Celebrities Bring Rebranded Feminism to Pop Culture

Maggie Menditto, Contributing Writer

In an August interview with The Guardian, Taylor Swift “came out” as a feminist in mainstream media: “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all.”

This declaration has come on the heels of Swift’s deliberate rebranding of her public image. Four days before The Guardian published this account of the artist’s “feminist awakening,” Swift premiered her number one hit single “Shake It Off ” and announced the release date of her long-awaited fifth album. Swift has gone so far as to weave traces of her newfound beliefs into the promotion of her forthcoming record. In a statement for the same article, Swift said, “I really resent the idea that if a woman writes about her feelings, she has too many feelings.”

With the buzz around Taylor Swift at an all-time high, her ideological shift into the feminist arena surely won’t be overlooked. As an artist notorious for rebranding her aesthetic every few years, Swift’s legions of fans are accustomed to redefining their expectations and tastes accordingly.

In bringing such an accessible definition of feminism to the forefront of popular culture, Swift is also fighting against the common mischaracterizations of the movement that many women in the spotlight hold. Fearful of alienating fans, many female entertainers in the past have chosen not to associate with the term, instead adding to the historical misconception of feminists as radical man-haters.

In her performance at the 2014 Video Music Awards, Beyoncé solidified her position at the forefront of the recent celebrity feminist movement. During the 15-minute medley of songs from her eponymous album, Beyoncé stood at the center of the stage with the word “FEMINIST” glowing behind her silhouetted frame as a sample from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “Why We Should All Be Feminists,” played overhead. The sample, originally included on the track “***Flawless,” from the same album, features Adichie defining a feminist as as someone who “believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

While celebrity feminism has raised awareness concerning the foundation of the movement, it is important that this heightened national consciousness come hand-inhand with productive education and action. With celebrities like Swift and Beyoncé serving as the torchbearers for millions of pop culture consumers, many young fans may be compelled to follow their examples weakly and blindly and to allow this opportunity for discussion to pass by. Although the mainstream popularization of feminism is inherently positive, we must be wary of oversimplifying such a complex issue.

The fight for gender equality cannot be compressed into a sound bite or a headline. In an impassioned think piece for The Guardian, author and cultural critic Roxane Gay rails against the nationwide rhetoric surrounding the nude celebrity photos leaked last month: “What these people are doing is reminding women that, no matter who they are, they are still women. They are forever vulnerable.”

Incidents like this have become almost expected and trivialized in popular culture. Such invasions of privacy are overwhelmingly targeted at women, telling the victims that they are to blame, that they should feel shamed. This is a large-scale illustration of just one of the many commonplace examples of misogyny and prejudice seen and felt on a daily basis.

We don’t all need to be perfect feminists. Celebrities have brought the term to the airwaves and in doing so opened the door to conversation. With so much left to achieve in the fight for gender equality, it would be disappointing to see this rising societal consciousness fade away with the end of an artist’s marketing campaign.