Why feminist parodies are hot

Taylor Swift performs during the 2013 CMA Music Festival on June 6, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Taylor Swift performs during the 2013 CMA Music Festival on June 6, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Christopher Polk

Despite having only launched on June 12 the parody Twitter account Feminist Taylor Swift already has over 100000 followers. It takes the often saccharine lyrics of avowed non-feminist songstress, Taylor Swift, and tweaks them to include a touch more gender equality. For example, ‘She wears short skirts / I wear t-shirts / Neither of us is asking for it’ and ‘It's a love story / Baby just say yes / because consent should always be freely and enthusiastically given’. Account creator Clara Beyer was a fan of Swift, but always found her lyrics to be problematic, so took a little initiative and reimagined them. Oh, and it also has an excellent icon of Swift Photoshopped as Rosie the Riveter. (There’s also Feminist Kanye tweeting, if you prefer rap to country pop.)

On June 13 YouTube user Taylor Adele Smith posted a Feminist Make-up Tutorial which gives useful suggestions like using a primer before applying eyeshadow so it ‘stays strong, just like the woman’s spirit through millennia of misogyny’ and when applying foundation ‘make sure you give every part of your face a fair and equal amount of representation, unlike the government and prime time television’. It now has 300000 plus views, 1800 comments and an over 98 per cent thumbs up rating (a rather unheard of rate of approval on the snippy world of YouTube comments).

Smith expressed surprise and gratitude over the attention garnered in an update on the video, before clarifying her intentions for the parody. “In case you didn't catch on, this video is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek parody on some of society's crazy stereotypes of feminists... It's meant to play on some common misconceptions about feminism. There is a difference between feminism and misandry, and this video is a satire based on the fact that these two things get mixed up all too often.”

And of course there’s the grandmummy of them all, the now retired Feminist Ryan Gosling. It’s a meme, it’s a Tumblr, it’s even a handsomely bound coffee table book. It’s so popular we’re surprised CBS haven’t optioned the rights to develop a cruddy laugh-tracked sitcom based on it. Started by Danielle Henderson in October 2011 (so it’s 63 in internet years) as a way to keep track of the theorists she was covering in her gender studies program, the site juxtaposes feminist theory with pictures of a certain movie star heartthrob looking dishy.

So why have these parodies gone viral? Firstly, they’re funny. People like to laugh. Secondly, gender issues are at the forefront of current political discussion. And lastly, they tap into pop culture for a witty discussion of feminism that has a fresh perspective. Kevin Carty, collaborator on Feminist Taylor Swift told The Washington Post that both he and Beyer “believe in bringing more people into feminism and gender-critical conversations”. And he believes, “the easiest ways to do that are to engage them with things they’re already into in their daily lives”, whether that is pop music, Ryan Gosling or YouTube make-up tutes. 

These parodies use the Trojan horse of humour to help underline the idiocy of inequality. In her 2012 Slate article The Mockery Feminists writer Katie Roiphe discusses (and is somewhat critical of) the rise of a sarcastic, satirical breed of feminist, citing Tina Fey and Caitlin Moran as high profile examples. Roiphe notes that “the funny, wry, and ironic are ascendant” in popular feminism – “a kind of feminism that employs humour or sarcasm as its medium, with outrage manifesting as mockery, power taking the form of laughing, or sometimes just scoffing”.

But it seems to me this idea of the ‘mockery feminist’ can have a lot of strength in highlighting these continuing problems. Parodies tap into that vein of bringing up the serious issues of inequality but with levity, which can be an incredibly powerful way to deliver more progressive ideas about gender to those who may be less familiar with them. In this way these parodies can be as powerful as petitions when it comes to changing attitudes, particularly as their breeding ground of the internet makes them much more likely to reach those such as teenage girls who might be encountering feminism for the first time.

As well as using humour to deliver a message of equality, the parodies also help blow up the old tired stereotype of feminists as humourless scolds, not to mention that ridiculous chestnut that ‘women aren’t funny’. Every time a woman uses humour it lessens the idea that humour is somehow a male domain whose vast and incredible power may only be wielded by those with testicles. And if, as with these parodies, it can educate and empower at the same time? All the better.

 

 

 

14 comments so far

  • "These parodies use the Trojan horse of humour to help underline the idiocy of inequality."

    "As well as using humour to deliver a message of equality, the parodies also help blow up the old tired stereotype of feminists as humourless scolds, not to mention that ridiculous chestnut that ‘women aren’t funny’."

    Interesting, I have tried in the past to point out that those shirts telling women to 'get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich' were doing exactly the same things (parody and criticism through sarcastic exaggeration of a stereotype), but I got shouted down. Apparently funny is only acceptable if it's 'approved funny'.

    Commenter
    DM
    Date and time
    June 26, 2013, 11:24AM
    • The "make me a sandwich" joke/meme was an ironic comment on misogyny that was funny in the period August 1991 to September 1991. Since then, apart from overuse by people who aren't actually that funny, it has been co-opted by anti-feminists as a way of simply dismissing feminism.

      I too was going to use the sandwich joke when a facebook friend posted a picture of a warning sign that said "WARNING opinionated feminist", to which I was going to reply "yes, you know exactly what kind of sandwich to make" which, because we both knew each other, would have been taken in the ironic context it was meant.

      However, the joke was too old. It had been misused by too many people. As it looked up at me with it's sad eyes in a gollum like broken body, it cried piteously to me "let me die".

      So, in the name of all that is merciful . . Let. It .Die

      Commenter
      Oscar The Mild
      Date and time
      June 26, 2013, 12:40PM
    • On an interesting sidenote, there was a time at Hogwarts when Hermione Granger was holding forth on the subject that witches were just as good as wizards when someone (I believe a Slytherin) said to her "Make me a sandwich". So she did. . .

      Commenter
      Oscar The Mild
      Date and time
      June 26, 2013, 12:55PM
  • Satire has traditionally been one of the most effective means of engaging in social commentary and arguing for social change. The classic example I believe is Johnathon Swift's satire of the indifference of the English to the suffering of the Irish, "A Modest Proposal", which proposes we raise Irish babies as a source of food for the British and a source of income for the Irish.

    So more power to Tina Fey et al. Gender inequality is an outdated concept, has been for some time, it relies on a view of social roles that hasn't been true since the 40's (being superseded by technology) and the more it is ridiculed the better.

    Commenter
    Oscar The Mild
    Date and time
    June 26, 2013, 1:53PM
    • While I agree gender equality SHOULD be extinct by now, have a look around you at Australia: bugger all women on boards, professional women quitting as soon as they have kids, gender division at social events, men who think housework & raising kids are a woman's job even if both work. Female graduates have exceeded male for decades, still under-represented at higher management levels, still paid less straight out of uni. Awful! Have a look at child pickup time at a school or even after-school care: mostly women. Canteen? All women. Any fundraiser? All women. Kid sick? Mum stays home...

      Commenter
      Mother view
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 26, 2013, 2:59PM
    • I think that this is because social customs change the slowest, so while the structure of society has changed so that more opportunities are given to females and the old division of labour is no longer appropriate, social customs remain. The stories that we tell ourselves about the role of men and women remain the same - Sleeping Beauty still awaits rescue by Prince Charming.(shout out to Shrek for putting it's own spin on that story)

      so what better way to counter that than to provide a story of your own, or to ridicule by means of satire the old story. Hence the memes regarding Princess Leia being a Disney Princess, or my personal favourite, the episode of Buffy at Halloween where someone makes a spell to make their costumes real. Buffy was dressed as a princess, so when someone asks her for help she replies "But I'm a princess. I'm not supposed to do anything. I'm just supposed to look pretty and wait for someone to marry me - possibly a baron." The fact that this is Buffy saying it drives home the point

      Commenter
      Oscar The Mild
      Date and time
      June 26, 2013, 4:08PM
    • We like Princess Smartypants, who rejects the lame princes & ends up having to rescue one herself.

      Most of the literature for girls aged 7-15 is utter drivel. All beauty, shopping etc. Our primary school recently suggested hampers for a raffle. The teenage boy one was to have sports gear & books, the teenage girl one beauty products, nail polish & magazines. I said what I thought of that message to the kids (not much), and got no response from the lovely P & C ladies, because sadly that is how they are bringing up their own kids. How do you fight that stereotyping, not just by men but by other women (the underemployed wives of rich men)?

      Commenter
      Mother view
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 27, 2013, 9:36AM
    • "Princess Smartypants". I likes that one. She was a much more fun character when she takes over her own rescue, orders Han around calling him "flyboy" and referring to Chewie as a "walking carpet"

      It sounds like the "education" is starting early at your school, this is what I was referring to about social customs change the slowest, because they are taught in stories, in assumptions, in giving gifts that assume (here are some beauty products young child, because your role is to just look pretty).. But I just can't believe how blatant your school is maintaining these outdated roles, surely you can have gender neutral stuff that is interesting to both boys and girls, like lego sets or puzzles, interesting books. Girls get magazines while boys get books (probably adventure books)? says it all really. The only way to fight it is to call it when you see it, which is why humour and ridicule are so important - point out how ridiculous this is in this day and age, teaching the girls about equal opportunity in class then undermining it outside?.

      Commenter
      Oscar The Mild
      Date and time
      June 28, 2013, 4:36PM
  • Swift is a great feminist icon, because she began writing her own songs as a tween, was signed to Sony as a songwriter at 14, and has become a world-wide hit. My 10 year old daughter loves her, we went to her Sydney concert last year (twice, due to a ticketing stuff-up) and have tickets to her next one in December. She goes out with & dumps men & doesn't care what others think. Most importantly, she sells her songs because girls & young women love her, without wearing her undies on-stage, her breasts out at awards nights or having to swear.

    She sings about falling in love & breaking up, a major interest of the 8-18 set. She is one of the few age-appropriate singers around for older kids. Very talented young woman. Puts on a great concert, and plays several instruments as well. As a feminist, I'll take her any day over the inane & underdressed Rihanna or Miley Cyrus or that tacky Kesha.

    Commenter
    Mother view
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 26, 2013, 2:55PM
    • I don't have anything against Taylor Swift, but I'm not sure how being a successful entertainer at a young age really makes anybody a great role model for anything, feminist or otherwise. It's a bit like saying the Queen is a feminist icon for female politicians because she's been on the throne over 60 years. She was a contender through accident of birth and hasn't died of cancer or been forced to abdicate in the meantime - and if she ever did, she woudn't have to get a job as a cleaning lady.
      For every Taylor Swift who makes it in the entertainment industry, there's a thousand others who don't, no matter what they sing about. Statistically, your daughter is more likely to have a modest life and an everyday career, and hopefully won't face long-term unemployment, exploitation, denial of human rights or poverty. There's plenty of role models we can all look up to in achieving that kind of life, as well as historical people we could pay tribute to for bringing our reality about. But pop stars aint them. Even John Lennon pointed out that his efforts couldn't stop war.

      Commenter
      Rob McCabe
      Location
      Adelaide
      Date and time
      June 26, 2013, 4:59PM

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