Kelly Clarkson gave an interview to TIME magazine recently, a propos of very little as it happened. But she was asked the question that it seems a lot of young female celebrities are asked these days, which is: are you a feminist? Behold, her garbled reply:
No, I wouldn’t say feminist — that’s too strong. I think when people hear feminist, it’s like, “Get out of my way, I don’t need anyone.” I love that I’m being taken care of, and I have a man that’s a leader. I’m not a feminist in that sense … but I’ve worked really hard since I was 19, when I first auditioned for Idol.
Well, there are several things wrong with this.
One is Clarkson’s assumption that feminists walk down the street, presumably wearing jackboots because we’re like this, saying, “Get out of my way, I don’t need anyone.” Second, “being taken care of” as a personal goal sounds great until your husband hits middle age, has his freakout, and cheats. Or, even worse: remains faithful until the day he drops dead of a premature heart attack at 45. Also: “a man that’s a leader”? Brandon Blackstock doesn’t conduct humanitarian missions; he’s a Nashville talent manage who presumably got a good leg up in that business by being related to Reba McEntire.
But these are all nitpicks. The real problem here, by my measure, is that we keep asking celebrities if they’re feminists. And we need to cut it out.
It’s a curious thing to be “a feminist” these days writing in pop cultural spaces, because it has, on the one hand, a certain cachet with a certain audience. Young women, increasingly, like to hang out on Rookie or Jezebel or xojane and debate the finer points of what it means to be feminist. That’s encouraging. At the same time, and you can just trust me on this one, there are a number of — let’s face it — men out there who are very upset by this growing currency, so upset that they leave long and usually unintelligible comments on every post you make. Or tweet at you like the silly, stalking fools that they are. So: the public image of feminism, at the moment? Somewhat mixed.
One thing, that would certainly help feminists win the war against naysaying, subtweeting men is for celebrities to come out in strong support of feminism. Sadly for the angry men of the Internet, the American public cares a great deal more about what celebrities think. Unfortunately, celebrities don’t think much about anything, because they are too busy doing backstrokes in their pools of pink moscato. So when you ask them about anything of substance, meaning anything but the latest overproduced hits they have churned out, they tend to offer airy, as in flatulent, replies like Clarkson’s, above.
And to be honest, I think it’s far more damaging to “feminism” to have celebrities air their unintelligent views of what “feminism” is, than it would be to simply not ask them this question. I am, paradoxically, one of those feminists on the Internet who of late finds herself not so very attached to the word “feminist” as I am to attracting women to an intelligent conversation about what exactly it means to be a full participant in the world as a woman. And it seems that the label feminist, for reasons of dumb cultural messaging, is not the place to do that.
If we simply asked celebrities how they felt about gender, overall, I think we’d do better. I mean, look here, at Clarkson’s relatively intelligent (I am not saying totally intelligent) answer to a question about provocation and female artists:
There’ve always been women in the industry who have pushed the envelope — Cher, Madonna, Annie Lennox. I don’t think anything different is going on. People say, “Oh, you never go for the whole sex-appeal thing.” Well, I don’t ever not go for it, either. I just go for who I am. People in the industry have tried douche moves with me, but of course they’re going to, because they make money when girls do that.
Or when the interviewer tries to bait her into offering advice to Miley Cyrus!
I honestly don’t, because we’re nothing alike — I wasn’t a child star. I have no idea what her life was like or what she goes through.
In other words: Kelly’s instincts on the gender front are fine! She just has a stupid allergy to the word feminist. And she could be a perfectly good example of what I’d call a “stealth feminist” if we’d just let her talk without using the word.