By Chelsey Sanchez
“I love men,” Shailene Woodley said in a 2014 TIME magazine interview while explaining why she isn’t a feminist, “and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.”
In addition to her obvious misunderstanding of the definition of the word “feminism,” Woodley isn’t alone in her blunt, if not slightly misguided, proclamation of not being a feminist. Carrie Underwood, Demi Moore, Sarah Jessica Parker, and even Madonna have all rejected feminism — some even going as ridiculously far as identifying as humanists rather than feminists (but the problem with that identification is an article for another day). The truth is that the word “feminist” has always been an F-word of sorts, to women and men alike. Feminism connotes abrasiveness and radicalism, therefore representing a territory where many fear to explore and where few have actually dared to cross.
Among those few are renowned actress Emma Watson and acclaimed musician Beyoncé; Watson was appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in July 2014, while Beyoncé’s most recent and self-named album has been making waves in both the music industry and pop culture for its emphasis on female empowerment. Both are women with enormous platforms and with the power to shape the conscience of today’s youth.
It would only be natural for both women to be appraised and respected for fearlessly and unashamedly grasping the label “feminist,” and molding that label to fit each of their different approaches to women empowerment. However, this was not exactly the case.
“Well done[,] Emma Watson,” Twitter user @sandyzzzen said regarding Watson’s UN speech, which promoted gender equality, “THAT is feminism (watch and learn Beyoncé).” Comparisons between these two strong women are common, and usually reduce Beyoncé’s monumental contributions to feminism to nothing but revealing costumes and promiscuous dancing on-stage. The criticism against Beyoncé could be understandable if it was not inconsistent; the criteria against Beyoncé’s embrace of her sexuality is widely different from the criteria against Miley Cyrus’, whose on-stage performances hardly ever go under the harsh spotlight of eager-to-condemn feminists. So, if it isn’t Beyoncé’s openness and comfort in her sexuality (which is actually an important aspect of feminism in general, anyway), what is it?
Race is something that has always divided people; the color of our skins has, more often than not, outwardly defined how we appear to society. It does not matter whether or not we are consciously thinking about it or basing our judgments off of it — race has always been the white elephant of feminism.
In this case, race makes all the difference between white actress Emma Watson and black artist Beyoncé. Racial strife, and all the other little technicalities in between these gaps, casts a dark shadow on this movement, to the point where Shailene Woodley’s, Demi Moore’s, and Madonna’s rejection of the F-word might even seem a little bit reasonable. Why embrace a label that represents a movement whose definition of “equality” becomes so muddled when it comes to race and sexuality? Following this logic, women avoiding the F-word are also avoiding the confusion and conflict that comes with it.
Progressive social movements tend to be so cookie-cutter: feminism focuses on the white woman, racial movements focus on the black man, and the LGBTQ+ community focuses on the white homosexual man. Where is the place for the black girl? The Latina girl? The Asian girl? Where can they express their voices? Where do they fit in? Progressive movements simply cannot be so isolating, and this is why the boundaries of movements should and must blend together, because being any other way is counterproductive, inefficient, and even hypocritical.
Between all the fights for gender equality, racial equality becomes lost or abandoned during the process. The social, political, and economic equality between the sexes is not enough. Feminism is not subjective, but, rather, is a convertible term, constantly varying from one woman to the next.
The face of feminism is not just Emma Watson — it is Emma Watson, Beyoncé, Malala Yousafzai, Yoko Ono, Dolores Huerta, and so many more. Feminism is a spectrum of colors, representing a spectrum of different experiences, and the fact that “white feminism” (or, the type of feminism that excludes the struggles of women of color) is the most pervasive and popular branch of feminism in Western society’s mainstream conscious reveals a shocking lack of empathy and diversity instilled within our Western culture.
Women, as a group who already knows the smite and backhand of society, should understand that oppression can adapt into different forms to different people of different races. At the bare minimum, feminists should empathize and celebrate their racial differences, make way for proper representation in the movement, and expand their own personal definitions of what it means exactly to be a feminist.