When did feminism become such a bad word?
Susan Sarandon, known for playing tough broads such as a take-no-prisoners waitress in Thelma and Louise, was recently asked by a reporter from The Guardian whether she calls herself a feminist. Her lack of enthusiasm for the term says it all:
"I think of myself as a humanist because I think it's less alienating to people who think of feminism as being a load of strident bitches and because you want everyone to have equal pay, equal rights, education and healthcare.
It's a bit of an old-fashioned word. It's used more in a way to minimise you. My daughter [Eva Amurri, from Sarandon's relationship with Italian film director Franco Amurri] who is 28, doesn't even relate to the word "feminist" and she is definitely in control of her decisions and her body."
Oct. 24, 2012 - Hollywood, California - Susan Sarandon attends the Cloud Atlas Los Angeles Premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre (Credit Image: © Billy Bennight/UPPA/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Sarandon, who is 66, is not the first high-profile woman to distance herself from feminism. Pop stars Katy Perry and Taylor Swift (surprise!) don’t identify as feminists, and even Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer recently said she wouldn't consider herself a feminist. In the PBS documentary Makers, Mayer said:
“I don’t have the militant drive and the chip on the shoulder that sometimes come with that.”
BlogHer Kate Kosman at The Radula writes about her college-aged daughter’s disappointment in having to take a course on women’s history:
"She was excited about it at first, then, browsing the text, decided it was going to be "stupid" because it was all about feminism. When asked about feminism, she thinks that feminists think that they're better than men, and aren't striving for equality but superiority."
Kosman wonders if many young women don’t relate to feminism because it doesn’t seem necessary in their lives:
"There are blinders on so many of the young women of today. My daughter believes in equality, therefore in her mind, it exists. Perhaps it's in part due to the autism. Perhaps just that she doesn't keep up to date on the news. Perhaps it's because she sees these things as so far removed from her life today."
Then there are complaints that feminism is focused too much on the experiences of upper-middle class white women, or that American feminists portray themselves as saviors to Native American or Third World women.
I have to admit, there seem to be some grains of truth in these criticisms about feminism as we know it. But I also have to hope that there's a way to discard some of the trappings that seem outdated, while keeping on with the work to ensure that women's rights are protected and our interests are taken into account -- in politics, in the workplace, and in our personal lives.
What do you think? Is the term “feminist” outdated? Do feminism need a re-branding? Or do we need a women’s movement more than ever?
News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs about raising an Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama.
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