Five reasons why women say they aren't feminists

"I am not a feminist,” Katy Perry says, “but I do believe in the strength of women." (Photo by Urbano Erbiste / Globo via Getty Images)

"I am not a feminist,” Katy Perry says, “but I do believe in the strength of women." (Photo by Urbano Erbiste / Globo via Getty Images) Photo: Globo

Let’s say you’re awarded a major gong, and are thus afforded a broad platform from which to speak to the world - a platform even broader than the one that you already, as a member of the entertainment industry, enjoy - about your fellow women. Do you a) choose to say something empowering and inspiring, or b) make sure the world knows that you’re not a feminist?

If you’re answer is b) then congratulations on winning Billboard’s Woman of the Year, because you are Katy Perry!

Yes, the woman whose boosies have a tendency to fire whipped cream at preteens was at pains to set everyone straight on the topic of her personal gender politics when she picked up the gong: "I am not a feminist,” she said, “but I do believe in the strength of women."

Well, tally ho, Katy! I’m pretty sure that actually does make you a feminist, but like, you know, whatever. Looking to someone who entered the scene with such storied texts on intersectionality as Ur So Gay and I Kissed A Girl (and then cemented her fame with a candy-centric persona that makes Strawberry Shortcake look like Camille Paglia) for feminist inspiration is likely to be about as fruitful as trying, blindfolded, to find your shadow in a darkened room.

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See, the thing is, it’s okay not to be a feminist; it’s not a stance that I could imagine taking, nor one I would recommend, but if that’s your personal choice, so be it. Some people have conservative views about the world and provided they don’t force those views upon others, I don’t really have much to say about it other than that I, personally, take a different approach. If celebrities who espouse a dunderheaded worldview are keen for us not to think of them as feminists, I’m happy not to have them in the club.

However, if you deny being a feminist but then rattle off a list of personal beliefs that are expressly feminist in everything but the word itself, I will probably side-eye you. And if you do all of the above in a public forum that gives your words more power - at least to the more impressionable readers and listeners out there - than they deserve, I will side-eye you so hard my eyeballs will actually shoot out and hit your cheek with a damp thud.

So, with that in mind, here are the top five bogus reasons for not being a feminist that I’ve spotted the rich and powerful spouting:

1. I have absolutely no good reason to call myself a feminist other than the fact I am a woman!

First things first: just because someone who has reached a position of power in the media is a woman, doesn’t mean she’s a feminist. Take Jackie O, longtime offsider of odiously sexist weirdo Kyle Sandilands. “I've never considered myself a feminist. I'm just, you know, I'm doing what I love. I'm really proud of how far I've come. But ... you know,” she said earlier in the year. Well, no, Jackie, we don’t know, but one thing’s for sure: your bills are paid by a show, in a notorious “boys’ club” business, that regularly belittles and castigates women - why would you call yourself a feminist? Sometimes it’s okay for us not to have a famous woman on our side, as nice as it would be.

2. I like men too much!

The idea that feminism means an outright rejection of men is hopelessly outdated. "I'm not a feminist — I hail men, I love men,” Lady Gaga said. “I celebrate American male culture and beer and bars and muscle cars." (That particular quote was from ‘09, but Gaga’s stance has remained unchanged.) Guess what, Stefanie? So do I! I’ve even touched some American men and found that they didn’t turn to dust upon contact with my feminist fingers! Incredibly, it is possible to have a nuanced view of gender roles that allows you to like - even love - some men while still appreciating how many of the world’s problems are caused by (predominantly white, middle-aged) men.

3. Women have already achieved equality!

When you are obscenely rich, and also happen to be white, able-bodied and from an upper-middle-class background, it is easy to think that feminism has done all it can do. Yahoo!’s CEO Melissa Mayer believes “in equal rights” and that “women are just as capable [as men]” but thinks feminism is “a more negative word”. She’s not alone. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy reckoned this past week (though she claims she was misinterpreted) that “in my generation we don’t need to be feminist”. It gets worse still: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life,” Taylor Swift said recently when asked if she was a feminist. Most women do work as hard as guys, Taylor, but most women aren’t making megabucks and selling notebooks with their face on them in Walgreen’s - in fact, most women are still earning far less than their male counterparts for exactly the same work. 

4. But I’m a family woman!

In February, Gwyneth Paltrow supposed that her dedication to her two kids and husband was a feminist no-no. “This may not be feminist, but you have to compromise,” she said. “And if you want what you’re saying you want — a family — you have to be a wife, and that is part of the equation. Gloria Steinem may string me up by my toes, but all I can do is my best, and I can do only what works for me and my family.” Hey, Gwyn? Even Ms. Steinem was a wife once! Feminists are able to marry and work out compromises in order to make their relationships work. Indeed, you could argue that a marriage in which both partners have compromised to the point where parenting duties and breadwinning are shared equally is particularly feminist.  

5. We don’t need labels!

The notion that to merely use the term “feminist” will derail the universe is a common one. Melissa Leo, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in The Fighter and who has made a career out of playing feisty, independent characters, was at pains in August to tell Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir that it didn’t mean she was a feminist “at all”. Her reasoning? “As soon as we start labeling and categorizing ourselves and others, that’s going to shut down the world.” The interview then went on to discuss whether her various hair colours had affected the types of roles she’d been offered. Well, we wouldn’t want to shut the world down, would we?

106 comments

  • I think a lot of women fear the often vicious backlash that comes with claiming feminism. It is irritating to hear women say this at the same time that they're enjoying the rights and benefits that were gained off the backs of the struggles of the women who came before them. They also throw a lot of girls and women who have yet to achieve those rights under the bus. How can you say 'I'm not a feminist' when girls and women around the world are still being tortured, raped, murdered, sold, mutilated, aborted, forced into marriage etc. simply for being female?

    Commenter
    Kate
    Date and time
    December 05, 2012, 8:37AM
    • You don't have to be a feminist to believe those things are wrong, or to help prevent them. You just have to be a person.

      Commenter
      Anon
      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 9:53AM
    • Women I know who don't like to claim the feminist tag, seem to do that because they think the term "feminism" has negative connotations & particularly, makes them less desirable to men. How sad. I don't WANT those women on my team :/

      Commenter
      vbomber
      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 10:07AM
    • maybe the reason why they don't want to be labelled a feminist is because they DON'T WANT TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH MANY WOMEN WHO ARE ACTUALLY MISANDRISTS, but they claim to be feminists. and please... let's not pretend that there is not the common misconception among many, many feminists that hating men = feminism.

      Commenter
      no
      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 10:14AM
    • @ no,

      Your level of wrongness is through the roof. A teensy minority of radical feminists are misandrists. Most feminists are utterly normal and subscribe to the simple definition of feminism: the idea that women are fully human, and that all people should be treated with equal respect, rather than based on their genitalia.

      Commenter
      pb
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 10:34AM
    • Totally agree Anon. Neither gender holds exclusive rights to owning and furthering human rights or even just simple decency.

      I do believe, based on the views of many women I have known over a number of years, that the label of feminism holds for them some potentially negative connotations, notwithstanding that they hold to the basic principles of the term. Seeing fellow sisters berating a man for actions such as holding a door open for them, attempting to give up a seat on a bus/train when the woman is lumbered with shopping or the like, amongst a range of similar examples, has put many of them off the term feminist.

      I have a disability and need a walking stick when I'm out. The other day, when at the shops, I dropped an item I was carrying and a much older and fairly frail looking lady quickly bent down and retrieved it for me before I could start to try. I didn't take umbrage at her "disempowering" me though I could have bent to get it myself. I was simply touched at her thoughtfulness as a human being and thanked her kindly.

      With some feminists seeming to look for insult, as with the examples I gave, many of my female friends have said they feel alienated from and want no association with the term "feminism", whilst still holding to the fundamental equality and empowerment tenets of the term. Not a one of them has ever said or intimated that they reject the term for fear of putting off men. None of them are that shallow or obtuse. None of them appreciate being told, by men or other women, how to be their own, self empowered, proud and independent woman either.

      Commenter
      Warwick
      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 10:49AM
    • @pb... i'm not saying the majority of feminists are misandrists, but there are still many who are. and a big problem is that they are often the loudest ones.

      Commenter
      no
      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 11:07AM
    • @Kate. Simple. Katy Perry is a record company muppet. She will not say or do anything to upset the gravy train the company provides. You will find the women who strongly support feminism are the ones on independent labels not the majors.

      Commenter
      Listener
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 11:29AM
    • Feminism as a catch-all has been in some circles variously bent, misconfigured and misused to the point where it can be a loaded term. I'm not comparing the two, but in much the same way as an ostensibly peaceful religion such as Islam has been overpowered in the public consciousness by radicals, feminism has to a degree as well. I'd venture that's why many women, while believing in the ideals, distance themselves from the political tag. Unless you study and get deeply involved, many don't understand really what feminism is, beyond the strive for equality, and in everyday life many women have that. They have a job that pays what they're worth and a partner who pulls their weight and aren't actively discriminated against for being a woman. I'm not saying for a second that everyone does, or even a majority, but when you have a table full of food it's hard for some to take off the blinkers and imagine that there are people starving.

      Commenter
      Harvey K-Tel
      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 11:46AM
    • @vbomber"I don't WANT those women on my team "

      And that maybe why some women don't want to be labelled "feminist", too judgemental and restrictive?

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 2:02PM

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