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How feminism in pop culture took one step forward and another step back this summer

Photo by Raz Birkshaw

Viewers of the celebrity award show double-header in late August will surely have a lot to say about what went down, but perhaps most important to the conversation is how the VMAs and Emmys contributed to the conversation around feminism.

Let us remind ourselves what the VMAs were like last year. Miley Cyrus. Robin Thicke. Foam fingers. Twerking. It was embarrassing, to say the least. Flash forward to this year, and we have Beyoncé accepting her 2014 MTV Video Vanguard Award and making a whole other statement.

Beyoncé made the news by flashing the word “FEMINIST” behind her as she stood there with her hands on her hips, hair blowing in the wind machine, while she performed a snippet of “***Flawless.” The song features a sampling of writer and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDxEuston speech, “We should all be feminists.” Like many others, if it wasn’t for “***Flawless,” I would not have found Ngozi Adichie and broadened my knowledge on the subject of gender justice, so I thank her for that.

Beyoncé’s media team was smart to have her husband and daughter join her on stage to shun away her supposed divorce rumours. But what it also achieved was a projection of herself as an independent, feminist woman who still feels comfortable in the traditional maternal role.

Jump to the next day at the Emmys. Not even 12 hours later we have Sofia Vergara on a rotating pedestal, who along with American journalist Glenn Greenwald, spoke for a pseudo-PSA about diversity in the media.

Jokes aside, the display of Vergara promotes sexism in the entertainment industry, rather than changing it. On the contrary, Vergara disagreed.

She told Entertainment Weekly, “I think it’s absolutely the opposite. It means that somebody can be hot and also be funny and make fun of herself.”

But this is not the case for Vergara’s skit. It is not like we cannot joke about feminism – we certainly can. Despite its attempt at humour, Vergara and Greenwald’s skit was tawdry and in poor taste regarding diversity. As the viewer, it was extremely uncomfortable to watch her be spun around for us to view all her assets ever so slowly pretending to be the Male Gaze. There can be other ways of entertaining people, besides pretending to be oblivious. This style is quite tiresome.

Celebrity culture has finally entered the feminist conversation. As the Guardian‘s Jessica Valenti wrote, “Feminism is no longer ‘the f-word,’ it’s the realm of cool kids: Beyoncé, Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler, Kerry Washington, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all call themselves feminists.” Recently, Christina Hendricks of Mad Men collaborated with the White House and Funny or Die to spread awareness about the wage gap for female employees. Celebrities are continuing to spread feminist messages.

Let’s hope those messages are a proper representation of feminism, rather than vanity and objectification in disguise. Celebrity gossip certainly isn’t the best way to talk about it—but at least it gets the conversation going.




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