by Sophia Obrecht
Today, whether you like her music or not there is no denying that Taylor Swift is a strong, intelligent individual and a proud feminist. Evident in songs like “The Man” or her documentary on Netflix, she sets out to make it clear where she stands of female equality.
Now, I’m not drawing on Taylor Swift as a front runner in the fight for equality, heaven knows there are many lesser known activists working just as hard, I do so because if we flash back to 2012 Taylor had a distinctly different public opinion on the feminist movement.
When asked if she was a feminist by The Daily Beast, she reacted: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I was… brought up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”
But she wasn’t the only high profile celebrity to see feminism as unnecessarily antagonistic or divisive, Lady Gaga basically equated feminism to man hating when she said “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture — beer, bars, and muscle cars.”
In an age which some have defined as the “I am not a feminist” era countless other women in the public eye denounced feminism for a milder, more digestible, and less threatening form of equality, and in doing so undermined the true meaning of the movement and themselves in the process. But I’m not here to judge, who could blame them, they were trying to fit and grow a successful music career in a world that hated feminists and women with a voice.
Conforming to the male gaze
As a 15 year old girl still figuring out what I thought and who I wanted to be this shaped my perception of what it meant to be feminist and what it meant to define yourself and your opinions in relation to those around. Instead of really understanding what feminism meant, aka the equality of men and women and the increased agency and freedom of women and by proxy men, I came to tone down my ideas of equality and injustice in order to appease those around me.
In my defence, I was a shy teenage girl (though nonetheless ambitious) tied down by what the world thought of me and with a need to fit in that defines the teenage years. While I was never that desperate to hang out with those at the top of the high school social ladder, I did look for peer approval.
Whether in front of a bunch of Neanderthal secondary school boys who worshipped the girls that could run “almost” as fast as them, or in front of my female peers, I didn’t want to come off as too difficult or as a buzzkill. I laughed along with the sexist remarks with a nauseous feeling in my stomach, joined in with the ridiculous slut shaming of girls at my school, and when asked if I was a feminist, replied politely “not really, it’s too strong of a word, but I believe in equality” aware that I should not rock the boat and instead stay cool… “boys don’t like feminists”.
Be the cool girl
First the tomboy and then the cool girl trope appeared as the eras substitutes for empowerment, encouraging women to behave like men in the absence of true equality. After all being too feminine or a girly girl meant being superficial, dumb or the designated “bitch” (see every teen movie made between 1995-2015). Of course caring too much about gender equality, school or anything (apart from getting the guy) made you undesirable, pushy and probably gay (casual homophobia was also a big issue of the 2000-2010s). No, the middle ground and the best way to fit in with the guys was to be the cool girl, (think Jennifer Lawrence, or Mila Kunis in most of her movies), cool girls were easy going, probably good at sport, beautiful in a natural way and just had something about them…
That something was passivity! Cool girls were not feminists, they didn’t challenge the status quo, they certainly were not threatening and they distained of other women and female friendships.
Though a stepping-stone to defining women as something other than an object of male desire and more of an equal partner and mind, the cool girl or tomboy trope still defined positive aspects of character such as bravery, sporting success or uniqueness as male characteristics. Feminism never came into the question because these girls were already “equal” but were more importantly also attractive to men…what BS.
Let’s cut the crap
So what changed? Well society in part. Movements like #Metoo, body positivity or the Gen Z kids with their desire to change the world and their readiness to embrace diversity and equality have changed the way we see feminists and the way we see activism.
Once upon a time, it was uncool to care too much or be truly passionate about something. In fact, the only thing that you needed to care about was how you looked to the opposite sex, now bigger things are at hand. Films like Greta Gerwing’s adaptation of Little Women, or the movie Booksmart provide the protagonist with meaning, agency and fulfilment outside of their relationships to men. Female friendship have begun to dominate on-screen stories, and we all learnt to give less of a shit of what other people and the patriarchy might think of us.
My personal perception of feminism changed the day I went to university and the day I met a group of women who were not afraid to discuss the ins and outs of gender inequality, usually with a glass of wine in hand. Thanks to the friend who was never afraid to voice her opinion even in the face of 10 man strong group of guys, or the friend who screamed at and scolded a car full of boys who were catcalling her, I learnt that having a voice is far better than sitting pretty.
Finding a group of women ready to challenge the people around them, helped me to see that feminism and standing up for yourself and for the equality of others is the coolest trend yet, let’s hope it’s here to stay!