Why Hollywood Feminism Freaks Me Out

thelma and louise feminism

When I founded Rebellious Magazine on International Women’s Day in 2012, feminism was decidedly not the word of the year. So much so that my managing editor and I begrudgingly decided to downplay the site’s feminist identity, using the word sparingly in public descriptions, freely in internal conversations and brazenly over drinks.

People seemed at best confused and at worst turned off by this particular series of f-words, and our approach was to publish a magazine built solidly, if quietly, on feminist values. We’d publish pieces by new female writers who were too intimidated or too insulted to pitch to mainstream publications as well as stories by seasoned reporters whose newsrooms had no interest in their pieces about, dismissive hand wave, girl stuff.

We’d cover all things female, from women’s sports to motherhood, with unwavering devotion. It felt amazing.

Fast-forward four years to March of 2016, when I relaunched the site, and Feminism was Fierce. Female celebrities defiantly declared themselves feminist, and even politicians spoke matter-of-factly about their feminism as if, yes, yes, it’s been there all along. Oh, that? Yes, well, I never mentioned it before because obviously I care about women. Yes, yes, of course.

In 2016, I could make the magazine’s tagline “Undeniably Chicago. Unflinchingly Feminist.” and not worry about scaring anyone off. On the contrary, it became an asset. There were still people my age and a bit older who bristled at the word then, but over the last two years, the tables have turned, and they’re the ones afraid to speak up, hiding their confusion or revulsion except for the most private and confidential conversations.

As a Gen-Xer who started identifying as a feminist as soon as I learned what the word meant – in 1993 – I’ve watched this renaissance of feminism with a mix of hope, amusement and deep, leaden dread. Because I’ve seen this movie, and I have a really bad feeling about how it ends. It wasn’t until I was watching the Golden Globes that I was able to put words to my dread, to define it for myself in a way that escaped me before.

This resurgence, this strident, black-dress-wearing, it’s-our-time feminism smacks to me of a fad.

Like a smoky eye or the Atkins diet, this is just what women do now to fit in. We say we care about other women. We toss around words like empowerment, justice and equality because our favorite starlet told us to. We call ourselves lady bosses, we join or form women’s organizations, we march in the streets with posters with witty sayings that would make our mothers blush because we have a deep-seated Fear of Missing Out.

And because it’s cool. Because we’re expected to. Because we can’t be the ones at the party wearing last year’s gown.

If I sound angry, I AM angry. I want people to be feminists, I want feminism to be a thing, I desperately want women to take care of each other, to learn from each other, to build a better world, even if it means scrapping all of this nonsense and starting completely fucking over. I want workplaces and streets and homes and everywhere to be safe, healthy, affirming spaces for women, all women. I want us all to be free of the shit that shackles, silences and stifles us.

But I want it to mean something. I want it to be sustainable. I want the sense that women throwing around those feminist buzzwords understand what they mean and what it means to mean them. I want girl power, but I want it to be powerful.

Because fad feminism can’t survive. Feminism built on platitudes will crumble the second it’s no longer in fashion.

If you didn’t grow up or come of age believing in your heart and head in the power and importance of women, how likely is it that you’ll keep fighting this fight when you no longer have anyone to tell you what to think? What will you say about women’s rights when actresses and big-name activists aren’t feeding you your lines? Will you continue to stand up for other women even when no one is looking?

Because this shit is hard. There are too many people who don’t want us to win. They put the glass ceiling there for a reason. To keep us down, to keep us quiet, to have someone to boss around, to make feel small and subservient and second-class. They turn our bodies into objects because it works for them. This fight has been going on far too long for it to be easy.

For too many, the allure of this shiny object will fade, and they’ll move on. People’s attention spans are too short, our aversion to hard things too strong for this feminist chick flick to end well. My fear is that the happiest ending we can hope for is Thelma & Louise holding hands as they punch it into the abyss rather than Offred stepping off into a new life.

When it happens, when this widespread turning of heads away from feminism and women’s rights goes down, I can only hope that there will be enough of us still standing for the strides we make to matter. I hope enough women will be changed forever by this period of time and will never again question why we need women’s spaces, will never again sniff that feminists hate men, will hold on to this solidarity and sisterhood. I hope that those of us with children are raising feminist kids who will keep this spirit alive because they don’t know life any other way.

I also hope with all of the Rebelliousness within me that I’m wrong. I hope that when Rebellious Magazine celebrates its anniversary 10, 20, 30 years from now, feminism is a fact, and not just a fad.

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Karen Hawkins is the Founder and Rebelle in Chief of Rebellious Magazine. She is a recovering mainstream media reporter and editor who wants to thank her former boss for naming the online magazine she's always wanted to start when he called her “Rebellious” for taking too many weekends off. When she isn't instigating a media Rebellion, she's thanking her lucky starlets she gets to do whatever she wants on weekends.