Katy Perry shook up Billboard’s Women in Music 2012 luncheon in late November. In accepting their Woman of the Year award, Miss Perry announced, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.”
With these remarks, she joined ranks with the likes of Carla Bruni, Keira Knightley and Taylor Swift. All are seemingly empowered young women who believe women can be independent and strong — yet don’t want to be called feminist.
Some might write off these sentiments as something in the Hollywood water, but Miss Perry’s sentiment actually coincides with that of most American women. In May 2009, CBS released a poll showing that while 69 percent of women agree that the women’s movement has made their life better, only 24 percent would label themselves feminist.
Why do independent, strong women shy away from the very movement that has allowed them to attain their success in the public sphere? Do they suddenly want to give up their right to vote, attain an education, work and retain their property?
Nope. There is just a difference between today’s feminism and its roots.
The trailblazers — Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, to name two heavy lifters — believed that women should have the same legal and civil protections as men without discrimination. As Stanton said in 1854 when she addressed the New York Legislature, “We ask no better laws than those you have made for yourselves. We need no other protection than that which your present laws secure to you.” You might call these first feminists “equity feminists”: They sought equality before the law.
A century-and-a-half later, the modern feminist movement has different aims than those of the women who first gathered at Seneca Falls in 1948. That is not to say the modern feminist movement shares none of the goals of those early crusaders. Aspects of modern feminism — such as campaigns seeking to end violence against women or stop the sexual objectification of women — are fully consonant with “first wave” feminism. Yet today’s feminists also pursue objectives that go far beyond those of the equity feminists. As University of Colorado feminist Alison Jaggar has said, “Radical and socialist feminists have shown that the old ideals of freedom, equality and democracy are insufficient.”
What do they want now? Gloria Steinem, renowned feminist and journalist, answered: “Under [the topic of] moving forward, I would put all the efforts to humanize the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ gender roles that are the beginning of a false human hierarchy.”
The academic-speak boils down to a cultural revolution that doesn’t just attack the prejudices that hold women back. It attacks the choices women make for themselves and their families. For instance, kicking off the second wave of feminism with her 1963 classic, “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan wrote that stay-at-home mothers were kept in a “comfortable concentration camp” and made into “walking corpses.”
The revolution is also apparent in the condemnation of benevolent sexism — the “soft” discrimination that occurs when men perform chivalrous tasks for women, like opening doors or lifting heavy objects.
Why do American women — and these famous starlets — shy away from the label “feminist”? They see a feminist movement that has drifted too far from its founding. Today’s feminists are not feminists for equality but crusaders for a cultural revolution, whether or not the people in our culture want those changes.
Some women in America look at the goals of modern feminism and commend them. They wonder why any woman would object to those goals. These women, however, are a minority. The modern feminist movement is a revolution that the majority of women do not want.
Leslie Grimard, 24, is an assistant at the Heritage Foundation.