FEMINIST CONVERSATIONS: Pharrell Williams, Prabal Gurung & ‘Luke Cage’s Mike Colter

You can tell when a man’s defined masculinity is fragile and only based on toxic measures, when he is threatened by feminism and women have equal rights. Thankfully, there are more and more men speaking out in favor of equality, and unashamedly calling themselves feminists. Along with a focus on intersectionality, we need men as allies to show the world that we shouldn’t have to still fight for basic equal rights in 2017.

Nevertheless, we publish our regular Feminist Conversations series with the intent to dismantle myth and fear around the idea of “feminism”, by sharing what various celebrities have to say about why they support it. Since feminism is lived out and defined in numerous ways, hearing certain people talk about how it applies to them can have a powerful effect.

This edition is definitely a “male allies” edition, beginning with “Happy” singer Pharrell Williams. In an interview with Esquire.com about his involvement with the Hillary Clinton campaign last year, Pharrell also spoke about his recent work, penning a song for the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ which was the number #1 movie at the US box office 2 weeks in a row, beating ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ which was playing at the same time.

“The female contribution to anything significant has always been historically dismissed or discounted, or often erased,” he said.

The story centers around the real life contributions of pioneer black female scientists Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson (played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) whose work at NASA in the early 1960’s helped ensured some of the early space missions were successful, thanks to their precise mathematical calculations and computer programming.

Many are commenting on how incredible it is that this movie is only being made now, but judging by is popularity with audiences, it is better late than never. Pharrell’s affinity for affirming female leadership is not a one-off. In 2014 during a concert in Sweden, he brought on stage the leader of the Feminist Initiative party in anticipation of their nation elections, urging people to vote for them.

In 2016, he traveled to North Carolina with the Clinton campaign to rally the masses in the swing state. For a long time he has been saying that he wants to see a female president, and he had hoped 2016 might be the year.

“I don’t know what I could do, but I know if women wanted to, they could save this nation. If women wanted to, they could save the world,” he said.

On stage he spoke about the need to recognize that men and women were all created equal, but clearly many across this country do not think this is a priority, voting for a man who was happy to brag about sexual assault and call women derogatory names.

“Women have a lot to carry, right?. Including the entire human species. That’s deep. And still they don’t have an equal say on this planet. That’s insane. Meanwhile, their feelings are suppressed, their spirits are oppressed, and their ambitions are repressed,” he said. There’s still time to correct the mistakes of the past, but the emphasis on gender equality must remain.

Another male ally using his position of influence to share feminist messages is Indian designer Prabal Gurung, best known for dressing the likes of Kate Middleton and Oprah Winfrey among many others. His latest collection was called “Modern Feminism” which has been released in retail stores. He explained to Elle India he chose this name to clear up confusion about the term.

“There’s a misconception that feminism in a traditional sense means that you have to hate men or be more like them. You don’t. A woman’s greatest strength comes from embracing her femininity and being unafraid of the way she is. I call it ‘modern feminism’ because I want it to become obvious that, as a woman today, you have a choice—and having a choice, a voice, a vote is the most important thing,” he said.

He spoke about feminism in India, and how there needs to be more emphasis on gender equality given it is a culture steeped in patriarchal tradition and culture which has led to high rates of gender violence.

“If India wants to be taken seriously as a global player, it has to uplift its women. Like Michelle Obama said: the measure of any society is how it treats its women,” he said.

Prabal also put to rest any idea that the fashion industry is anti-feminist, as it has been one of the few areas where women have been given a louder voice than women in other industries.

“To trivialize fashion by calling it anti-feminist is one of the most ridiculous things to say. Fashion has given the world some incredible influencers—Coco Chanel, Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg. As designers, we’re giving women the choice to dress the way they want. This very fact is one of the hallmarks of feminism: the element of choice,” he said.

He is currently working on a collection with Lane Bryant which focuses on plus-size women, in order to further the message about diversity in fashion.

“I’m in fashion partly to have a conversation about inclusion. As a brand, I offer all sizes, but retailers don’t buy them. With Bryant, we’re going to be able to reach out to a lot more people and keep that conversation going,” he said.

While Prabal spoke to Elle India, actor Mike Colter, best known for his role as Luke Cage in the Netflix series of the same name, spoke to Elle USA about being a feminist and a superhero. He gave readers in an insight into the casting process of ‘Jessica Jones’, the Netflix series where his character was first introduced, and how it was refreshing to play a superhero opposite a female superhero where they were both equals.

“I thought it was really interesting. I didn’t feel like, oh, this is a female-driven show, and she’s front and center, and I’m playing the supportive guy who is there when she needs him, yet I’m a superhero doing my own thing. I really dug that he could do more to help her, but he’s not trying to impose his role on her whole life because she’s capable. If she needs him, she’ll ask for help. And if not, he’s just there,” he said.

In a world where we see such toxic representations of masculinity and gender roles, it is also refreshing to hear a guy explain how the dynamic between Luke and Jessica’s sex scenes is also different to what we are used to seeing on screen.

” Luke is this strong character, this strong superhero, but at the same time the women are the aggressors, they seem to be a little more forceful—I think it’s partly Melissa’s way of presenting these characters: women can decide that they want to have sex and they can decide to be the pursuer and not necessarily wait…It’s always like men are always supposed to be the aggressors―it’s not predatorial, but it does feel like the woman has less power sometimes in every scene,” he said.

When asked whether he was a feminist (which seems like it would be an obvious one at this point in the interview given his level of woke-ness about gender and identity), he related his answer to the superhero world, in a way.

“I respond to women who have their stuff together, who are in charge, who don’t need men to do things for them. I want a woman to have her own thing, you know? My wife is very smart, she’s got a doctorate degree, she’s got her own career going, she doesn’t need me to take care of her. I respond to powerful women. I’m not intimidated by that, I like that, it’s not something I shy away from, so I don’t want women who are looking for me to take care of them. To me, that’s a turn-off. I respond to strong, powerful, independent women,” he said.

Powerful perspectives from three equally powerful men in their own realms which we hope will be part of the ongoing conversation about feminism today.

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