FEMINIST CONVERSATIONS: Taraji P. Henson, Emma Watson, & CHVRCHES Singer Lauren Mayberry

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It’s that time again, readers! Our Feminist Conversations series regularly brings you messages from (mostly) female celebs who aren’t afraid to call themselves a feminist, and also don’t mind explaining to fans and readers what it is not. We started this series because frankly we are sick of hearing the negative and incorrect statements made about feminism, and believe we can do our part to share what it means to us, and many others.

In this edition, we’ll kick things off with everyone’s favorite fictional record label owner Cookie Lyon from the hit FOX show ‘Empire’, aka actress Taraji P. Henson. In an interview with the New York Post, the Oscar-nominated actress says her leaning toward feminism (definition: the social, political and economic equality of the sexes) came from how she was treated as a woman of color in Hollywood.

“I try not to think too much about it, because then you just start festering ugly feelings and ‘woe is me’ pity party. I’m not really that actress that says, ‘Oh, there’s not enough roles for African-Americans.’ Do we need more? Absolutely. Is there more work to do? Absolutely. But I can’t say that, because I’m working,” she said, saying earning the Oscar nod for her role in ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ didn’t have the “magic wand” effect as has Oscar nominations and wins for others in the industry.

We do like that she acknowledges the disparity, but is focused on the work she does have and is determined to set a good example. Because of her experience, she has no problem calling herself a feminist.

Taraji-P.-Henson

“A feminist? It’s funny because if you say ‘yeah,’ then it’s like you’re a militant person. But if a feminist means speaking up for the rights of females — then dammit, I’m a feminist,” she says adamantly.

It’s not just Taraji, but her bold character Cookie on ‘Empire’ who has been described as a brilliant breakthrough in feminist characters on TV.

“What makes Cookie a feminist hero are the complexities, contradictions and weaknesses that we don’t give much attention when praising her. We need more human portrayals of women on TV, always. What good is a badass if she can’t be flawed?” said Zeba Blay on The Huffington Post.

It is important to have more women of color speak out about feminism because there is a lot of talk about the lack of intersectionality and acknowledgment of the contribution of black women to the movement overall. Famed feminist author and activist Gloria Steinem, who could be considered the mother of modern feminism, says it was black women who invented the feminist movement, and that is who she specifically learned about it from.

The notion of feminism being whitewashed has been brought up a lot in the media recently, and British actress Emma Watson had no problem outlining why “white feminism” is problematic for the diverse group of women and men who identify with the movement in a recent Twitter Q&A.

In response to the question about whether she considers herself a white feminist, here is what Emma said:

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She tweeted this to the person who asked her the question by adding: “I want as many people as possibly to feel seen, heard and included in this movement.”

Her words echo that of another young feminist, actress Rowan Blanchard who was asked about her views on feminism not too long ago and took the time to write some thoughtful, intelligent and much-needed words about the importance of intersectionality specifically relating to people of color and LGBTQ voices in this discourse. If only more feminist naysayers were open to hearing about this aspect, rather than perpetuating the idea of bra-burning, man-hating feminazis.

It seems the world of entertainment is less glitz and glamour when you scratch the surface, which is why entertainers speaking out about important issues is always going to make a big impact, especially in this day and age where celebrities are our role models and they hold a large amount of social currency and popularity.

A young woman who understands this at its core is Scottish singer Lauren Mayberry from the band CHVRCHES. As a female lead singer of an otherwise all-male band who came to fame on the internet, Lauren’s reason for speaking about feminism is because of the horrible backlash she has received over the years simply for being a woman.

In an interview with Paste Magazine she talks about her reasons for being a feminist, and how online trolls and misogyny has made her all the more adamant to speak about it publicly.

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“I think a lot of people are confused when they try to describe that word, and they try to make it into something it isn’t. So it’s got a stigma attached to it that I don’t think is justified,” she said after also sharing about some of the nasty comments that are written in the comments section of one of the band’s music videos on Youtube, one which read “feminists are always the biggest sluts”. Classy, internet!

Paste Magazine references an op-ed she wrote in the Guardian in 2013 where she says she will not accept online misogyny and sexually explicit abuse.

“Women are spoken to like this every day, and not just those deemed to be in the public eye. The depressing reality is that campaigns like the Everyday Sexism Project would not need to exist were casual sexism not so startlingly commonplace. I should note here that I have never said that men – in the public eye or otherwise – do not receive such comments. I can, however, only speak of what I know, which is that the number of offensive messages directed towards me, ‘the girl singer,’ compared to my bandmates is undeniably higher. I should also clarify that this has nothing to do with hating men, as some have suggested. I identify as a feminist but subscribe to the pretty basic definition of a feminist as ‘someone who seeks equality between the sexes’. I am now, and have always been, in bands with smart, supportive guys, and have many amazing men in my life as family and friends. For that I am incredibly grateful,” she wrote.

“In the Guardian piece, I simply wrote the sentence ‘I am a feminist,’ and then I outlined the basic definition of it. And to me, it’s the social, political and economic balance between the sexes, which we do not have at this point. I don’t think we have it at all,” she said.

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As for her male bandmates, they have been made more aware of the treatment women get online simply for speaking up, sharing their views, or in some cases like with Lauren for fronting a band, just existing and being female. All members have learned how to deal with it in the best way possible, by controlling how they react to it, rather than trying to force people to see the light.

“You can’t change these people behaving like that. But you can change how you choose to respond to it, and how you conduct yourself. And that’s why it feels better to us to talk about it in that way, so if there are young girls following our band online, then that makes them feel less isolated when they might be dealing with similar things. And if there’s young guys following the band who are figuring out who they are, what they want to be, then that’s great, too—they might stop and think about their own behavior for a second,” she explained.

It certainly is an impressive approach to an ugly epidemic that seemingly has no end in site. But like our idea to consistently share positive messages about feminism on our platform in the hope it will counteract the negative ones, what Lauren and her CHVRCHES band members are doing are displaying feminism in action.

For those who are still confused or not interested in feminism, we’d like to end by sharing this video recently made by The Huffington Post explaining not what feminism IS, but what it most definitely is not.


 

One Comment

  1. Great conversation piece featuring some very inspirational Women. Hope we get more people speaking out about these issues.

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