(image via The Fader)
Here’s a fun new game the media has apparently decided it needs to play: interview a female celebrity (usually a pop star), demand to know her thoughts on feminism, then crucify her for her answer. Everyone gets one million clicks! Everyone wins! Except, of course, feminism itself.
There are a lot of things wrong with this brand of journalism. First and foremost, why is it that women seem to be the only ones grilled about feminism? No one seems to ever ask men these interview questions, even though, despite what poor Shailene Woodley seemed to think about the movement, feminism is not a gender-specific movement. Men can (and should) be feminists as well, in the same way that straight people advocate gay rights. It’s not about being a member of the party seeking equality, it’s about being a member of the human race. Secondly, it’s partly this aggressive witch-hunty, coal-raking nature of the damning articles about these women’s responses that gives feminism a bad name, misconstruing the meaning and thus causing women to shun it altogether in fear of seeming like man-hating monsters.
Here’s what Del Rey said:
“For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept. I’m more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities. Whenever people bring up feminism, I’m like, god. I’m just not really that interested… My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.”
It should be noted that I don’t really give a shit about Lana Del Rey in any meaningful way. She’s a pretty girl who makes pretty, catchy pop tracks with pretty, pleasing, and sometimes compelling visuals attached. She’s not pushing any boundaries or changing the face of music, but I like her songs for what they are: lovely, sexy, and slightly haunting (also I should admit that on particularly raw, weary days, “Video Games” has been known to make me cry). That being said, her sentiments about feminism struck me because, while I can’t say with total certainty that she actually meant what I think she did or if she fully articulated her own sentiment properly, her reaction is pretty in line with my own take on feminism, which is this:
Feminism isn’t interesting. It’s not meant to be interesting; it’s not a true crime novel or a Wes Anderson film, it’s not a trend that you put on and take off seasonally (the 90s are back in style so feminism must be too!), it’s not a hashtag or a meme. It’s a world view and a value system in which women, and men, are not denied rights, freedoms, or privileges based on gender alone. And you know what? Sometimes I think feminism is boring, too. Not as an ideology per se, but in the sense of: How are we even still talking about this? How is gender equality (or any human equality) still a fucking issue?
Feminism IS however, about affording women freedom, the freedom to make their own choices about how they live their lives. That means a woman should be able to lead an army or a multi-national corporation, but it also means a woman should be able to be a housewife and stay home and raise kids, if that’s what she wants to do. It’s not about mandates, it’s about choice. So a woman who does whatever she WANTS (be it running for Senate or taking on a submissive role in a relationship) is indeed, as Miss Del Rey puts it, a true feminist.
But most of the 1,270,000 Google search results for “Lana Del Rey feminism” beg to differ. Refinery29 called her “a feminist’s worst nightmare” which would make you think that her lyrics were about taking away women’s voting rights and selling all females into forced slavery, not cloyingly romantic ones like “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you,” or (her biggest offense I’m guessing) willfully yielding ones like “Light of his life, fire of his loins/Keep me forever, tell me you own me.” Jezabel, for their part, made sure to reduce her to “a famous wedding singer” while reporting the story.
Not to ruin the rollicking good time being had here, but maybe if we were quicker to explain the basic tenets of feminism than we are to publicly lambaste women for saying the “wrong” things about an ideology they’ve been misinformed about, we’d have fewer women saying things like “I’m a feminist, I guess” and we’d definitely have to hear the words “I don’t want to sound like a feminist but…” a whole lot less:
Ann Friedman wrote a far more articulate piece about this topic for New York Magazine (“I Was Shailene Woodley; I Used To Say I Wasn’t A Feminist”) and her sentiment that “a little compassion is in order” couldn’t be more accurate. Feminism is by definition about equality, but by connotation it is also about supporting other women, and as Friedman notes, belittling females about their feminist misconceptions does not further the cause, it only scares people away from it. In the case of Lana Del Rey, nothing she said was anti-feminist; Her personal and creative choices are submissive and thus aren’t totally in line with those of self-purported feminists which makes her a target for bashing. To me, this calls the critics’ feminism into question far more than it does Del Rey’s.