Navigating Mainstream Media as a Bad Feminist
Almost exactly a year ago today, The Onion posted my favorite parody news article of theirs. Its headline was, “Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being a Feminist To Enjoy TV Show.”
TO ENJOY A TV SHOW.
I laughed until my eyes watered and sent it to some of my best friends. I feel like this headline and article perfectly express the day-to-day fleeting moments of internal conflict I experience as a modern day feminist who grew up strongly socialized within a patriarchal society. That is, I don’t know how to embrace and honor my feminism while still consuming (virtually) any mainstream media.
What I mean by that are things like...
· The traditionally “girly” part of me wants to watch The Bachelor and laugh about its ridiculousness with my friends. The feminist part of me is mortified and ashamed that I am consuming it and thus supporting and enabling its degradation of women. Those of us who claim we are hate-watching it or watching it ironically are lying to ourselves. Not in the “you have a drinking problem” kind of way, just in the “you only pretended to try to hold the elevator” kind of way (see: http://jezebel.com/5982222/hate-watching-is-mostly-just-being-embarrassed-by-your-own-tastes and http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/i-watch-the-bachelor-okay for further consideration of these ideas).
· Ariana Grande presents a thin-ideal sex object that I think glorifies so many things that are harmful to women. But I love her voice and her songs, and part of me is jealous of her appearance I think, so some combination of that leads me to watch her music videos. Like, multiple times each.
· A moment I present as either embarrassing or awesome depending on the audience: attending a Britney Spears concert. As an adult. After my feminist awakening (but... but... nostalgia!)
· Say Yes to the Dress only validates and perpetuates the message that a girl’s whole life is building to her wedding day, which will be the most important day of her life and on which she needs to look perfect. This pressure seems to have multiplied exponentially with social media – Pinterest wedding boards, a much larger audience for wedding photos, etc. But few things are a greater guilty pleasure for me than watching Say Yes to the Dress with girlfriends, and I already anticipate that I, too, will not feel able to help striving to look perfect (read: thin, beautiful) on my own wedding day.
· The Kardashians/Jenners pain me. But.... sometimes I click on links to articles like “Kylie Jenner Goes Without Makeup, Flashes Torso in a Crop Top: See Her Street Style Look.” Oh, yeah, and that means that sometimes I visit websites like People Magazine or Us Weekly.
Is this hypocrisy? Kind of like how I feel strongly about animal cruelty but still purchase leather items and sometimes eat conventionally-produced meat?
Or is this just what it can be like to grow up strongly influenced by female gender norms and then later discover feminism? Is this a small, privileged version of what many feminist scholars have referred to as living in the liminal space (space in between two identities)? Is this just an embodiment of sometimes feeling tired of fighting it constantly and wanting to take a break?
Or maybe my choices aren’t problematic at all. Many believe, for example, that some female pop stars’ unapologetic sexuality is indeed empowering to women (e.g., http://bitchmagazine.org/post/nicki-minajs-unapologetic-sexuality-anaconda-video-feminism). But I have felt so confused by sometimes-only-subtle differences between media presentations of female sexuality that are empowering vs. those that are repressive that my choices to consume this type of pop culture don’t sit well with me.
A heroine of mine, Roxane Gay, embraces all these contradictions as being a Bad Feminist. She says it is a totally human and still valuable version of feminism (http://feministing.com/2014/08/05/feministing-readz-bad-feminism-gives-us-permission-to-be-complicated-with-our-feminism/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter).
Writers like Roxane Gay help me accept my complicated, normal person feminism. And, at the same time, I still want to strive to be a less-complicated feminist. I want to do this because I want my actions to match my values (cognitive dissonance?). If I really cared about promoting a healthier popular culture for girls and women, I wouldn’t support The Bachelor’s success by watching it. I also want this because I strongly believe women have to lead by example. I want to show my future daughter, not just tell her, that women should not feel ashamed of how they look without makeup. In short, I believe in the words of Marie C. Wilson, feminist author, political organizer, and entrepreneur (and creator of Take Our Daughters to Work Day): you can’t be what you can’t see.
I have found a few small things that help me to make the choices I feel better about in the long-term. I follow accounts on Twitter like The Representation Project (@TheRepProject) and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls (@smrtgrls) to help feminist media keep reaching my eyes and ears. Before consuming something, I try to stop and ask myself, “Is this helpful to me?” “How will watching this make me feel in the long-term?” “Would I feel comfortable publically acknowledging that I am consuming this?”
And sometimes I just let myself be a Bad Feminist and indulge in the latest Rose Ceremony drama J (it was Most Dramatic Rose Ceremony Ever, so I mean, I had to).
How do you navigate today’s media environment as a feminist? What have you found helpful? How would you reconcile choices like these?
- Written by Kimberly Burdette, M.A.