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Melanie Kruvelis: Et tu, feminists?

By Melanie Kruvelis, Senior Editorial Page Editor
Published December 5, 2012

Don't let Katy Perry's pyro-bosoms fool you — this firework is no bra burner.

Last Friday, Perry was awarded the title of Billboard’s Woman of the Year, narrowly beating out Octomom and that lady down the street who hands out pennies on Halloween. And as her first official piece of Queen 2012 business, the singer of “Ur So Gay” just wanted to get her politics straight.

“I’m not a feminist,” Perry said in her acceptance speech, “but I do believe in the strength of women.”

Thanks for the qualifier, Katy.

Perry isn't alone in her I’m-no-Feminazi-but-hey,-equality! stance. Carla Bruni, the former first lady of France, recently drew flak for her own statements about the current state of women’s liberation.

“We don’t need feminists in my generation,” Bruni said in a December 2012 interview with the French edition of Vogue magazine. The ex-première dame continued, saying that she loves family life, doing the same thing every day, and all the other splendors of the “bourgeois lifestyle.” Ergo, she can’t be a feminist.

Sigh. Et tu, Bruni?

Now, before I overfeed the Internet trolls, let me be clear — it’s OK if you’re not a feminist. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Perry kissing off the feminist label, or Bruni’s snub of the movement all together. But when you moderate your rejection of feminism with this nebulous “strength of women” bit, you get the sense that maybe, just maybe, Perry actually does support the tenets of the women’s movement. She just doesn’t like the stigma that comes along with it.

In other words, when you reject feminism, you’ve got to realize that you’re rejecting more than androcide and braless anarchy. You’re rejecting an ideology that says, at its core, women should live on equal terms with men.

Ironically enough, this aversion, or meh attitude, toward feminism reinforces the need for it. Or at least, the need for a better understanding of what it means to be a feminist. Because if the question is “who’s afraid of the big bad ‘F-word,’ ” these days the answer is, well, pretty much everyone.

Why are these women backing away from feminism? Or better yet, why does any statement praising gender equality have to be qualified with a “but seriously, feminists are so annoying”? For that answer and a migraine, we turn to Suzanne Venker.

On Nov. 26, Fox News published her editorial “The War on Men,” which claimed that the real victim in the battle of the sexes is guys. In her piece, Venker threw up the caucasi--, I mean, white flag, asking women to “surrender to their nature.” In other words, be a lady and would you please quit it with the feminist poppycock? It’s ... unsightly.

Venker’s logic goes something like this: Women are angry today. Which means they look like feminists. Which means they aren’t women. Oh yeah, and we’re all going to die alone.

See that? That link between feminism and unqualified, unwomanly anger? While Venker and others color this link as a causal relationship, it only takes about 15 minutes in a Statistics 250 lecture to realize just how baseless that claim is. Feminism is not the ideology of the angry lady mobs. To borrow from historian Cheris Kramarae, feminism is “the radical notion that women are human beings.” Connecting this idea to mass castration is a vast totalization of the theory. And a really crappy one at that.

Take, for instance, feminist literature. Sure, Barnes and Noble might put “The Feminine Mystique” in the same section as “The SCUM Manifesto.” But does that mean that Betty Friedan, the author of “Mystique,” wanted to eradicate all men as per the manifesto? Probably not. Just like Tyler Perry doesn’t represent all black filmmakers, “SCUM” author Valerie Solanas doesn’t represent all feminist writers. Pointing at the extremes and shouting “Look, I found feminism!” undermines the real intent of the movement — which again, is that women should be judged as individuals, rather than a product of their gender.

But maybe you’re like Bruni. Maybe you think we don’t need this dated ideology anymore. After all, women made incredible strides in the last year alone. In November’s election, 20 women earned seats in the Senate — the highest number of female seats in U.S. history. But simple subtraction reveals that 80 percent of senators are male. These numbers are even more startling in the boardroom. In 2012, only 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were women — a number CNN called “a milestone.”

And returning back to Bruni’s France, I doubt Olympe de Gouges would be impressed by the current state of women in the so-called country of human rights.

In response to Bruni’s comments, French female senator Laurence Rossignol tweeted, “As long as I get asked whether I’m the senator’s assistant, the next generation will need feminism.” Then there was the 2011 French initiative Action Relooking, where a handful of “lucky” unemployed French women get a government-sponsored makeover, to help them “look prettier” for job interviews.

And that’s not even mentioning worldwide struggles for women’s rights among racial, LGBT and socioeconomic lines. Which, for a self-proclaimed gay rights activist like Perry, might be of interest.

So what’s so bad about feminism? Maybe we don’t like owning up to the fact that there’s still work to do. Social progress isn’t moving as fast as Apple cranks out iPhones — and yeah, that’s a little bit scary. But rejecting a philosophy based on the outliers doesn’t get us anywhere. If you accept the idea that men and women are equal in value, if you accept the notion that women should be judged as people and not a gender, then to nuance Jeff Foxworthy — well, you just might be a feminist.

Melanie Kruvelis can be reached at melkruv@umich.edu.


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