Friday Feminist Funtimes: To Shailene or Not Shailene?

The thing about writing a blog centered around bolstering positive body image and dissecting representations of women in the media, is that one never finds oneself lacking in topical content.

There’s the power of the Book Girls and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign to consider, or the practice of using T&A as click-bait for feminist articles to discuss. Endless consideration could be given to the horrifying, violent, misogynistic rampage of the UC Santa Barbara shooter – further evidence that sexism isn’t just, like, totes annoying, but is in fact fuel for brutal, savage acts against women.

These are all subjects that deserve our time and attention, and may one day be broached on Beauty Coup, but today we’re going to talk about Shailene Woodley. This is Friday Feminist Funtimes, after all, and Shailene Woodley is causing a real fuss about the word ‘feminist’ and what it means to Shailene Woodley.

For those of you wondering “what’s a Shailene Woodley?”, here’s a quick primer:
She’s a young actress who first got attention as George Clooney’s tiresome teenage daughter in The Descendants. She’s also on the verge of some mega-stardom with two huge films out this year: she’s the lead in both Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars, two extremely popular YA novels.

In addition to her film successes, Shailene is also known for being an outspoken hippie vegan who shuns labels, loves mushroom powder, enjoys sunbathing her vagina, and doling out hugs “…so you know I’m real, and then you’re real too.”

This is Shailene:

source: http://www.fansshare.com/gallery/photos/12135811/shailene-woodley-image/
source: http://www.fansshare.com/gallery/photos/12135811/shailene-woodley-image/

This is what Shailene has said about feminism…

From an interview with Time magazine:

Is she a feminist? “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. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.

…My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism. I don’t know how we as women expect men to respect us because we don’t even seem to respect each other. There’s so much jealousy, so much comparison and envy. And “This girl did this to me and that girl did that to me.” And it’s just so silly and heartbreaking in a way.”

Then she went on to clarify these thoughts with The Daily Beast:

“…the word “feminist” is a word that discriminates, and I’m not into that. I don’t think there has to be a separation in life in anything. For me, bringing up the whole “sisterhood” thing was about embracing each other’s differences. Embrace my point of view even if it’s different from your point of view, but see that our end goal is the same. The way that we’re getting there might be different, but as long as we approach life with kindness and compassion, that’s all that matters.

I was talking about this with one of my close girlfriends… and she said, “Listen, Shae: labels are labels. I don’t need to label myself because I know who I am.” That clicked for me really hard, and it was this defining moment in my life that I’ve taken with me and encourage others to do the same. Labels are for other people to understand us, so for me, I know how I feel and I don’t need to call myself a “feminist” or “not a feminist” because I know what my truth is. If you need in your own mind to say that I’m a feminist so you better understand where I’m coming from and what my ideals mean, then that’s for you. Labels are for people to understand one another, not for us to understand ourselves. I know where my cayenne sits in my spice cabinet.”

The unequivocal Elaine Lui of Lainey Gossip recently posted a link to a summary of Shailene’s views on Celebitchy, alongside the statement, “I think Shailene Woodley is a dumbass. Do we agree on this?”

Do we agree?

I agree that substituting the word feminism for sisterhood or even humanism is a bit of an eye-roll-inducing cop-out. But, I’m a decade older than Shailene. I am of the Righteous Babe era, when so many of us wore Feminism as a proud badge of honor and courage and sometimes outright warfare. Not with the battle cry of We Are Superior, but rather We Are Not Objects, We Have Just As Much Value And Worth As You. I want her to own the label because to my mind, feminism is misunderstood, in part, because so many feminists are afraid of embracing the term.

I agree with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who defines feminist as “a person who believes in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes.” It’s that simple. If you believe in those things, then you are a feminist. It irks me when Shailene claims that feminism is divisive, discriminatory, and intent on raising women above men. To imply that loving men = can’t be a feminist, or being in touch with one’s masculine side = can’t be a feminist is pure idiocy. So in that sense, I agree that she sometimes sounds like a dumbass. Or at least like someone who has completely misconstrued the message and intent of feminism.

What I do love about Shailene is that she’s an atypical starlet and a contrary voice in Hollywood, aka a sea of predominantly indiscernible young female voices. As much as I brandish the label of Feminist, I agree that labels can sometimes be more trouble than they’re worth, and that we often take them on more for others than for ourselves. For example, I don’t need to label my sexuality for myself, but when people become very inquisitive I choose to give them the word queer. I use that word precisely because it requires explanation and sparks conversation, and because neither straight nor gay nor bisexual encompasses who I am. So if Shailene continues to shun the label of feminist and it continues to trigger tête-à-têtes with a young Hollywood actress about feminism (instead of just her diet or her love life or her fashion sense), well then bully for Shailene.

Another reason I do not agree that Shailene is a dumbass, is because in spite of her distaste for Feminist she is broaching really important feminist topics, even in polite company. When she appeared on The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon asked her about being compared to Jennifer Lawrence. Because of a piece in NY Magazine, we know that this portion of the segment ultimately didn’t air because of Shailene’s response. First of all, she said, “Well… Comparisons always lead to despair.” And then the audience booed her. I don’t understand why that answer called for booing. But there it is, our collective consciousness. “What’s wrong with comparisons?? JLaw is Awesomesauce!”

Shailene went on to say:

“As women, we are constantly told that we need to compare ourselves to a girl in school, to our co-­workers, to the images in a magazine… How is the world going to advance if we’re always comparing ourselves to others? I admire Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s everyone’s favorite person to compare me to. Is it because we both have short hair and a vagina? I see us as separate individuals. And that’s important. As women, our insecurities are based on all these comparisons. And that creates distress.”

That right there is the opposite of dumbass. Those are valuable insights into how women are perceived and scrutinized and pitted against each other. I suspect this didn’t make the final cut of the interview not because Jimmy Fallon has issues with gender politics, but because gender politics do not jive in the Crackle Happy Pop world of The Tonight Show. Which is a shame, because we’d all be a little better off with some challenging of the status quo served up next to our double turtleneck ping-pong.

Shailene is young. She knows what her truth is at 22. As a fellow outspoken, opinionated woman, I sure as f*ck knew my truth at 22, too. And like most of us who’ve been through our 20s, my truth has changed a bit since then. Shailene’s truth is very likely to evolve over the next five to ten years, and even if she occasionally sounds like a dumbass, I for one hope she keeps talking about it.

2 thoughts on “Friday Feminist Funtimes: To Shailene or Not Shailene?

  1. I don’t care one bit if she calls herself a feminist. I did, quite a lot actually, when that quote first came out. But like you, since then I’ve read more of her words, and what she is saying matters So. Much. More. than the label.

    I’ve gotten into several conversations over the years with women who so clearly live a feminist life as I understand it, bu who refuse to use that word when describing themselves. I used to think they were letting down the sisterhood – if all the awesome women refuse to identify with the movement, how will we make any progress? But now I lean more towards the idea that it definitely isn’t feminist to tell a woman how to speak about her own damn self.

    I believe deeply in the power of words, but in this case it would be ridiculous to value that one small word more than all the other smart, empowered words Shae is letting rip. I almost feel like we’ve reached a point where “feminist” – a word I personally treasure – does more harm than good. The reality is that it’s alienating, and it groups together so many millions of women who can’t even agree on what “real” feminism looks like among themselves. Maybe it’s time to all live our own truths, and let actions speak even louder than any words?

  2. I am Team Shailene all the way. I don’t use the word feminist to define myself either even though much of my belief system matches up to what feminists are striving for. I agree that the word it is exclusionary even if we don’t mean it to be. Even among feminists the word ‘feminist’ is divisive. I choose not to use it because I don’t feel the need to.

    I also want to say I appreciated that, despite not agreeing with everything she said, you didn’t rip into her, and gave credit where it was due.

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