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Feminism and pop music

Patricia TorvaldsFeminism in pop music has suddenly become shockingly, aggressively popular.

Debates on whether or not we’re in the fourth wave, or, at a lower level, if we “still need feminism” (hint: we do) rage while pop singers announce themselves as feminists or denounce the idea. Miley Cyrus, Lily Allen, Beyoncé, Lorde, and so many others have recently declared themselves feminists, while Taylor Swift and Katy Perry have whipped out the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but ...” every time they are confronted with the “f-word.” The state of pop culture now is still bizarrely sex-negative while encouraging promiscuity, still objectifies women of color while claiming to “empower” them. Cyrus herself, who in an interview with BBC Radio 1 claimed to be “one of the biggest feminists in the world,” flaunts her sexuality with pride while devaluing and objectifying women of color in her performances.

“Pop feminism” sends a message, but often that message is skewed by the great variations in definitions of feminism and by its lack of intersectionality: most often, the proponents and their audiences are white women. Intersectionality is a theory explaining how different forms of oppression interact in women’s lives.

So by no means do even the most feminist-friendly chart-toppers do a great deal for the feminist movement. Women in the pop industry are wealthy and often white. They can’t speak for women of color, and they choose not to stop objectifying the women they should be standing in solidarity with. The media reports relentlessly on their clothing and weight, creating the base of Cyrus’ argument for her feminism in that she is unafraid to be herself; however, “being herself” seems to include smacking and objectifying women of color at major awards shows.

Lily Allen thoughtfully commented on this obsession in her video for “Hard Out Here,” but she, too, used scantily-clad women of color as backup dancers and was criticized for what some believed to be appropriation of both their bodies and their style of dancing.

Lorde, at age 17 is one of the youngest artists in the industry, and she commented on Selena Gomez’s song “Come and Get It,” complaining that she was sick of women being portrayed as ready to be taken and noting that she herself was a feminist. Gomez responded in an interview with “Flaunt” that “That’s not feminism. (Lorde is) not supporting other women” but said nothing on her personal views on feminism. It’s easy to see why people become frustrated with feminism for its internal oppositions: nobody seems to be able to agree what it means to be a feminist.

Furthermore, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who truly believes “pop feminism” to be representative of the feminist movement. Beyoncé is no Simone de Beauvoir, for all her fierce empowerment of women, and Cyrus can’t compare to Gloria Steinem no matter how often she claims to be the world’s biggest feminist. Even Lily Allen, who promoted feminism more blatantly than any other pop artist this year in “Hard Out Here,” received flak for her references to ghetto culture and appropriation of black bodies.

Pop feminism is loud, brash, and everywhere we look, but it is not by any means an example of intersectional acceptance of women. To some extent this is reasonable: feminism is so complex, so multifaceted and has so many focuses that it is hard to cover every base in a single song. This is no excuse, however, because tacit acceptance of a racist and misogynistic culture is still acceptance. Pop feminism is inarguably a form of feminism, but it is not enough.

However, these varied promotions of feminism are arguably better for the movement than the response it receives from some pop stars. Katy Perry has said, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” Several Hollywood singers and actresses have chosen to identify as “humanists” instead of “feminists,” choosing not to realize that the two are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, follow each other. Taylor Swift believes that “if (women) work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.” Interestingly she did not say “just as far,” only that one could go far in life, perhaps illustrating a need for feminism more clearly in her apparent ignorance.

Feminism is at its core the movement for breaking down patriarchal constructs in order to create equality for both genders regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender orientation, weight, ability or anything else. Hopefully, the sudden promotion of the feminist movement from so many different angles will encourage youth to explore feminism on a deeper level and eventually promote progress.

Patricia Torvalds is a senior at Riverdale High School, and she writes a monthly column for the Review. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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