Opinion: We Need to Rethink Our Feminist Icons

2 mins read

Many consider the most important feminist activists of our time to be famous women in pop culture, such as Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga.

Many singers, actresses, and other celebrities aim to empower women and advocate for their rights and opportunities. Oftentimes they receive rightful praise for this behavior, as we need people in the public eye to highlight women’s issues. However, as a society, we often attach feminist labels to celebrities who may not be the most deserving, while leaving many devoted activists unappreciated. 

While Taylor Swift has contributed to the feminist cause with her empowering music and occasional advocacy on social media, her relationship with singer Matty Healy was deeply problematic.  Healy has an extensive history of making derogatory and racist remarks to women, and Swift’s relationship was contradictory to the feminist messages she promotes in her music and through X (formerly Twitter).  This is one of many instances in which celebrities and their idolized feminism can be performative. 

Similarly, standing as the most followed woman on Instagram, Selena Gomez is praised for her active use of social media to promote body positivity, mental health, and various other feminist causes. The use of her large platform is commendable, but her choice to work with director Woody Allen on a film in 2019 was contradictory due to Allens’ long-standing allegations of sexual abuse. 

Case in point, we all must reconsider who we grant ultimate “feminist icon” status to.

For instance, many readers won’t know Rima Sultana Rimu, a Bangladeshi activist who teaches women how to read and write, hosts workshops on female participation in peacebuilding, leads campaigns to raise awareness of women’s issues, and creates radio broadcasts to teach young women about their rights.

Many will also be amazed to learn about Nadia Murad, a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner who was kidnapped by ISIS and after her escape advocated for women caught amidst conflict, as well as survivors of sexual violence.

Even Tarana Burke, the woman who bravely initiated the influential and high-profile #MeToo movement, received less attention than the celebrities who supported it on social media.

Celebrities can and should use their platforms to promote female empowerment. However, we as a society should not raise them to “feminist icon” status when many celebrities would prefer to focus on their work rather than advocacy, and especially since there are countless individuals devoting themselves to improving the lives of women around the world we could platform instead.

Just look at Malala Yousafzai, one of the most famous activists for women’s rights. She was able to spread her message of gender equality on an incredibly larger scale after her harrowing story captured the hearts of audiences around the world.

By recognizing and celebrating true feminist icons, we give them the platform to share their advocacy with a greater number of people contributing to real change. So instead of holding up popular celebrities as ultimate visions of feminism, we should give the metaphorical mic to those who are doing underappreciated yet immensely important feminist work around the world.

Huraman is a junior at M-A and in her first year of journalism. She is excited to write opinion pieces and try her hand at style watch. In her spare time, she enjoys playing lacrosse, traveling, and reading.

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