Celebrity Feminism Is A Good Thing

Celebrity feminism is a good thing.

Recently, actress Emma Watson gave one hell of a speech at the United Nations urging equality for women and girls:

Beyonce turned her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards into an opportunity to showcase her political beliefs:

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Fixed Show

And Taylor Swift’s latest hit, “Shake It Off,” urges women to ignore the sexist things that are said about them:

Let me be honest, I have gotten misty when that song comes on the radio and I realize my daughter, who is a toddler, is sitting in the backseat.

As a feminist activist, I have watched with some dismay how celebrity feminists are torn down on social media, seemingly as sport, within my community. The resentments seem to fall in these general categories:

  • She’s not doing anything.
  • She’s not saying anything new; she’s just getting credit for it.
  • She’s going to coopt feminism and turn it into some commercial enterprise; that’s not what I’ve been fighting for!

All of these criticisms are a bit out there.

  • If she wasn’t doing anything, you wouldn’t be talking about her.
  • Activism does not exist so you can be a hero or be highly regarded by others. (In particular, if you want to be a feminist activist in hopes of being liked — wow, is an education coming for you!) Activism exists so you can change society. Having powerful people echo feminist thoughts, however old and already accepted by those in the know, strengthens your position.
  • There are many feminisms and not just one; the more you accept this, the less threatening feminisms that don’t look like yours appear.

Another frequent criticism:

  • She’s not doing enough to lift up others who don’t have her privilege. 

This is a fine criticism, but we should note applies to non-celebrity feminists at least as often. In any case, ultimately these gaps present opportunities for growth — as individuals and a movement — especially when folks are willing to work toward change in good faith.

We need as many women and men working for gender equality as possible, so if celebrities want to join the movement — great. We should also celebrate that feminism is making appearances in pop culture. The primary audience for these gestures is not those who care most about feminism but rather mass culture itself. When a popular actress or singer sticks her neck out there, some of the little girls and grown women watching and listening may get the idea to do so themselves.