While large movements often seem to make the most social progress, perhaps it is the smaller steps that truly make the difference — especially when it comes to feminism.
Taylor Swift’s stance on feminism has always been somewhat of a sit-down approach until recently. In August, Swift told the Guardian: “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all.”
Other celebrities have taken a stance on the issue. Beyoncé’s performance at 2014’s Video Music Awards — boldly standing in front of a sign that read “FEMINIST” and unashamedly strutting her unique combination of powerful sexuality and sincere humility — will surely be one of this year’s highlights in the movement for feminism and equality. Also makng the list is Emma Watson’s poignant United Nations speech. However, it will be the smaller moments that really define the turning points of 2014 in terms of advocacy for equality and feminism, at least for me.
Although this year has had an incredible amount of gains for the feminist movement, it did not come without its share of setbacks, most notably the scandalous celebrity nude hack that seemed to set us back several decades in progress. Thanks to women like Watson — and now Swift — this blow turned out to be far less severe than it could have been.
Yet neither Watson nor Swift’s actions have gone uncriticized. Watson has attracted a manner of backlash from those outspoken against feminism, from those who are on the fence and even from members of the feminist movement who claim Watson missed the point with her HeForShe campaign.
The biggest criticism of Watson’s campaign is that once again men have become the heroes in the story, stepping in to finally get the job done after women tried but failed. I do not disagree with this sentiment; feminism is about empowering women to obtain equality, which will never happen as long as men keep saving the day, so to speak. Still, Swift’s statement perhaps has more relevance than we gave her credit for.
Swift appeared on the French Canadian TV show Tout le Monde en Parle where she stated, “I think when it comes to females in the media, you’ll see something that kind of upsets me, which is that females are pinned up against each other, more so than men… One thing I do believe as a feminist is that in order for us to have gender equality we have to stop making it a girl fight. It has to be more about cheering each other on, as women.”
Throughout history the small victories have proven to be the most important, and having Swift on board is surely one such step that tips the scales toward progress.
Undoubtedly Swift holds influence over countless young fans and she has proven to be a good role model — despite the misguided complaints that her love life and breakup songs have a negative effect on them.
However, the suggestion that Swift is somehow unfit to speak on behalf of other women due to her personal life is another distraction cleverly aimed at intending to dismantle the validity of a strong, outspoken woman. After all, how many of our favourite heroes only became so after radically overcoming their past struggles?
However, the question remains: what can men do to help? Equality must include everyone by its own principles, but when women are trying to achieve the right to be taken seriously, is involving men the best way to go? While it is refreshing to see Tom Hiddleston, Harry Styles, Russell Crowe and many other male — and female — celebrities lend their support to feminism, it is also important that they support the revolution for equal opportunity without feeling the need to make it all about men.
Swift is not the first celebrity to recently embrace feminism after a struggle to reconcile with the term and she won’t be the last. The movement started long ago and has come a long way since, but each step proved to be essential for the next, each drawback a requirement to some future progress — and it’s time we recognize that we all have something to learn about gender equality. It is never too late to take a stance.
Photo: Flickr / Avrillllllla