By: Georgia Bennett
“Studies predict that if women stopped buying cosmetic products and services, every economy in the world would collapse overnight”. These are the words of Olivia Gatwood and Meghan Falley, two young women, who have taken the internet by storm, performing an array of hard-hitting and humorous poems intended to spark long overdue dialogues about feminism and its place in society in 2015. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of watching them perform live at “My Spoken Mark”, reading various pieces from their touring show “Speak like a girl” which targets topics such as street harassment, body image, and sexual freedom. Though I was by large entertained by their work, I couldn’t help but notice the differences between the feminism that they spoke about, and the feminism that I had been exposed to through other outlets. However, this is not to take away from their message, I think as with most things, variety makes room for discussions, which makes room for change and change is something that all feminists are fighting for, only, my issue- is that certain forms of feminism are being held higher than others, and this is leading to an erasure of problems many groups face.
The term “third- wave” feminism is seemingly a buzzword used both by those in support of feminism, and also those who oppose it, however with no real definition, many people are often left wondering what it means to be a young feminist in 2015. As the year draws to a close, we will soon undoubtedly be bombarded with images that summarise all the iconic moments of the past 12 months and I fear that these few images will underplay the achievements and on going battles of people who’s lives and stories aren’t quite as marketable as the likes of Caityln Jenner, and Miley Cyrus. Contrary to the images I am sure we will see of Miley’s various outlandish outfits, and Caityln’s Vogue covers, I am happy to know that greatest peak in feminist searches (according to google trend) this year came after Emma Watsons refreshing and candid speech at the UN.
One particular part of the speech, paid homage to the initial and most important principle of feminism, one that has no doubt been somewhat obfuscated over the course of the past 3 waves of the movement. Watson noted “ If you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist. Sorry to tell you, you’re a feminist”. Though short, this one remark touched me for many reasons, because it touches on the fact that though most people agree with the principle ideas of feminism, many are ashamed to call themselves by that name.
In a time where, there are so many different people operating under the term of feminist for their own agenda’s, I like many other people have been left wondering if being a feminist is something I want to identify with anymore. Conversations about real equality I feel have often been hijacked, to talk about a brand of feminism that is profiting one particular group the most. For example the VMA fracas, when Nicki Minaj, both courageously and articulately addressed the treatment of women of colour in the entertainment business, only to have Cyrus, dismiss and belittle the struggles that she and many others face as a black artist. Cyrus’ nonchalant and quite frankly uninformed remarks went a little something like this:
“I know you can make it seem like, ‘Oh I just don’t understand because I’m a white pop star.’” Cyrus continued. “I know the statistics. I know what’s going on in the world… But to be honest, I don’t think MTV did that on purpose.”
Such words, really show exactly why I believe it is very irresponsible for us to give such a platform to a person who is clearly operating outside of their field. Miley’s tone deaf comments and knee-jerk responses are an embodiment of the policing of minority voices, and the silencing of issues that affect those outside of a certain community.
Miley Cyrus is a singer at best, who has excelled to the top, on the back of her father’s career, and the fan base she accumulated during her Disney days. She has the privilege of being marketable to the masses as both as clean cut country singer, and also by contrast as the off- the rails rebel without any real cause. And I do mean that, Miley doesn’t have any real cause, she may assert herself as a feminist, but she wears feminism as an accessory, and picks and chooses which part of the ideology suits her agenda at convenience. Naturally, we are not all perfect and the world is such that it would be hard what with social conditioning for any of us to call ourselves model feminists – but I take issue with the fact that the likes of Cyrus are being hailed as feminist icons for never really doing anything other than being glamorously controversial. There is no risk with Mileys activism, in stark contrast to people such as Malala Yousafzai, who at 18 years old has almost died for the cause she believes in.
Malala represents the other side of feminism- not quite consumable enough for everyday coverage. In a world where some women already have the freedom of speech, to talk about gender issues, others are being denied an education, and I find the disparity between these fundamental agendas startling. I am beginning to become very cynical about this supposedly trickle down system, in which women in the most powerful and “liberated” positions and countries start these movements, rallying on people from all over the world to back them and propagate their image, with the promise that everyone will see a fair share of the profit. When in fact what seems to be happening is that the groups that were the most powerful to begin with just seem to be getting more and more privileges on the backs the lives of under-represented and disenfranchised minorities. These minorities being ones we try to pacify by allowing a select few members of their community to thrive- thus creating the farcical notion that “everyone is on the same level playing field”
As highlighted by Viola Davis in her acceptance speech, whilst we may all be standing on that field, our abilities to play, come down to the opportunities we are given. 2015 has been a tremendous year for women, with the likes of Serena Williams well on her way to becoming the best tennis player of all time, the return of Adele, the re-emergence of Harper Lee, the success of the Shonda Rhimes franchise, and even Lady Gaga’s political activism with the song and video “Till it happens to you”. But none of these feats would be possible if it were not for opportunity. As a society there is no doubt that we are improving, but we must be aware of red-herrings that are thrown in the mix and distract us from the real problems. The fact that being a feminist in 2015 is something that people may feel they have to hide, tells us that as a society we still have a problem with the acceptance of gender equality, but that we also have an issue with how we are representing it.
Feminism is a place for all people, both men and women, boys, girls, non-gender conforming, from all backgrounds and races and we must continue to do our best to recognise that there are issues that exist specific to each group, and use the privileges that we have to combat those things rather than just focusing on our own agendas. Though we have made some monumental changes there is still so much left to do in terms of bridging the gaps so now is not the time to lose focus and become distracted by the media circus. If we stand together once and for all for true equality we will be the generation that leave a world of peace in our wake for generations to come. Trust me this third wave is the one you want to ride.