Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a renowned feminist icon, offers a simple definition of a feminist: “a person who believes in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes.” If this definition is true, it would be hard to imagine anyone not calling themselves feminists. However, in my high school experience, I have seen multiple well-intentioned guys and girls shy away from labeling themselves ‘feminists.’ I asked all of these individuals if they believed in the “social, economic, and political equality of the sexes.” They all claimed that they did. Naturally, I then asked them why they were afraid to call themselves feminists. All three of their answers included the words “angry,” “screaming,” and “rioting.”
This language parallels an old Taylor Swift interview. When asked about being a feminist, the singer eloquently stated, “So many girls out there say, ‘I’m not a feminist,’ because they think it means something angry or disgruntled or complaining, or they picture rioting and picketing. It is not that at all. It just simply means that you believe that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities.”
However, since that interview, countless “think–pieces” have been written on Taylor Swift’s “spineless” brand of feminism. Liberal women, in particular, have been vocal in attacking Swift for her complicit silence in the 2016 election. Where in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s definition did she say being a feminist entails endorsing a presidential candidate? Many of Swift’s contemporaries, including Bruno Mars and Carrie Underwood, did not endorse a candidate; however, the number of tweets and Google results indicate there was significantly more backlash to Swift’s non-endorsement than Underwood’s or Mars’.
When asked why the backlash to Taylor Swift’s feminism is so pronounced, liberals frequently argue that she exploited feminism to boost her career but did not authentically support the feminist movement. How exactly did embracing feminism bolster her career? Bruno Mars and Carrie Underwood, who have not publicly labeled themselves feminists (Underwood actually claimed that she would not call herself a feminist), received exponentially less criticism from “feminists” than did Swift. Putting aside her triumphant sexual assault lawsuit, Swift used her platform of millions to promote the ideology of feminism. Unfortunately, the backlash to Swift’s support of feminism exemplifies a dark, exclusive brand of feminism that ostracizes women for “not doing enough” or for “being a fake feminist.” Swift’s case merely illuminates a broader issue within the feminist movement.
Some extreme, radical feminists have hijacked the movement, creating a misconception of feminism that has repelled many people from the movement. A culture of attacking women for not doing enough for feminism seems, ironically, very anti-feminist. Perhaps this exclusive climate contributes to the hesitancy of young girls and guys to label themselves feminists. How can the feminist movement reach equality by putting down other women? Feminism should strive to be an all-encompassing movement of men and women, conservative and liberal, working together to address the systemic inequality between men and women. Bashing other women, however, does not seem to be a good starting point.