Stop The Presses! Shailene Woodley is NOT a Feminist…

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…And, unfortunately, she doesn’t know what that quite means — given her answer in a TIME interview published yesterday. The piece doesn’t start out all that well when it mentions other female celebs who’ve either branded themselves with the label or shunned it completely, as though it was the hottest trend right now: to be or not to be a feminist! Woodley chose her side by declaring herself not a feminist when the interviewer pointed out her conscious effort regarding which messages she conveys to her young female fans. This was what she had to say:

TIME: …Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Shailene Woodley: No because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.

Just so we’re clear, here’s the definition of Feminism as found on dictionary.com:

Feminism  
fem·i·nism [fem-uh-niz-uhm]
noun
1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2. (sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
3. feminine character.

I’m confused. Nowhere in this definition do I see women overthrowing men, as though it’s a gender monarchy where only one gender will rule over them all. Last I checked, feminism was about creating equality between all genders, because guess what Shailene? There isn’t any, and a perfect example of this is that on average women make less money than men do for the same exact work (Canada/USA). And, right now, women are fighting for control over their bodies in the United States which is an issue that men don’t have to experience. It’s not about the oppressive group becoming the oppressors, in the same way that African Americans wouldn’t have become oppressors in their fights for equality during the Civil Rights movement. Equality has always been feminism’s mission statement from the beginning; making up a definition for it without any research is passing on misconceptions to the same young female audience that Woodley is so conscious about.

Another misconception is that being a feminist and loving men are mutually exclusive. No! They’re not. There are feminists that love men just fine. In fact, there are men out there that self identify as feminists and act supportively in the movement. Weird, right? Since we’re debunking myths:

  • not all feminists have armpit hair, and not all feminists don’t!
  • not all feminists are lesbians, but there are lesbians who are feminists!
  • on the whole, we do not practice blood sacrifices to a pagan god and/or Satan!
  • there isn’t a test you have to take to be a feminist! Do you believe women should control their own bodies? Do you think women should make their own choices and HAVE choices? Is your daughter attending university with your support and encouragement? Do you hate oppressing an entire group of people based on their gender? If yes, you’re a feminist! Hurray!

See? If you just looked up feminism or did your research, we wouldn’t be in this awkward situation.

The Other Woman Movie Poster

The Other Woman Movie Poster

Woodley, overall, advocates for sisterhood and uses the film The Other Woman as an example (despite it being a film about women banding together to take down a man). I’m not calling the film pro-feminist or anti-feminist. I’m not saying that these women taking down this cheating dude is wrong. I’m pointing out, as the original interviewer begins to, that after having given her view of feminism as a mechanism of attacking the poor “man”, she used a film where sisterhood was formed over taking down a particular dude as evidence.

I’ll just let that sit there for a bit.

Look, Woodley is probably a great girl. She intrigues people off screen due to her anti-Hollywood image in the same way that Jennifer Lawrence began to when she first stepped onto the scene. But this isn’t the first time she’s said something ridiculous (calling John Green ‘the Prophet of YA‘ last month) and all I can say is that the upside to being a regular person is being able to say something ignorant and being corrected without having the whole world watch it happen. Guess we need to think before we speak twice as much when we’re public figures.

There have been people who’ve defended Woodley’s words by asking, “Why does she have to label herself?”

Why? Because, ladies and gentleman, words are a powerful thing. There’s power in saying them and there’s power in keeping them quiet. Woodley is hurting the cause for equality by not only maintaining existing misconceptions, but also by not associating herself with a word designed for use in solidarity between women and their allies. That’s not just on Woodley but those other celebrities as well, who like to dance around the word for whatever reason they may have. “Feminist” has history, and, by not declaring yourself, by deciding who is or isn’t a feminist by becoming gatekeepers, by not understanding the various discriminations within gender that come to play like socio-economic status, race, sexual orientation etc, we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot.

Shailene was right about one thing: we do need sisterhood. Too bad her refusal to use “feminist” is misrepresenting the sisterhood she’s hoping for.

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Senior Editor. BA in criminals (a minor in daydreams). Batman seeks her advice constantly. Bylines at Book Riot, Teen Vogue, Slate, The Toast and Hyperallergic.

8 Comments

  1. I really, really, really hope someone in her life gives her the real definition of feminism or she searches for it on her own and that she then reanswers this question with the correct knowledge in mind. I know she’s young and that is the only thing stopping me from blacklisting her honestly.

    • I agree. Youth is an opportunity to grow and learn. Hopefully she’ll see similar articles/posts/criticisms that make her go out and seek actual, researched answers.

  2. Unfortunately, the man hater “definition” of feminism is widely circulated. People don’t care to research to find the truth so they take that “definition” as fact. I think that Shailene wants the same thing that feminist want, but has accepted the false definition because that is what she has heard. With the way feminism is portrayed in media, I can see why she thought that. Hopefully, this incident provides an opportunity for her to become educated on what feminism actually is.

  3. Little Scratches on

    To be quite honest, at her age, I used to think quite similar: That all feminist were the kind that just assumes all men are inherently evil just because they’re men.

    Because 1. that was what the media suggested and 2. what Alice Schwarzer, the most prominent feminist in my country, seemed to present herself as. I also thought that feminism was too narrow a cause for me, because I’ve always been a supporter of equality for all.

    So I shuned the label of feminist and called myself an equalist instead.

    NowI know that that still makes me a feminist, but I can see the same error of judgment in many young women today. Most of them probably only know strawfeminists or the hateful, exclusive side of the real movement, because that is the one that gets the most media attention.

    From my own experience I’d say they do need someone who shows them what real feminism is. That it is not only pointing out how much we should hate the patriarchy but also that feminism is about loving and respecting yourself and your fellow women (which by the way includes anyone who thinks of themselves as a woman) as much as you do men.

    • I didn’t call myself a feminist until first year of University when my Professor asked who was a feminist (most of the girls including myself said we weren’t) and preceded to shoot down the myths one by one. I’m grateful of that discussion and learning experience. Hopefully other criticisms like this will start a conversation and educate people. Nothing wrong with spreading some knowledge 🙂

  4. You know, there a bunch of female celebrities who refused to call themselves feminists at one point and later revised their statements. Which I take to mean one of two things. Either

    A) it mean they learned much more about feminism and, after educating themselves, were comfortable applying the label to themselves

    or

    B) there is a stigma in the entertainment industry against women calling themselves “feminists,” and that they may even be coached by agents not to say that they are because it could injure their image and change how people perceive them.

    I’d like to believe more often than not it’s A, because it means that despite the disinformation women like Shailene are receiving, there is also a pipeline of information out there, willing to clue them in, and that they are willing to seek out. That’s hopeful, not just for celebrities but for all young women who believe in the core ideas of feminism, but are led to believe feminism is something else entirely.

    But I’m afraid it’s B. Two of the main examples I can think of in the revised opinion situation are Lady Gaga and Beyonce, who both at one point in their careers mentioned not being feminists (Lady Gaga went so far as to say “Hail men!” in her explanation) and who, later on after far more success, were willing to identify as feminists. Beyonce went so far as to sample Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s amazing speech on the need for feminism in the modern world for her most recent album…specifically a section that defined feminism clearly as “the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

    But were they never REALLY self-identified feminists, or were they just discouraged from using the “f” word until a time when their careers were solid and set enough that admitting to be feminists wouldn’t hurt their record sales? Is it something that actresses are told, don’t call yourself a feminist if you want to be seen as bankable, you can say it after you’ve done your “set for life” film. Even Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway and Scarlett Johansson, who have all made very feminist statements about the attitudes of Hollywood towards women, seem to not be ready to identify as feminists. If any of them have, I can’t find the exact quotes…though Lena Dunham has called Hathaway a feminist (though Dunham’s own feminist credentials have been seriously, and rightfully, called into question in regards to her treatment of women of color).

    Point is: the problem here no matter what is disinformation. Either it is that these celebrities have not yet realized the depths of the misinformation they’ve been fed, or they are being used to further the misinformation cycle under the guise of protecting their own careers. Honestly, if that’s true, then it means there is a perception in entertainment that a celebrity’s mental health being sprawled across the news, unchecked substance issues and even outright use of bigoted slang is LESS harmful to a woman’s career than daring to call herself a “feminist.”

    BULL. SHIT.

    • I think you are dead on. I also don’t just think it’s the entertainment industry where women are punished (even if it’s in ” silent” ways we never see but know are happening even when we can’t prove it) for identifying openly as a feminist.

      Many of the professions that are still extremely male dominant—-law, engineering, investigative journalism, business, banking—all still operate under this silent assumption that women, more so than men, have to be team players. Women are still labeled the B word if they show up to play. They still have to be “one of the guys” and foresake their femininity on many fronts to get a promotion or to try and stay ahead.

      Women who identify as feminists are viewed as difficult. Trouble. And they are silently punished in quiet ways that we never see.

  5. CaseyJones on

    Gang, this is great. It’s always bugged me that people are stuck to the idea of feminism is based on hate. In fact one of our greatest strengths, and forgive the blanket statement, is being collaborative.
    To me feminism is the belief that you should be able to pursue your desired path irrespective of sex.
    Thanks for a great article.