In an interview with Porter magazine, Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard criticized feminism, saying, “We need to fight for women’s rights but I don’t want to separate women from men… Sometimes in the word feminism there’s too much separation.” And her sentiment was echoed this week by none other than Meryl Streep, who declared in Time Out London, “I am a humanist, I am for nice easy balance.”
Listen, I’ve learned to roll with the punches for Marion. Let’s not forget that this is a woman who could be described as both a 9/11 attacks truther and a moon landing denier. I love her movies, and short of a reveal of a secret racist or anti-vaxxer past, I plan to see every movie she makes from here on out. But I’m not about to subscribe to her political newsletter any time soon.
But Meryl… girl I am surprised at you. You, Mary Louise Streep—you are not a feminist? You, the star of Silkwood and A Cry in the Dark? You, who leap out of your seat every time another lady beats you for an Oscar? You, who are campaigning Congress for the creation of an equal rights amendment? You, who railed against Walt Disney last awards season for being a “gender bigot?” Self-described feminist Maya Angelou said that when people tell you who they are, believe them. So OK, Meryl, fine. You’re not a feminist. You’re only starring in a movie literally called Suffragette to fight for awareness of gender-neutral humanism.
Protestations about feminism as being “too separatist”—as Cotillard puts it—are no surprise coming from young starlets who have yet to get curious about the world beyond their success, but coming from women like Streep and Cotillard, the usual refrains about wanting balance and not wanting to cut men out are confusing. These are women whose careers and whose lives have clearly benefited from feminism, and who clearly seek out extraordinary women to portray in their work.
So what is it that’s so undesirable about the word feminist? Why does the myth of separatism persist? Women like Meryl Streep are supposed to be our base, not our swing votes. If we can’t convince Meryl Streep to call herself a feminist in public, how are we ever going to reach women?
While Gwyneth Paltrow is certainly able to claim that nobody is worth the amount of money Robert Downey Jr. may have who is worth the amount of money Paltrow has, for that matter?
Something that is a recurring theme at publications like The Atlantic or Slate or New Republic is the riddle of why women who are successful and well-known in a given field of activity do NOT self-identify as feminists. Well, maybe one possibility is that even if a person spends decades self-identifying as being for women having opportunities in a job market or artistic field all that status can be retroactively revoked in symbolic fashion by people on the internet based on one interview and the statements therein.
Take Chrissie Hynde, for instance.
As The New Yorker discussed not too very long ago, there's also been a breach between generations of feminists on whether the transgendered can ever count as women.
For at least older generations of feminism male privilege can essentially be something you can never lose even if you get gender reassignment surgery. Even if you try to give it up you can't really do so.
The LGBQT side of things has revealed, over time, that feminists have not all agreed on those issues across the last forty years and newer generations of feminists writers may (and often have) combined causes into a single totalizing approach. Your credentials as a feminist, whatever they may have been in the past, are contingent on whether you additionally sign on for other causes as well. It's not that feminists from earlier generations ever stopped being feminists, really, it may be that newer generations of feminists have added additional categories that may or may not have any essential connection to feminism. What gay men do would seem to have nothing at all much to do with women overall but a contemporary feminist may well be expected to be sympathetic to the cause even if gay men may simply be part of the patriarchy.
Hanna Rosin has been writing at various intervals about the disconnect between feminists writing online about the obstacles they face to getting what they want and what anyone else who doesn't make a living from writing might run into.
In the real world it’s hard to find a young woman who spends her time scanning for sexist insults. But on the Web it’s a steady job. And you can, if you look hard enough, find some sexist bastard at a tech company or a hedge fund or a frat who says insulting things every day. But this doesn’t mean that the patriarchy is thriving. The satire response to my piece from the Cut, “The 39 Things We’ll Miss About the Patriarchy,” includes a handful of genuine, timeless horrors such as rape and honor killings but also dozens of minor ones such as juice cleansing and vibrators shaped like cupcakes. See what I mean? Look hard enough, and you’ll never run out of examples.
One of the potential conundrums for those who are celebrities identifying or not identifying as feminist now or in the past (and we could just non-randomly consider a Taylor Swift) is that even with entrenched sexism in the entertainment industry some of the women who some feminist authors think "should" be feminists make more money in a year than many another woman (or man) may make in ten years. It's difficult to not recall what Joan Didion coldly proposed back in 1972:
July 30, 1972
The Women's Movement
By JOAN DIDION
To make an omelette you need not only those broken eggs but someone "oppressed" to beat them: every revolutionist is presumed to understand that, and also every women, with either does or does not make 51 per cent of the population of the United States a potentially revolutionary class. The creation of this revolutionary class was from the virtual beginning the "idea" of the women's movement, and the tendency for popular discussion of the movement still to center around daycare centers is yet another instance of that studied resistance to the possibility of political ideas which characterizes our national life.
"The new feminism is not just the revival of a serious political movement for social equality," the feminist theorist Shulamith Firestone announced flatly in 1970. "It is the second wave of the most important revolution in history." This was scarcely a statement of purpose anyone could find cryptic, and it was scarcely the only statement of its kind in the literature of the movement. Nonetheless, in 1972, in a "special issue" on women, Time was still musing genially that the movement might well succeed in bringing about "fewer diapers and more Dante."
That was a very pretty image, the idle ladies sitting in the gazebo and murmuring lasciate ogni speranza, but it depended entirely upon the popular view of the movement as some kind of collective inchoate yearning for "fulfillment" or "self-expression," a yearning absolutely devoid of ideas and therefore of any but the most pro forma benevolent interest. In fact there was an idea, and the idea was Marxist, and it was precisely to the extent that there was this Marxist idea that the curious historical anomaly known as the women's movement would have seemed to have any interest at all.
Now some authors, like Amanda Marcotte, have noted that, hey, things have changed a whole lot since then.
It may be one of the recurring faultlines within progressive thought, that if anything is finally achieved groups within the progressive wing can conclude that the goalposts need to move to the next goal. Now that those gay men and women who choose to can get married, some progressives hope to redefine what even a marriage and a family may be. Divest marriage of the tendency to accumulate private property, for instance.
The more utopian the vision of the ideal society, the more totalitarian the means of reaching toward it often tends to be. The historic pitfall of the left and the right over the last ... well ... more than a century really, is that whether we're talking about groups Richard Taruskin has described as utopians of nostalgia or utopians of a future society, they both have shown in the last century just how totalitarian they are willing to be to work toward that utopia.