Who is a feminist and what is the definition of modern feminism is changing with rapid pace. With women like Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo! saying that she’s not a feminist and that feminism today has ‘negative‘ connotations and parts of the feminist movement has a real ‘militant drive’ about it and that she’s never had that ‘chip on her shoulder’ or the need to identify as a feminist – indirectly saying that women who identify as feminists are possibly negative, militant in their views and with a big chip on their shoulders.
Singer Lana del Rey dismissed feminism as ‘not an interesting concept’ – a polite way of saying it’s boring. Actress Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting got a lot of backlash in a recent interview she did with Redbook magazine stating that she isn’t a ‘feminist’ and that she enjoys her wifely duties such as preparing lovely meals for her new husband (I emphasize new) and loves being a ‘housewife’.
The main thing that these three women have in common is that they found success early in their chosen professions. Marissa Mayer was recruited from Stanford and was Employee #20 for a little startup company known as Google then, and by age 37 she became CEO of Yahoo!, hired to turn around the flagging fortunes of an once Internet giant. It’s also worthy to note that when she was hired by Yahoo! as its CEO, she was 5 months pregnant and strode up on that stage with her burgeoning belly explaining how she will turn around the fortunes of Yahoo! without missing a beat or noticing the awkward glances from a largely male audience.
Lana del Rey and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting also found early success in the entertainment industry. Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting is reportedly earning $1 million per episode on ‘The Big Bang Theory’, one of the highest paid actresses (young or old) in television today. Lana del Rey’s sweet and sultry voice along with her throwback 50’s style, is a breath of fresh air amongst the hordes of manufactured pop music today. She is Amy Winehouse without the drugs and booze but every bit just as interesting. These three women for reasons all their own feel no need to carry the feminism torch or even identify themselves as feminists. They acknowledge the feminists of the prior generation paved the way for them today and are very grateful but feel no need to follow in those exact same footsteps. They explain their brand of feminism as every woman becoming the woman they want to become, to be comfortable in their own decisions whatever they may be. If it were only that simple. Because they found success early, they never got to experience the double whammy discrimination of ageism and sexism (try being an aging older woman in any profession). All three women are also white women from stable families, but that’s another topic all together.
Each of these ladies suffered their own backlash for their remarks, and each of them were equally baffled about the backlash. They felt that their comments were misconstrued and much to do was made from nothing. Marissa Mayer took the most blase approach, since she never felt the sting of sexism in student days and obviously not in her profession so therefore it doesn’t exist to her. Society or at least the progressive tech world has moved past that. Without knowing her biography in great detail, she was born and raised in Wisconsin in an upper-middle class white family in a white neighborhood. She was a happy child and loved her upbringing and in general has had a happy and fulfilling life. Her interviews in media and in print are annoyingly and genuinely chipper but for someone so obviously intelligent, she lacks a certain introspection of her unique position. That fact alone is more galling than the fact that she doesn’t identify as a feminist. She was able to achieve all that she set her mind to, with her drive, intelligence and the support of a loving family. She found the guy of her dreams as well, and he’s also successful in his own chosen field (different from hers), so no competition or feelings of emasculation by his very successful wife and by age 37, before all her good eggs dried up, she had her son. When asked how she achieved this, she gave the well scripted answer: hard work, dedication, a supportive family and luck in all areas of her life (including finding a husband). Ms. Mayer’s notion that the tech world is more progressive than other fields is just plain wrong as the most recent case involving Ellen Pao illustrates that any organization run by men are the same, regardless of the industry involved. The tech geeks are not more in tune with their feminine side, and they are not more egalitarian and tech companies are definitely not more of a meritocracy than other types of companies. Ms. Pao lost her case as she could not definitively prove gender discrimination as no one was dumb enough to tell her to her face or document the fact that because she is a woman she was terminated, excluded, overlooked etc., they used the typical line, it was performance based, but a new conversation about gender discrimination was started. Companies now know that their ‘old boys club’ antics cannot shield them from gender discrimination as it was done previously. The male only golf trips, spa trips and dinner parties where major company decisions are made cannot be used as a venue and excuse to exclude women.
Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting is well aware of her status as one of the highest paid actresses in television under the age of thirty and acknowledges what a honor and how unusual it is, to achieve that level of success at her age. The actors from the show ‘Friends’ didn’t receive those kinds of paychecks until they were well into their 30’s and 40’s and it was towards the end of their tenure on the hit show ‘Friends’. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has just been renewed for several years. If the ratings hold and the show doesn’t get canceled, she will be earning $1 million per episode for years to come. Mrs. Sweeting is newly married and very loved up with her new ‘wife’ status. I’d love to ask her in 10 years time, after she’s had a couple of kids and if she’s still married to Mr. Sweeting on how she feels about her ‘housewife’ status or if she’s still ‘not a feminist’?
As for Lana del Rey, she’ll eat her own words sooner rather than later. She is in an incredibly fickle line of work where it’s mostly run by men, most of them probably closet misogynists who view women as a product or commodity (regardless of your raw talent) and when you cease to make money for them, you are tossed over for the next young and hot thing. When this happens, the ‘concept’ of feminism will suddenly become very interesting and vital to her.
These ladies are each extremely talented and successful in their own chosen professions and they all deserve their successes, and I don’t think anyone begrudges them that. However, to say and imply that feminism doesn’t matter in the modern era and that society has moved past it is just willful ignorance and deliberate disregard for the facts. Women young and old in all professions and situations are routinely discriminated against. College campus assaults are at a record high and reporting and punishment of perpetrators are at an all time low. Due to the proliferation of social media use, slut shaming of women is carried out at levels previously unseen. Women have been photographed and video taped passed out drunk, drugged or under some kind of influence, in mid assault state, in various stages of undress and those footages have been shared by their perpetrators like trophies.
To prove any rape case against a perpetrator, the woman has to basically be a virgin or at least a chaste sexual history, stone cold sober and a prude, a situation of wrong place wrong time when she was assaulted. Therefore, raucous campus parties flowing with booze and underage drinking is a place normal and acceptable for sexual assaults. Even a prominent woman like Ashley Judd was abused on Twitter for simply tweeting during a basketball game. The abusive tweets she received were disgusting but even more disgraceful. Some twitter users threatened to rape her, to physically harm her – all because she said that the opponent of Kentucky State (her hometown team and Ashley Judd is a well known super fan) had possibly cheated or something, and the torrent of abuse from the fans of the opposing team surfaced. Some of the tweets are truly disgusting and cannot be reprinted, and when she reported these tweets and said that she will seek punishment for all the people that wrote tweets threatening to physically assault her, she was told ‘to get a sense of humor’ or stay off twitter if she can’t handle the backlash.
Most of us are not born feminists, we become feminists through the bullshit that we are put through in our lives, most women experience some sort of sexism and misogyny early and that paves the way for us to become a feminist and fight for what’s ours, to not be overlooked, stepped on and crapped on over and over again. When you have been walked on over and over again, sometimes even by members of your own family, any woman would become a feminist out of self-preservation. The battles between the sexes are real, they are not the figment of the imagination of militant lesbian feminist threatening to steal the femininity of straight women. Gender roles have changed very drastically since the 1960’s and onwards, and as a result of this change, they are not as clearly delineated as previous generations. The man no longer just brings home the bacon and the woman prepares it, fries it up and makes sure everyone eats it. Domestic duties are not just relegated to women anymore and with more than half of women in the workforce today. Survey after survey have shown that even when the woman is working full time, she still takes on 70% of the housework, which concludes that in America, there are scores and scores of tired and exhausted women. Being overworked, exhausted and over harassed puts anyone in a foul mood, makes anyone angry and bitter at times, it’s nothing to do with being a feminist or not. Men should know this, as previous sole earners, they were probably at times overworked, exhausted and over harassed. In Barbara Walter’s memoir ‘Audition’, she was in the unique position in the pre-feminist movement era to have a full time job alongside her fellow men, even when she married as her family needed her to support them all. She wrote that for the first time she understood why some men were driven to drink and promiscuity due to dissatisfaction with their work. She said that being out there working is not as fun or glamorous as it seems and cautions all young women against believing that having a career will solve the boredom faced by staying at home. She noticed that many men do not have the satisfying career that they want, many work because they have to, many men never get that brass ring, never reach their maximum potential, never get the recognitions and promotions they deserve, and frustrations with work compounded with the need to provide for his family makes him view his family as a ‘ball and chain’ and it drives him to be angry and bitter. Of all the revelations in her book, I found this passage to be most insightful as only an observant journalist can see the real, beneath the surface struggle of a working man and astute enough to realize that having a career isn’t the only answer to the malaise that women felt during that time. Ms. Walters said in hindsight that perhaps she was a feminist, but at that time she simply needed to work and didn’t have the luxury of fighting for the feminist cause, which I felt was very gracious of her. She fought for us all by setting a stellar example.
If I were to be honest, when in my 20’s my thinking was not too different from Mrs. Sweeting or Lana del Rey, I had just met my husband, feeling very happy and in love, I loved cooking lovely meals for us, mending his shirts, pretending to be a ‘wife’ even before I was engaged. Even my devotion to the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem wavered a bit, thinking that if they were just a little more feminine and give a man what he wants sometimes, their views won’t be so extreme in certain instances. I didn’t realize then that pretending to be a housewife is no where near like being a real housewife.
It’s been over 10 years since our very loved up days, we are now married, with 2 small children, we are still very much in love, but not as loved up as our early days as to be expected. The daily stresses work, managing a home, childcare and other obligations has taken a certain spontaneity and liveliness out of me. I’ll be the first to proudly admit that I am not the same girl I was 10 years ago nor do I wish to be. I am a real wife now (not pretending to be one) a mother and a grown woman. And if having children doesn’t turn any woman into a feminist, I am not sure what will.