Translating Female Pop Stars’ Quotes on Feminism

The media likes to ask female pop stars about feminism. A lot. In fact, for some reason, young female singers are bombarded with this question so much that it has become its own news category. When someone like Taylor Swift or Beyonce answers the question, “Are you a feminist?”, the Internet blows up with critique. There never seems to be a right answer.

There’s a problem in both the phrasing of the question and also in these women’s comprehension of it. The media, particularly certain feminist blogs, are looking for provocative discourse and celebrities are easy targets. (Feministing subtly calls this an “annoying conversation.”) But it’s more than that. It’s problematic not only because it makes women the targets of scorn by other women, but also overlooks the bigger forces at work behind the entertainment industry that promote a patriarchal business structure and overwhelmingly value female artists for their sexuality rather than their talent.

These young women (and they are always young when they get this question for the first time) are not thinking about what it means to be a feminist at the exact moment a reporter points her microphone at them and asks them to identify with something they’re not quite sure of yet. They are not dumb, but perhaps they haven’t yet evolved into their feminist identities. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay, even for someone righteously living like a feminist without knowing it yet.

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Links For Sexy Feminists: Oscars’ Opening Fallout, Sephora Addiction, Body Acceptance, and more

Rape Culture and the Oscars: This New Yorker blog offers a great, balanced look at the problem with Seth MacFarlane’s opening number. And his independent blogger calls us all out for ignoring rape culture when it comes attractively packaged. Finally, though we don’t normally think it’s fair just to turn the tables and objectifiy men, but this video pokes lighthearted fun at the whole thing.

Solve for XX: For a nice antidote, check out this talk by Geena Davis on media portrayals of women and girls.

Makeup Addiction?: Sephora can be fun, but beware: it’s an expensive habit. To keep it fun, moderation is key!

Women’s Health: Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women, yet too many people see it as a “men’s issue.”

The Body Beautiful: You don’t have to fall for the trap of trying to lose weight specifically because you’re getting married. Find a bit of courage from photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero, who documents others’ reactions to her body. From a medical standpoint, this article offers insight into how doctors should approach a “weighty” conversation.

Links for Sexy Feminists: Rape Protests in India, Unpacking Christmas, Gun Control After Newtown, and more

Solidarity with India: Thousands of Indians took to the streets to protest lengthy delays in bringing rape cases to justice. Their courage is remarkable, since one witness notes that many women are more afraid of police than they are of guys on the street.

Elsie is my homegirl: On a much lighter note, Jezebel ran a glorious profile of 1912′s perfect woman, and she sounds so rad.

12 Million Days of Christmas: As if you weren’t already sick of mall carols, here’s a great look at how creepy towards women they can be. Our friends in Australia are doing a feminist remix of the classic Twelve Days of Christmas. Secular and non-Christian readers may appreciate this American Muslim’s take on observing the spirit of giving.

Dudes can be feminists: The Yeti Detective tells us (some of) what’s wrong with the “friendzone.” Feminist or not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Fallout from Newtown: Why is my uterus more regulated than my guns? asks this rural Alaska woman.

Feminist or Not?: ‘The Hunger Games’

There’s no doubt that The Hunger Games is helping prove to the world the power of women. This film, based on a book by a female author, and revered with cultlike obsession by millions of women around the world, just set box office records previously reserved for boy wizards and a sinking cruise ship. But is The Hunger Games, and its bow-and-arrow-wielding heroine, Katniss Everdeen, a pro-woman feminist powerhouse or another example of oversexualized, uberviolent excess? We have mixed emotions about the whole thing, so here are the two sides. What do you think?


Katniss Everdeen is a badass. The Hunger Games is often compared to Twilight because both are female-targeted fantasy fiction, written by a woman with a female lead character. But Katniss is no Bella Swan. Rather than moping and brooding after an aloof, abusive guy, er, vampire, Katniss is a little more focused on saving the world. She’s the hero of the story not because she’s a woman but because she’s brave, loyal, determined and human. She fights for good, stands up to evil and the focus of her character is that she’s a warrior, rather than a sex object (we say a big thank-you that Jennifer Lawrence’s breasts weren’t forced to be a supporting character like so many other action ladies’ have been—yeah, like, all of them.) One feminist blogger even noted that the gender of this character could be exchanged without changing the story at all. That’s pretty revolutionary. [Read more...]

Feminist or Not?: From Beyonce To Sarah Palin, Weigh In On These Polarizing Icons

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We regularly discuss the feminist qualities of books, TV shows and sometimes, in the case of Lady Gaga, someone’s feminist evolution. But when it comes to these polarizing individuals, we’re undecided. Help us determine: Feminist or Not?

Think of anyone we've missed? Sound off in the comments below!

Feminist or Not?: 'Friends With Benefits'

I went into Friends With Benefits with my paws up, ready to hate it (and also ready to very much enjoy the relief of the movie theater’s hyper-powered air conditioning).

I walked out wistful, hopeful, thoughtful, and desperate for the oppressive heat to counteract the ridiculously hyperactive air conditioning in the movie theater. Seriously, if the power grid fails, it will be because of multiplexes trying a little too hard to assuage their customers.

In any case, Friends With Benefits turned out to be the most gender-balanced romantic comedy I’ve seen in a long time — I might even compare it vaguely with When Harry Met Sally. Of course it’s more knowing, more meta, more technologically aware, and, especially, far more raunchy than that paragon of romantic comedies. But it combined the dude-ness of all those Judd Apatow movies — The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up – and the cool-chick sensibilities of a Bridesmaids (also Apatow’s production, incidentally), and emerged with fully formed male and female characters, all of them funny, none of them slighted. Glory be.

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Feminist or Not?: 'Teen Mom'

MTV’s Teen Mom — and the show from which it evolved, 16 and Pregnant — have taken their share of blame for everything from “glamorizing” teen pregnancy (with some critics even claiming girls were getting themselves knocked up now just to be on TV) to standing by as the young mothers have abused their mates and neglected their offspring. The latter criticism is more valid than the former — we have watched as Amber punched baby daddy Gary and as Farrah let her baby fall off a bed — though producers say they’re there to make a documentary, not to interfere with the girls’ lives. But as the subjects’ lives have also become tabloid targets, questions about whether there’s really some societal good to be gleaned from what some see as an exploitative show have become both murkier and more persistent.

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Rihanna: Taking Sexy Feminism to the Extreme

Rihanna’s turning out to be quite the complicated figure, isn’t she? The gorgeous girl who gave us one of the greatest pop gifts ever in “Umbrella” once seemed headed for pretty-woman-who-sings-dance-hits-with-little-meaning territory; then, she became national news in the most unfortunate of ways, by being beaten by then-boyfriend Chris Brown at a pre-Grammy event two years ago. Now she’s emerged as a fascinating presence in pop: Yes, she still dabbles in those fluffy dance tunes (see her duet with Drake, “What’s My Name,” performed quite sexily at last night’s Grammys), but she’s made going pantsless into an act of empowerment (with a strong assist from Gaga and Beyonce, of course). And, more than anything, she also packs the occasional single with an unexpected truckload of meaning.

Case in point, her newest single, “S&M.” Though she certainly pushed some buttons last year with her Eminem collaboration “Love the Way You Lie” — in which she sings, “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/But that’s alright because I like the way it hurts” — her latest challenges listeners to process her personal life and artistic expressions at a whole different level. First, there’s the (extremely singable) refrain, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me.” Then, there’s the video, which plays as both a critique on the media coverage of her troubles (reporters are shown gagged at a press conference while she’s trapped under cellophane against a wall, and she walks gossip blogger Perez Hilton on a leash) and, more provocatively, her penchant for S&M (she’s shown tied up, in latex, and wearing a Playboy Bunny costume, among other scenarios). There’s no actual sex, and everything is art-directed to the hilt, giving it a heightened, pop-art vibe — it’s hardly realistic. And yet it’s been banned in 11 countries and protected by an 18-plus filter on YouTube. The song itself has been relegated to evening-play-only on many radio stations, and she wasn’t allowed to perform it at the recent Brit Awards. All this hysteria seems a bit overblown, to the point where it’s hard not to suspect a bit of sexism. Women are objectified constantly in rap and rock videos by male artists, yet apparently aren’t allowed to express specific desires themselves. Remember Justin Timberlake’s once-omnipresent “SexyBack,” in which he sings, “You see these shackles/Baby, I’m your slave”? That, it seems, was just fine. As Charlsie at College Candy points out, it’s likely no one would have trouble handling JT in such an oversexed video. And it must be noted that “Love the Way You Lie” — in which Eminem raps about tying a girlfriend to the bed and setting it afire — was praised widely, played without restrictions, and featured at the Grammys. I support this — I see it as a nuanced look behind the cycle of domestic violence, and a discussion-provoker. But why can’t Rihanna express her kinkier side as well?

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Why Is 'You're Fat' Still the Go-To Insult to Use On Women?

“I’m sorry but it just sounds like you’re fat and jealous of those women because they aren’t.”

This is part of a recent comment posted on a not-so-recent story I once wrote for FemiNoshing called “Why can’t even female TV cooks be fat?” While I agree that the story was written with a pretty heavy dose of snark, I’m not interested in rehashing that argument here. Rather, the comment, which devolved all too quickly into a personal attack, made me wonder why often the best way to knock a woman down, the best way to put her in her place and dismiss her, is to call her fat?

And it’s not just women doing this to each other. When men want to make a woman feel bad, whether it’s because she dared have an opinion, or because she rejected him in some way, they will point out that she’s fat. Sure, the words “ugly,” “bitch” and “slut” get bandied about too, but “fat” brings with it its own particular tinge of disgust and contempt.

Why is calling someone fat considered so effective? Oh, right — because being fat is not healthy! (My commenter talked about health, too, but I digress.) I’m not getting into arguments about health at every size here. Nor will I disagree with the concept that being morbidly obese often leads to health problems (and yes, note I pointed to the most extreme example here, because most fat people are not morbidly obese).

But there are lots of things people do that are not healthy. Smoking is not healthy. Drinking hard alcohol (wine, in moderation, is actually recommended) is not healthy. In fact, drinking and driving is downright dangerous. When was the last time being fat and driving caused a pile-up on the highway? [Read more...]

Feminist or Not?: ‘Black Swan’

I love a good head-trip drama and am an unabashed fan of Darren Aronofsky’s weird sensibilities. So I can easily list Black Swan as one of my favorite movies of the year. First off, I adore Natalie Portman, whose acting evolution has been so effortless, she’s bound to take home an Oscar before her 35th birthday. She’s also a damn sexy feminist. Sexy just because—well, look at her!—but also for never playing the slutty role for the sake of a magazine cover. Even her stripper in Closer was toned down, and she refused to compromise herself and appear naked—a decision for which much of the industry and world berated her.

In Black Swan, Portman plays a woman we all know (and can perhaps identify with, even if just a little): a perfectionist introvert who’s still a bit immature and will stop at nothing to be the best and reach her dreams. She’s faced with a startling degree of sexism and chauvinism—who knew ballet was so penis-driven?!—which she eventually smacks down to rise to the top. Despite how far her obsessions plunge her deep into the crazy, that’s a feminist message I can get behind.

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