrities apparently have no idea what the word "feminist" means. (Don't judge. They're famous for singing or acting, not thinking. )

I'm not saying lady celebrities aren't entitled to have (and express) their own thoughts -- even deep or controversial ones. I'm just saying they probably came into the interview expecting to field questions about their next album or movie, and then you dropped the "f" word on them, throwing them off completely. It's the same kind of "gotcha journalism" that Katie Couric was guilty of when she asked then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin what newspapers and magazines she read when Palin was expecting questions about flag pins, mama bears, and Alaskan "culture." Rude.

Take Kelly Clarkson, for example. In a recent interview with TIME magazine, she was asked whether she was a feminist. Clarkson replied, "I wouldn't say [I'm a] feminist, that's too strong. I think when people hear feminist it's just like, 'Get out of my way I don't need anyone.'"

In the very next sentence, though, Clarkson acknowledged that that wasn't really what the word "feminism" means: "I don't believe [that's] what the word feminism stands for but that's how people kind of relate to that word." Clarkson next added that she loves that she's "being taken care of" and is glad she has a man that's an "actual leader" -- a reference to her husband.

If all of this weren't so sad, the irony would be amusing. Two of Clarkson's biggest hits have heralded the singer's own strength in the wake of a breakup. Yet in real life the woman who topped the charts with the song "Stronger" and describes her music as "ballsy" is afraid to go on the record as a feminist because she's concerned that the term is "too strong." Oh -- and she also wants to make sure everyone knows her husband wears the pants. (We've now reached the point in this story where my head officially hurts.)

But it's not fair to just pick on Clarkson. From Bjork, to Katy Perry, to Carrie Underwood, there's neither a shortage of lady celebrities who deny being feminists, nor reporters who insist on asking them the question to begin with.

If you want to get a real sense of whether these lady celebrities are feminists, you need to help them out a little. Rather than intimidate them by using a big, scary multisyllabic word, break it down for them by asking if they believe men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. I'm guessing -- no, make that hoping (hell, maybe even praying) -- that these lady celebrities would not be afraid to answer "yes" to that question.

Lady celebrities, don't try to fake it. Famous lady entertainers, if you're in an interview and you're asked a question that involves a word you don't know the meaning of, don't try to bullshit your way through it. Doing so will likely make you look stupid and could even result in your having to double back and do a Taylor Swift. (A "Taylor Swift" is when you try to back pedal from an earlier ill-advised statement that threatens to alienate your entire fan base. The phrase was coined when Swift tried to spin a denial of being a feminist by claiming that her confusion was caused by the lack of glamorous famous women explaining the definition of the term when she was young and impressionable.)

And Taylor, if you're reading this, when you say things like, "I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life," what you are really saying is that as a general rule, you don't think women work as hard as men. Come on, Taylor. You're making my headache worse. You can't expect to continue to be the kid-tested, mother-approved entertainer for tween and teen girls if you keep dishing out sexist statements packaged as "Get it, girl" messages.

Bad-ass lady celebrities, it's time for you to grow a pair (of ovaries). Susan Sarandon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Demi Moore, and Madonna, I am the most disappointed in you. All of you are smart enough to know what the word "feminist" means, established enough to wield considerable power, and savvy enough to be aware of your position. Plus, all of you have daughters of your very own.

Yet each of you has avoided answering the question of whether you're a feminist by countering that you're a humanist instead. To quote the wise words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." A humanist is a person who believes in humanism. And humanism is defined as "a system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems can be solved by using reason instead of religion."

So when you respond to a question about whether you're a feminist by saying that you're more of a humanist, that's like answering the question of whether you believe in marriage equality by replying that you're more of an atheist. The question has to do with equal treatment and equal rights, but your answer has to do with your spiritual beliefs.

You are all smart women, so I can only assume that your cagey answer is an intentional dodge. And that begs the question of why. Can it really be that strong, smart, powerful women at the top of the celebrity food chain still lack to ovaries to go on the record as being in favor of something as uncontroversial as equal treatment and equal opportunities for men and women? I mean, this isn't really a case of speaking truth to power. It's more a case of speaking obvious to no brainer. And if you ladies can't or won't do this, is it really fair to expect the likes of Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson to do so?

Now I have a full-blown migraine -- and I blame all of you. Please don't let my pain be for no gain. I've given you all specific instructions, but it's up to you to follow them. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to self-medicate by scrolling through Confused Cats Against Feminism for a while.