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‘Stars for feminism’ in popular culture

ByTamani Jayasinghe

Nov 18, 2014

Who would have thought that the hottest buzzword of 2014 would be ‘feminist’. This year we have seen countless female celebrities out themselves on the record as identifying as a feminist. Keira Knightley’s photos are viral; Taylor Swift and Emma Watson have been in the news recently for their remarks on feminism, and the Chanel Spring 2015 show at Paris Fashion week was essentially staged as a glamorous high-profile feminist march.

Whether you like it or not, the conversation around feminism has found its way back into mainstream popular culture. TIME magazine even included it on their annual list of potential words to be banned in the coming year for the media’s seemingly incessant fascination with celebrities’ stances on feminism (a rather controversial decision which has already brought them an onslaught of criticism).

We live in a culture that idealises the idea of celebrity, so it is not uncommon for people with high profiles to be used as a way to gather a spotlight for causes. Whether we like it or not, a large percentage of the population is exposed to information through the lens of celebrity-centric culture. The craze surrounding the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS research and awareness during the summer of 2014 serves as a prime example of that.

More recently, it has come to the public’s attention that Keira Knightley waged war against the ideal of artificial perfection with a topless, photoshop-less shoot with Interview magazine. The photoshoot was in August, but last week she explained why to The Times newspaper. “I’ve had my body manipulated so many different times for so many different reasons,” said Knightley, before going on to declare that in this one she wouldn’t want any retouching “because it does feel important to say it doesn’t matter what shape you are.”

Knightley has followed up on her Interview Magazine message in the November issue of GLAMOUR. The star commented, “Women’s bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame.”

We can trace the sudden onslaught of people voicing their stance on feminism back to a few young stars casually stating that they did not identify with the term ‘feminist’ as it is one that has connotations of ‘man hating’. This spurred a response from many women in the media, clarifying the definition of feminism and the goals of the feminist movement as well as an on-going debate regarding the need for feminism at all anymore.

So, what do we stand to gain from the age of ‘Stars for Feminism’? Although there have been strides to change the way the media presents ideals of beauty and obsesses over the behaviour of female stars, it does not appear that that component of modern day society is going to drastically change anytime soon. Instead, these celebrities have made the wise decision to use the excessive level of scrutiny and coverage to their advantage – to keep the focus on a social cause instead of on their social lives.

The only thing that the conversation about feminism in the mainstream media has done is bring attention to the true definition of the word ‘feminist’, which appears to have removed at least some of the stigma that used to be associated with the term. The fact that there is even a debate ongoing as to whether or not women in the spotlight have the right to stand up and call themselves feminists serves as a testament to the necessity of the defence of feminism in popular culture. As the celebrities are campaigning, something has to change. At the end of the day, when dealing with the matter of striving towards equal opportunities and fair treatment for everyone, does it really matter who or how a generation was influenced towards falling on the right side of history?

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