Keeping feminism relevant

This guest article is by Rachel Calvert ’14.

In high school, before studying something difficult, heavy, or abstract, some teachers would try very hard to make the topic fresh and relatable for us students.

Maybe they’d do a little rap about Shakespeare: “Yo yo yo, iambic pentameter is cool guys, just like Tupac, let’s analyze this scene where we encounter Shylock!” I understand the appeal of turning to this reductionist strategy when trying to talk about tough stuff. And sometimes, it is useful. And fun! Kind of like analyzing what celebrities do through a feminist lens.

We are consumers of pop culture, so it is important to keep an eye on what it’s doing. Our music, our television shows and our celebrity icons say a lot about cultural values and anxieties. That being said, I don’t want to read one more article that posits the future of feminism on Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey or any other lady like that.

These women have been criticized for wearing too little, for being too prude, for not fully embracing feminism as female role models, etc. It is not fair that just because they are famous and ladies that they have to represent all women. None of them started their careers as feminist musicians. And frankly, I just don’t care. What’s more important to me than pop musicians becoming perfect feminist role models is that we remember to admire judges, lawmakers, activists, scientists and writers, too. I don’t care if a Pussycat Dolls poster is on the wall of the preteen I babysit if she can tell me about Justice Sotamayor.

I don’t want to dismiss what pop artists do—because it is important, with serious implications. And would it be super dope if Taylor Swift wrote a ballad blasting slut-shaming and Lana Del Rey incorporated second-wave feminism as part of her vintage aesthetic? Sure! I just don’t believe the MTV Video Music Awards will be the final resting place of the patriarchy. In the meantime, I want to keep conversations focused on equality in medicine, law, education and the workforce.

So now that I’ve spent a considerable amount of conversation on that conversation I don’t want to have, let’s move on.

There are a number of subjects pertinent to feminism and college students I’d like to keep talking about. April was sexual assault awareness month, but we should continue being both aware of and active about this issue. This includes educating each other and the greater community about what sexual consent means and why it is important. Hint: Consent means enthusiastic agreement. Yes means yes. Silence means no. Crying means no. Too drunk means no. We need to talk about rape culture—why are so many people sexually assaulted every year?

What lets this happen? What messages are we sending to women and men about rape, and should those messages be adjusted? How might ‘casual’ sexual harassment contribute to more dangerous sexual violence?

We also need to keep talking about equal pay. Access to reproductive healthcare. Sexual education. Sexism in academia, the home and work. Let’s have conversations that remind us of all the badass women in history and the news so young women and girls have role models across a diverse range of fields. We also need to keep a critical eye on the feminist community to ensure diverse voices are represented. It can’t just be a white, middle-class agenda.

But with all this talking, we also need to keep doing. Activism means action. Talk helps theory but thoughtful action makes it real and relevant.

So let’s keep talking and doing feminism in order to advocate for everyone—because feminism should be for everyone.