Why Your Hipster T-Shirt Doesn’t Make You a Feminist

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Mark Ruffalo’s delightful response to the “I Am Not a Feminist” phenomenon, in which he castigates the current trend of women (and maybe also men?) to distance themselves from the feminist label (“You’re insulting every woman who was forcibly restrained in a jail cell with a feeding tube down her throat for your right to vote, less than 100 years ago”; “You’re undermining every woman who fought to make marital rape a crime [it was legal until 1993]”; “You’re spitting on the legacy of every woman who fought for women to be allowed to own property”) made me think about an ex of mine from a couple years back who triumphantly calls himself a feminist.

While Ruffalo declines to define feminism in his response (“I’m not going to explain it to you. You can google it.”), I do think that sometimes the definition gets lost in translation.

To be clear, feminism does not mean loving (to fuck) women.

Feminism does not mean being in touch with your feminine side. Feminism does not mean being comfortable wearing pink or having a hipster beard. Feminism does not mean being unafraid to like Katy Perry or (unironically) singing along to Britney. Feminism does not mean keeping up with Jennifer Aniston pregnancy rumors on online gossip sites. You’re not cute just because you’re a man calling yourself a feminist.

While the nuances of feminism and post-feminism and post-post-feminism may have gotten murky and complicated over the years, and may vary depending on which theorist is pontificating, Google does have a pretty clear definition:

feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

This means that telling your girlfriend that it’s her “fault” that she isn’t married because she chose to focus on her career isn’t feminism. This means that expecting your girlfriend to take care of you when you are sick but getting annoyed when she gets sick isn’t feminism. This means that expecting your girlfriend to be homeless when you break up (because you refuse to move out) isn’t feminism. This means that not paying your girlfriend back money that you owe her isn’t feminism. It means you’re a chauvinistic jerk, and it doesn’t matter what t-shirt you have on.

I might be alone with this, but the impression I get is that while it’s become trendy for some women to distance themselves from the label of feminist, some men have embraced the term for the emo/sensitive guy street cred it may give them.

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However, I’m not sure that Adam Levine wearing a feminist shirt really “helps the cause.” While I am just as disturbed as Mark Ruffalo by so many people’s reluctance to align with the feminist label, slapping it on superficially may be just as bad. Somewhere along the way, the real meaning and importance of the term has been lost.

Adam Levine (like my ex) is still a douche for a list of reasons (thanks Buzzfeed), a womanizer and a sleaze, and not a feminist.

From Details, 2012
“I felt like people only knew me as a singer who dated pretty girls. A little bit of a bimbo. Maybe I was kind of a bimbo. I was the music dude that was naked all the time with the girls, and that’s fine, no problem with that.”

“You know what yoga’s good for?” Adam Levine asks, pausing in mid-thought as he discusses his healthful lifestyle. He draws to his feet, balances in the private jet’s narrow aisle, points at his crotch, and thrusts his pelvis like a porn star. “I’ll tell you what yoga is good for: Fuuuuck-ing.”

“There are men who are fucking misogynist pigs, and then there are men who just really love women, who think they’re the most amazing people in the world. And that’s me. Maybe the reason I was promiscuous, and wanted to sleep with a lot of them, is that I love them so much.”
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In a world where women are STILL not making as much as men, in a world where women are barely getting maternity leave or child care but are judged when they don’t have children, in a world where only twelve percent of American TV shows are directed by women and only seventeen percent of American senators are women, the need for feminism (real, actual feminism and not just posturing) is achingly real.

Violence against women is still a major problem in North America, and a daily reality in the Middle East and many third world countries. Access to birth control and abortion continues to be threatened on a regular basis, even in the twenty-first century, even in the UNITED STATES. We are so used to this happening that we forget to be alarmed as our rights are chipped away by those who are supposed to protect us.

When gender isn’t a detriment to being allowed to do something, when women aren’t held responsible for their own rape (or told that they must carry a child conceived from rape), or actively discouraged from certain fields, then feminism is no longer needed. Then it can be a t-shirt worn ironically by bearded hipster dudes.

But for now, let’s dwell on this:
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Why does this rile me up so much? Because this is 2015. Because there is NO reason why American Horror Story would have fifty episodes, and not one woman in Hollywood was seen as good enough to direct a single one, or why a show like Scandal is in the lead with 23% of its episodes directed by women — that’s just barely almost a quarter. Yet women and men are graduating from film school in equal numbers.

But that’s just Hollywood, the superficial world of entertainment, we might say. Of course they are sexist!

Unfortunately, the world of politics isn’t any better.

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We are number NINETY-ONE in worldwide rankings of women in legislature. NINETY-ONE.

So the people crafting the media we consume are mostly men. And the people crafting the laws that control our lives and our bodies are mostly men. Is it any wonder it’s such a mess?

If feminism is about gaining equal rights and opportunities for women, then yes, I’d say we need it. Yesterday. And your hipster t-shirt isn’t going to help.

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