“Celebrity Says She’s Not A Feminist. Celebrity is Wrong” is such an old song that we can all sing along in harmony, to misquote “Hamilton” for the second time this week.
This week, the celebrity in question is Meryl Streep. Asked “are you a feminist”? She said “I’m a humanist. I am for nice, easy balance.”
“Do you believe men and women deserve equal rights? Do you believe women should be given the same protections and opportunities as men are afforded under the law? Do you believe you should not be discriminated against just because you’re a women? OMG YOU’RE A FEMINIST!” as Jessica Goldstein summed it up YEARS AGO when we had to do this for Megyn Kelly.
You-Say-You’re-Not-A-Feminist-But-Wait-You’re-A-Feminist-Because-You-Believe-In-Equality is such a familiar dance that I wrote this piece in my sleep. It’s a mad lib, at this point.
[NAME OF CELEBRITY] said “I’m not a feminist, I’m a [WHATEVER IT IS THAT THIS CELEBRITY THINKS SHE IS INSTEAD]” but no! [NAME] is a feminist. She believes in equality! And a feminist, in the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, so helpfully quoted to us by Beyonce, is ‘a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.'”
End piece, 7000 likes, much patting of backs and positive reinforcement, break!
Feminism is so mainstream that even such careful public-opinion-poll-watchers as Hillary Clinton and Taylor Swift are willing to embrace it. Clinton literally made this very argument in a discussion with Lena Dunham earlier this month, as the Post’s Soraya McDonald points out (“You know, I’m always a little bit puzzled when any woman, of whatever age, but particularly a young woman says something like — and you’ve heard it — ‘Well, I believe in equal rights but I’m not a feminist.’ Well, a feminist by definition is someone who believes in equal rights. I’m hoping that people will not be afraid to say, ‘That doesn’t mean you hate men. It doesn’t mean you want to separate out the world so that you’re not part of ordinary life. That’s not what it means at all. It just means that we believe women have the same rights as men, politically, culturally, socially, economically. That’s what it means.”) Clearly, she’s been listening to her Beyonce.
I fear this is just a semantic discussion at this point, and I’m no longer sure that it is a productive one.
I once preached to an actual choir (there were other people there, too, but a choir was also there) and I have to say, it felt less preaching-to-a-choir-like than saying that someone who believes in equality but –OH WAIT!– she didn’t say she was a feminist, she said something DIFFERENT, something HORRIBLE! — is a feminist. This makes me nervous.
Whenever anything feels like this I start doubting it. Is this still worth pouring ire on? Back before “Feminist” was plastered over the VMA’s and ensconced everywhere from Hollywood award acceptance speeches to large swaths of the Internet, I would say resoundingly, yes. Embracing this label is a significant thing.
Now that the label is more broadly embraced than not, I’m not sure this is the best use of time and energy.
Perhaps feminism has bigger fish to fry now than making certain that every celebrity stands up and gets her name written in the Book of Feminist Life so that when, er, Gloria Steinem comes to take us up to the sky, trailing glory, we will all be seated together in the correct section.
Maybe the most feminist thing to do would be to put less stress on the way people label themselves and to look, instead, at the things they are doing. And Meryl — both by her life, as a highly visible working actress past Hollywood’s usual sell-by date for women — and by the causes she advocates and projects she chooses — has certainly been walking the feminist walk. She said this “humanist” thing in the course of promoting a movie about Emmeline Pankhurst, called “Suffragette,” for pete’s sake.
Still, just in case, here is a chart for all future reference. Please consult it, celebrities, so we won’t have to write this piece again.