Portrayal of feminism in media is often wrong

By: Amanda Dee – Social Media Manager

“I am angry,” Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in a TED Talk she gave in 2013. “Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice, we should all be feminists. We should all be angry.”

Emma Watson, a goodwill ambassador for United Nations Women, watered down this message in her Sept. 20 speech when she proposed “HeForShe,” a campaign that includes men in the fight against gender inequality.

Feminism, by definition, is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities,” Watson said. “It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Watson stressed that feminism isn’t “man-hating,” that “both men and women” need to fight against gender inequality because “both men and women” suffer from the “opposing ideals” of gender roles.

She said nothing wrong. It’s what the media said about her speech that is wrong.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’ Donnell called it “a new feminism discussion.” Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett called it “new feminism.” Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson called it “game-changing.”

But Watson’s radical speech is far from radical. Radical feminism is not something that is treading softly so as not to step on others’ toes.

On Sept. 30, speaker Gail Dines, a radical feminist sociologist, spoke on this subject in a presentation called “Sex(ism), Intimacy and Identity in a Porn Culture” that she gave to University of Dayton faculty, staff and students.

Dines addressed the issue underlying porn and gender inequality: culture. We live, she said, in an “image-based culture.” We turn to TV or computer screens to see how we should look, act and think – for the most part, unconsciously.

When Watson, Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey, Pharrell and Shailene Woodley talk about feminism, it matters.

When Pharrell says he is not a feminist because he is a man, it matters.

When Shailene Woodley says she is not a feminist because “you need balance,” it matters.

It matters because they’re wrong, and because billions of people are on the other sides of the screens.

When celebrity feminists are the ones transmitting the feminist message to the public, the definition is muddied and people on the fringes are silenced or, worse, oppressed.

Dines’ brand of feminism, according to her, is about how the poorest are doing.

In her U.N. speech, Watson did acknowledge her position of privilege (white, English, wealthy, educated) and adjusted her message to speak to her broad audience: the world population. But, she missed a chance to include the poorest and most excluded in the discussion when the world’s ears were listening.

“The most abused group is black women,” Dines said regarding women in the porn industry. Even deeper, she said, it seeps into images digested by the masses.

In her presentation, Dines showed images of Beyoncé and hyper-sexualized black female models dressed in animal print. Then, she showed images of 50 Cent and hyper-sexualized black male hip-hop artists wearing gold chains without shirts.

She argued the traits (animal print, hyper-sexualization) in these images are associated with slavery, with dehumanization.

Reappropriating these traits like Beyoncé did with “FEMINIST” glowing pink behind her at the VMA’s is meant to empower; however, Dines argues the empowerment of Beyoncé as a celebrity hurts the masses, but not Beyoncé herself. Black women, consequently, experience hyper-sexualization in their everyday lives.

So when Beyoncé, Watson and whoever is the media’s feminist of the week declare themselves feminists, we need to realize the media outlet is controlling the message.

We need to realize celebrity does not mean authority because if including “both men and women” in the fight against gender inequality is deemed radical, how much more radical will feminism need to be to include black, queer, questioning and asexual people?

If merely stating that men also need to fight against gender inequality is deemed radical, how will we ever achieve equality?