‘Tis the season for annual roundups!
In case you hadn’t noticed, some feminism happened in 2014 and also in some other years. Here are a list of some of the things that happened this year specifically, as opposed to in years that were not 2014.
1) Canada criminalized johns
In all seriousness, this is a huge achievement for feminism. Abolitionists in Canada and beyond worked incredibly hard to change the conversation around prostitution, to get the Nordic model, as an option, into public discourse, to get politicians to understand prostitution not as simply a crime, but as an issue of race, class, and gender (in)equality and as constituting violence against women.
The passage of Bill C-36 represents a cultural shift wherein we are (I hope) beginning to understand that men are not entitled to sex or to the bodies of women and children.
2) Remarkable coverage of rape culture and sexual assault in the media
There is a lot to be said about the imperfect-to-crappy way the media has covered violence against women, but in the past year, rape, domestic abuse, and sexual assault have been at the forefront of the public conversation.
Between Ray Rice, Woody Allen, Jian Ghomeshi, the Rotherham child abuse scandal, Bill Cosby, Oscar Pistorius, Terry Richardson, the widespread sexual assault problem on campuses across North America, and the rising count of missing and murdered Indigenous women (and the ongoing fight for justice and a national inquiry), it’s been a banner year for male violence against women.
As dark as that reality is, discussions of domestic abuse, rape culture, misogyny, and violence against women have been in the media constantly throughout 2014 -- and they are doing better than ever before in terms of these discussions, using language like "victim-blaming" and "rape culture," and discussing the problem as systemic, rather than as isolated incidences. It's tragic that the issue is ever-present, but it is a reality we need to be talking about. Every night I watch the news (well the CBC, to be specific, which, in my opinion, does better coverage of women's issues than many other broadcasters) there is coverage of or a conversation about the ongoing violence suffered by women worldwide, at the hands of men, and while it is horrid to witness, I am grateful that the issue is being taken seriously by the media.
It is feminists and the feminist movement that has forced and shaped this conversation.
3) Feminists smash pickup artist’s dreams, career aspirations
Rampant misogynist and “dating coach,” Julien Blanc was banned from Australia, the UK, and Singapore after feminist activists petitioned a number of “boot camps” and seminars he had planned. Blanc was known for, as Laura McNally wrote, “teaching men ‘pickup artistry’… and violent and emotionally abusive techniques in their approach to women.” Some of Blanc’s specific techniques include choking women and pushing their faces into his crotch.
Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, dickbag.
4) Hashtags continued to exist and be part of the feminist conversation online
My criticisms of #twitterfeminism aside, there were some notable and effective conversations that happened (in part) online under hashtags such as #YesAllWomen, #BeenRapedNeverReported and #WhyIStayed.
I found #YesAllWomen, which began in response to Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree, his hatred of women, and the subsequent, defensive response, #NotAllMen, to be particularly effective in terms of explaining that, while every single individual man might not directly be a perpetrator of violence against women, all women are negatively impacted by sexism, misogyny, rape culture, and patriarchy.
After the video showing Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancee Janay Palmer was leaked in September, people (typically) questioned why she stayed with her abuser and then married him the day after he was indicted for aggravated assault. Women responded (myself included) under the hashtag, #WhyIStayed, demonstrating the complexities and dynamics of abusive relationships and explaining why it isn’t as simple as “just leaving.”
A number of celebrities said the word, “feminism,” this year, including Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, Pharrell, Amy Poehler, Miley Cyrus, Mindy Kaling, Jenny Slate, Kelis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Aziz Ansari, and, of course, Beyoncé.
Taylor Swift wasn’t into feminism but then changed her mind because Lena Dunham.
Lena Dunham has never really shied away from speaking about feminism and you can see it in her work. Dunham also does a ton of work for reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood. Love her or hate her, she’s in.
Emma Watson gave a big ol’ speech about feminism at the U.N. as part of the “He For She” campaign launch, which “aims to conscript men and boys around the world into the battle to end the inequality against women and girls.” She says, in her speech:
"When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of their beloved sports teams, because they didn’t want to appear muscle-y, when at 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings, I decided that I was a feminist."
Pharrell first said he couldn’t be a feminist, as a man, but was then pressured to change his mind by liberal feminists so now he is all “yeah, sure” about it. Also he really “love[s] women and often admires their eyes, lips and other features of their bodies in a sometimes suggestive way.” I know. Powerful stuff.
Kelis responded to an interviewer asking, “Songs like ‘Milkshake,’ ‘Trick Me,’ and ‘Bossy’ made you this empowered female figure to a generation for women. Would you consider yourself a feminist?” by saying a bunch of things that make no sense:
"I’ve always shied away from the word 'feminism,' only because I think to truly be feminist I think it’s a word that’s unnecessary… So am I a feminist? I don’t know. Call it what you want. I am extraordinarily happy to be a woman. I would not change it for the world. I think men should run the world because if not there would be no balance… If we ran the entire world also, we would annihilate. There would be no balance whatsoever. So I’m fine with that. If men want to run the world, great… But I don’t care. There are so many more important things to think about…. All these titles are just so useless."
I’ll admit I’m partial towards Joseph Gordon-Levitt because he has sparkly eyes made a movie called Don Jon last year, which, in my opinion, provided a decent critique of porn, as far as reaching-the-masses-of-bros goes.
"… if you look at history, women are an oppressed category of people. There’s a long, long history of women suffering abuse, injustice, and not having the same opportunities as men, and I think that’s been very detrimental to the human race as a whole."
He also told Ellen DeGeneres that his mom taught him understand and push back against the objectification of women.
I still have no idea who Shailene Woodley is but, apparently, like most celebrities, she doesn’t know what a "feminism" is. Anyway, Woodley says she isn’t one because she loves men and thinks “the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.”
Finally, someone named “Beyoncé” put the word “FEMINIST” up in lights as her backdrop at the MTV Video Music Awards this year. Her feminism is pretty “lite,” as Annie Lennox said, and problematic in other ways summed up quite well by bell hooks, who pointed out that Bey’s image wasn’t exactly “liberatory” and that “it’s a fantasy that we can recoup the violating image and use it…”
"Let’s take the image of this super rich, very powerful black female, and let’s use it in the service of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy,” hooks said. “You are not going to destroy this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it — even if it serves you to make lots and lots of money."
While many wanted to hail Beyoncé as our new feminist leader, her feminism and what she represents is fairly contradictory and, as I wrote for the Vancouver Observer, conveys a more conventional message about female sexuality than a radical one.
Generally, “celebrity feminism” is either extremely simplistic and watered-down, or hilarious in its absurdity (“But I like men and balance and boobs!”). I like that feminism is at the forefront of public discourse, but I don’t really think that celebrities are ever going to lead or define the movement so let’s maybe try to maintain some perspective in that regard.
In conclusion, some other things related to feminism also happened over the past year which I left out of this roundup so that you all can get back to your holiday eating and boozing (I hope you are all still eating and boozing?) asap, but not to worry — more feminist-type things will happen next year too.
That is, after all, how movements work. We keep on moving.