“Do you consider yourself a feminist?” It’s an interview question being asked of all the young actresses these days. Especially those starring in dystopian book-to-movie franchises with strong feminist undertones.
Shailene Woodley, star of the new Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars films, recently stated in an interview with TIME that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist “because I love men.” Woodley goes on to say that she “think(s) the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.”
Well, Ms. Woodley, I think I’ve found your problem.
Like many young people, Woodley doesn’t understand what feminism actually means, and who can blame her? With the way the media and our culture treat women, and the massive anti-feminism campaigns that have been going on since the 1980s, it’s hard for young people to get the right information about feminism and gender equality.
And, as I’ve witnessed here at TheHumanist.com, even some who claim to be humanists don’t seem to know what feminism is, either.
Feminism is a series of diverse but intersectional movements aimed at dismantling gender inequality in our society. Feminism is, at its core, a liberation movement, which attempts to liberate everyone from oppressive patriarchal gender confines.
It is not and never has been about “raising women to power and taking power away from men.” This is what the conservative think tanks who view feminism as the greatest threat to national security want you to think. Feminism is about leveling the play field, not promoting one gender over others. There’s already a word for that: patriarchy.
Feminism is about equality, but I can see why young women like Woodley might not know that. After all, people have been demonizing the word “feminist” for years.
What Woodley’s response really indicates is a larger societal problem, and one that should have us all very worried. Not only are young people not being educated about activist movements like feminism, they’re being told flat-out lies—that equality is something that happened years ago, that we’ve been there and done that, and that there isn’t anything else to be gained.
These lies are dangerous in several ways, the most prominent of which is that these young women will eventually face gender inequality in their lives and then feel as though it’s their fault. If we are telling young women that equality has been won, then we place the blame for any of their failings within the patriarchy on them, and not on the inherently flawed system that tries at every twist and turn to keep them from succeeding.
This vast ocean of misinformation is routed in oppressive and patriarchal thinking, which implies that power is a finite resource and that there is only so much to go around. This is a fallacy, as we have seen within our own movement. As humanists, we don’t look to take anyone’s religious beliefs away, but instead to allow room for our nonbelief within society. The religious majority views this as a threat, much as the patriarchal majority views gender equality as a threat. But, as we well know, widening the band of religious tolerance in this country can only make things better for everyone involved, and it’s the same with gender equality.
When women and other non-binary people are allowed the same opportunities as men, when gender equality prevails, things improve for everyone. That is feminism’s goal, and not the twisted version of matriarchy you’ve been fed from the mainstream media.
It’s understandable that a young actress, confronted with a question about feminism that may or may not be presented in a disapproving way, would want to distance any association with the unpopular misinterpretation of the movement. Had the interviewer known the true meaning of the word, perhaps it might have been a teachable moment, not just for Woodley, but for all the young girls idolizing her.
My advice to her, and to my fellow humanists, is always to research what it is you think you’re against before you say you’re against it. Woodley sounded a lot more like a feminist in the remainder of the interview when she spoke of the need for “a fine balance.” Balance—another word for equality.
Woodley’s answer aside, is there a correct answer to the loaded question, “Are you a feminist?”
Well, if you’re a humanist, then the correct answer is, “Of course! I believe all humans are equal, and I actively work to dismantle systems of oppression in my life!”
Because if you’re a humanist, you should be a feminist.