Since entering Scripps, I have been told that Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Hilary Clinton, Emma Watson, P!nk, Meghan Trainor, and Michelle Obama are feminists. I have also been told at separate times, from inside and outside of Scripps, that each of these women is anti-feminist. In class, I have watched risqué videos of women that are widely acclaimed as breakthroughs for the feminist movement, and I have watched these videos in other settings where they are viewed as over-sexualized and degrading. Because of this, I chose to contemplate and explore both the dogma and actions of each “feminist” in depth. I found that these women share very little in common, leading me to believe that “feminism,” as defined by the masses, lacks both consistency and a standard for accountability.
I am not afraid to express the unpopular opinion that I find Beyoncé guilty of using the term “feminism” (capitalistically, which is ironic for her more liberal fans) to box women into an identity that is inescapably sexual. Beyoncé is a self-proclaimed sex symbol, and sex symbols, whether male or female, do not help their respective gender’s cause in terms of equality. Rather, they reduce themselves to physicality, which indubitably becomes a contest of seduction. Case in point: in her song “Flawless,” Beyoncé tells us that women shouldn’t compete for male attention; however, in “Yonce” she sings “Boy this all for you just walk my way, Just tell me it’s lookin’ babe. I do this all for you babe just take aim.” It would seem that even Beyoncé cannot reconcile her definition of feminism with itself. Therefore, how can we expect her message to filter down to her audience correctly? Be openly sensual for men like Beyoncé, but don’t vie for male attention? That’s contradictory.
Many people conflate advancing freedom of expression with advancing feminism. Women can wear whatever they want, as can men, in this country. That is freedom. However, freedom of expression does not by default help the feminist cause. Maybe it did in the early twentieth century, and maybe it is still important in developing countries, but as with most social issues, modern America is addressing different challenges than other parts of the world.
There are many ways in which women can elevate themselves in society, ranging from becoming a single, strong powerhouse to being a good wife. Each has its benefits, and each is equally important. I am not going to constrain feminism by giving into a certain set of rules. What I will say, however, is that being a feminist does not require women to give men what they stereotypically want. Once women do that, they become objectified – just like Beyoncé does to herself in the “Flawless” music video, which features close ups of her butt and not her entire being. In these scenarios, where is the justice for a woman who is being looked at just for her body and not for the simple fact that she is a person?
It is not feminist to be desperate for male attention and then justify it by saying women desire sex, too, and that we have a right to be sexual beings. There is a difference between being sexual and selling oneself. Being a feminist is risking not getting male attention until you meet a guy who respects you. A guy who supports feminism should be in love with who a particular woman is, not how closely she reminds him of the latest Playboy magazine. In a true non-male-dominated society, a woman should never feel that, in order to get attention, she has to show off her body. And herein lies my biggest problem with Beyoncé. Beyoncé gives her audience, especially her young audience, the false idea that feminism is equivalent to sexuality. This erroneous comparison is as harmful to girls and young women as is the idea that women can’t drive, work, or go to college. While many argue that in the finer details, Beyoncé clarifies the difference between feminism and sex, it is still a very fuzzy line. This distinction, if it even does exist within the Beyoncé ideology, is being missed by the majority of people in the world outside of Claremont, probably because Beyoncé sends mixed messages. For instance, while claiming that feminism requires equality of the sexes in “Flawless,” in “Blow” she says, “Bring your work home on top of me. I’m a let you be the boss of me. I know everything you want. Give me that daddy long stroke.” What do we expect 14-year-old girls to get from this? They’re being taught that feminism requires them to look really sexy, put on a show of being domineering and powerful, then ultimately allow themselves to be used by men.
In this way, women have been conditioned to think it is easy to be a feminist. Just do what you want, be sexy, and defy norms. That has truth, but that is not the heart of feminism (it certainly does not describe it in its totality). The heart of feminism is taking a stand against female objectification. We are in the twenty-first century. We have to be smart. We have to think for ourselves and not give into what the media is asking of us if it is unhealthy for women at its core. Now that we have a voice, we need to make sure it is actually helping us and not feeding a patriarchal society under the guise of female liberation.
Yes, being a feminist is hard, and yes, advancing the feminist cause requires different actions in different eras. As modern feminists, if we want to actually help women outside of our college bubble, we have to have a more realistic idea of our audience. In the real world, it is not enough to be a woman who does whatever she wants and then call herself a feminist. We have to look at the consequences of our actions.
Please understand, I am not saying women should cover themselves from head-to-toe to be a feminist, nor am I saying that people who dress “immodestly” are anti-feminist. All I am saying is that it is not enough to put on a certain outfit and say a lot of things and think it’s helping women. That is rash and misguided. We need to think critically in the modern world of feminism and understand what is really helping us defy violence and oppression versus what is just further turning us into sexual objects for the world.
A feminist doesn’t have to cover up. A feminist doesn’t have to not cover up. At its essence, feminism is supposed to look at women as people rather than sexual beings. That doesn’t mean we have to be undesirable, but it doesn’t mean that we have to be the epitome of sexy either. It is free of physicality. Women are people, not toys. What Beyoncé does by showing through her actions that being sexual makes women feminist is actually setting us back to a time when we were all just for sex.
Consequently, we must ask ourselves: How does Scripps portray feminism? What does our Beyoncé-idolization advance for women? Why do some students feel completely unheard in their feminism classes? We need to reevaluate what we want for women in our society versus what we want to do in the moment just because it sounds revolutionary.