Criticism hurled at Taylor Swift exposes a problem with the women's movement
Taylor Swift probably thought she was doing the right thing when she tweeted her support for the record-setting Women's March.
Oh, Taylor. Sweet Taylor. You of all people should know the danger of Twitter.
While plenty of people liked the tweet, many also expressed their disappointment that she didn't show up for the Women's March on Washington (or any others, for that matter). And while Swift has remained mum, long and combative threads have ensued between fans. This anger toward Swift started last fall when people began to notice that, despite her girl-power music and feminist claims, Swift wasn't commenting on the election. Specifically, she wasn't skewering Trump for his sexist comments. Hey, benefit of the doubt — maybe she's writing a song about it.
Rather than fighting over Swift's intentions (or schedule during the march) this kerfuffle provides an opportunity to discuss ideas about what it means to be feminist and what's involved in advocacy that initiates change.
Fair-weather feminism, which Swift's haters have accused her of, is just what we don't need right now. I don't even think it's a stretch to say it allows misogyny to flourish. Just pat the hysterical lady on the head; she'll get distracted by something shiny. (I'm basically a cat when it comes to shiny objects so in no way do I find that insulting.)
A feminist is a person who believes in or advocates for feminism, which according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes" or "organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests."
But is there a fine line between who can and who cannot be considered a feminist?
On Saturday, one friend shared her disgust on Facebook for celebrities who attended the march, insisting that "those women" don't speak for her. Here's the thing — they don't have to.
This friend of mine doesn't consider herself a feminist, yet she's a longtime volunteer with underprivileged women and a founder of a nonprofit to help women transition from the prison system. She advocates for women on and off the clock. So, the real question, even though she rejects the title "feminist," is she one? If you ask me, yes, she's one in action.
She isn't my only friend who didn't want to be identified with the event. I know many women — single and married, mothers and childless — who aren't "feminists," but also don't think it's acceptable to treat women as "less than."
And I have friends on the other side of the argument. Many posted jubilant photos from the midst of their local marches. They laughed at signs, reported about reactions and participation numbers and enjoyed the kind of camaraderie we usually only feel at sporting events. I'm thrilled they had the experience and can't wait to see how they continue engaging on a community level.
I suspect most of you have mixed friend lists just like mine. That doesn't matter. Actually, that's great. What does matter, though, is that the intent of the campaign — this women's campaign — is beginning to crumble as we all mud wrestle over what it means to act like a woman who cares about women's issues.
Via Urban Dictionary, fair-weather is "Applied to someone who is present only when things are going well or when they need something, but at the first sign of trouble/hardship, they disappear faster than Britney Spears's career."
First of all, I will say that Britney Spears' career is just fine. Leave Britney alone! But aside from that, the definition is pretty accurate.
Among the 4 million marchers, there were undoubtedly one or two that fit this description. They just showed up to have a good time with friends and maybe grab some lunch. They haven't thought much about what's behind gender equality and aren't that interested. That's fine. I just ask that they don't turn a march photo into their personal avatar.
But just because they showed up doesn't mean they helped. Vice-versa, just because someone didn't show up, doesn't mean they're not helping.
Here's the bottom line: The marches were important, but what we do now, after the marches and in the days ahead, is what really matters most. Sustaining momentum will be hard as we all melt back into our busy lives. But we all — whether we call ourselves feminists or not — need to pinpoint the issue(s) that matter most and find a group that's working to address them. We need to volunteer, donate, read up on local and federal legislation that's impacting our concern, write our representatives. Use our voices.
But let's get back to Taylor Swift: Is she or isn't she a "fair-weather feminist?"
Personally, I think Swift has done more for women than some people are giving her credit for. I love seeing photos of a bunch of girls going to prom together tagged #SquadGoals. She has a solid record of spending money and time on causes she cares about, including fighting internet sex crimes. And her unfiltered personal style has inspired a generation of girls to feel more comfortable sharing their own feelings. In 2012 and 2014, she openly said she didn't really identify with the term feminist but that she's come to understand that she is one because she supports equality.
The beautiful truth is that feminism doesn't wear just one face, but as a gender we have to be one body. It's not just marching with a sign or just writing letters or raising daughters (and sons) to see talent, not gender. It's all these things and many more in endless combinations. But we're all in the same boat and it's definitely docked and ready to take on new friends. Call yourself a porter or captain; it doesn't really matter. But get on or get off; there's no room for stowaways.
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