Joseph Gordon-Levitt Wants To Know What Feminism Means To You


If there is any time to talk about feminism break down any myths about it, it is now. Earlier this week British actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson demonstrated in a speech launching the He for She Gender Equality campaign that feminism is not just about women, nor should it ever exclude men. When men are a vital part of the gender equality conversation, that is when change happens, and it matter more what you are doing, rather than how you label yourself, she says.

TV and movie star Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been probably the most outspoken young man in the public eye to declare himself a feminist, and not be afraid of dedicating a good chunk of certain interviews toward the topic. We love that he doesn’t understand how someone can’t identify as a feminist, as if it is the most natural thing in the world. He says the general conversation surrounding the movement today is far too caught up with the label or the word, taking away from what feminism actually stands for.

So in view of all this, it’s only natural that he dedicate an entire episode of his cable show ‘Hit Record‘ to feminism. His show has a specific theme for each episode where viewers are encouraged to share their opinions, making it more of a discussion forum rather than just a show hosted by a celebrity. In a follow-up interview with The Daily Beast, Joe (yes, we’re imagining being on nickname basis with him) talks about the power of discussion to be able to break down the stigma that surrounds feminism and other notions of gender equality.

He had no idea previously about how much hate and negativity currently exists toward feminism, but it made him do some research and come well-prepared this time.

“I’ve looked around on the Internet and seen what different people think—both people who are well known, and people who you probably wouldn’t know. It seems to me that it’s mostly an issue of semantics in that it’s the word ‘feminist’ that people don’t like; it’s not any of the principles. People are saying stuff like, ‘I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equality for both sexes’,” he says in reference to the handful of young female celebrities who are shunning the word but stand for its values.


“It’s really just an issue of how you define the word, and if people want to use a different word, I think that’s perfectly fine. The reason that I stick with the word “feminist” is that I’m a fan of the tradition of that movement. It’s been a very positive movement for the last hundred or so years.”

As for the people who believe there is no longer a needs for feminism now because men and women are treated equally 100%, Joseph ain’t buyin’ it!

“We’ve come a long way since the term was coined and women weren’t allowed to vote or own property in this country, but that doesn’t mean it’s a simple black-and-white issue. There’s a lot to talk about, and it’s a more nuanced conversation now than it was then, and that’s all the more reason for us to be having these conversations. There are still plenty of tensions and unfair situations that arise more so for women than for men.”

How come a young male in privileged America can clearly see the injustices women still need to fight against today, but there are others who don’t believe it exists?! *mind blown*

But perhaps the fact that Joseph grew up with parents who were journalists and made it a point to make both him and his brother aware of gender roles in society plays a huge part in knowing what women were up against from an early age. That in turn has allowed him to see how feminism has progressed, and why today it may be different, but just as needed.

“A lot of why it’s important to me has more to do with more subtle, cultural, and interpersonal ways that we relate to one another, whereas in the past, the movement involved huge policy changes like getting the right to vote, getting the right to own property, or getting the right to make one’s own health decisions—and certainly that fight is ongoing, but I think it’s interesting to talk about more subtle things that you can’t legislate, like the way conversations happen. There are all sorts of baggage around being a man, and being a woman. We need to talk about the roles we get assigned based on our gender,” he says before explaining that is why he wrote the film ‘Don Jon’ which he stars in with Scarlett Johansson.


“The two central characters in that movie are very attached to the dominant cultural norms of what a man is supposed to be, and what a woman is supposed to be, and they both try very hard to live up to what is deemed “normally” masculine and “normally” feminine, and it’s to both their detriments because they’re harboring unrealistic expectations and end up missing out on what life has to offer. Life is more fun when you’re not trying to fit into a mold, but trying to embrace your own unique individuality.”

“…the media…teaches us what a woman is supposed to be and what a man is supposed to be, and how a man is supposed to relate to a woman and how a woman is supposed to relate to a man. A lot of what we’re taught in dominant media is pretty narrow-minded and not a recipe for happiness.”

Echoing once again what Emma Watson said in her UN speech, feminism is not about dividing women, nor is it hating or trampling on men to reach equality.

“A lot of people seem to think that feminism is against men, or pits women against men, which is not my perception of it and not what my Mom taught me at all. I get it, and some people say, “I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, I’d call myself a humanist,” and I think that’s a good train of thought. However, I’d again go back to our history and our current state of affairs, which is not an equal one. So, it’s worth acknowledging that one gender has been more oppressed than the other.”

The Daily Beast writer Marlow Stern cites filmmaker Joss Whedon who has also publicly spoken about pre-defined gender roles and how they hurt society. Here’s what the ‘Firefly’ creator said:

Ist in its meaning is also a problem for me. Because you can’t be born an ‘ist’. It’s not natural. You can’t be born a Baptist; you have to be baptized. You can’t be born an atheist or a communist or a horticulturalist. You have to have these things brought to you. So feminist includes the idea that believing men and women to be equal, believing all people to be people, is not a natural state. That we don’t emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human, that the idea of equality is just an idea that’s imposed on us. That we are indoctrinated with it, that it’s an agenda.”


Joseph says feminism and being a feminist is an acknowledgement of and a reaction to the history and culture we’ve lived in for a while now. They go on to talk about how Obama signing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay in 2009 as his first bill as President shows that equality hasn’t exactly always been priority. And the news of the Paycheck Fairness Act being shot down again for the 4th time by Senate Republicans just recently is yet another blow to women in this country.

The ‘Dark Knight Rises’ star admits legislation is not going to solve all the problems, but it is a good step in the right direction.

“I just think that having the conversation is one of the most productive things that can happen and that, to me, is a lot about the promise of what the Internet can be, and how it can be things that other mediums can’t. I think that has a lot to do with various prejudices and narrow-minded pockets of our culture. We see the same thing over and over again on TV, it gets reinforced, and there’s no conversation about it.”

Something that will contribute a great deal is using online media to raise our voices and share ideas. The internet has given us all a chance to join in the discussion so that going forward, any idea or movement is not a dictated monologue but a dialog created on the back of democratic voices.

Here’s to this amazing conversation about feminism and how it can challenge many of JGL’s male counterparts and fans to thinking about the issue of gender equality and gender roles in a much more positive way. Check out his call-to-action to everyone and anyone to share their notion of feminism on his show:






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  1. Pingback: San Fran University Workshop Redefining Feminism For Bros

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