Over the past few years a slew of female celebrities have fallen out of grace with feminists for refusing to call themselves "feminists," and some for criticizing the notion altogether. The pattern signals that it's time to change the way we talk about feminism.

The events with Swift and Perry elicited lots of backlash from the feminist blogosphere; some angry, and some dismissive. It was disheartening to see two women who have benefited from feminism disavow it so casually. But both Swift and Perry have suggested that they support the primary principle of feminism: that women should be equal to men. It raises the question: if people support feminist goals, does it matter if they're feminists in name?

I tend to agree with the critics who say that these women simply don't know what they're talking about; that their idea of feminism has been skewed by historical bias. What most women in the "I'm not a feminist, but" category don't realize is that they are strengthening a misrepresentation of feminism constructed by people like Phyllis Schlafly and rightwing groups to discredit women's movements.

At least some of the blame falls on journalists. Taylor Swift's answer to being asked if she was a feminist was to say that she doesn't view the world as "guys versus girls." Her response demonstrated the widespread misconception that feminism assumes women are better than, rather than equal to, men. And I think it deserved a follow-up.

In February's Glamour, Zooey Deschanel took the road less traveled and affirmed her feminism. Her declaration received its own excited response.

Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams hailed it as "bold," and Deschanel herself seemed to consider it somewhat daring. She gave a sharp retort to people who have criticized her femininity, implying that women can't "be feminine and be feminists and be successful." (Glamour then proceeded to give her cover story the infuriating tagline, "The New Girl Talks Boys".)

While certainly not the fault of Williams or Deschanel, celebration of her proclamation seems to feed another misconception that hurts feminism; that it is a term for radical, bold, (or in Deschanel's case "quirky") women. It also gives the impression that a woman who believes in full gender equality but is uncomfortable being called a feminist would be a poor -- or an unlikely -- advocate for women.

It's good that the media finds feminism a worthy topic of conversation with female celebrities. But if they're going to talk feminism, they should be ready to engage. Obsession with who does or doesn't call herself a feminist distracts from a larger conversation about sexism and gender equality.

Far more women (and men) support women's equality than "feminism." The low percentage of self-identified feminists seems drastic, but it only speaks to the power of stigma.

It's unfortunate that more women don't embrace the term feminism. But the label's stigma shouldn't inhibit conversation on women's progress, or prevent us from recognizing that when it comes to equality; women are united. It's the movement, not the word, that matters.

While the media continues to dwell on feminism as a word, it fails to recognize the strength of the movement for gender equality and the passion and diversity of its allies. Feminism should be a unifier, not a divider.

Eve O'Connor is an editorial intern at The Progressive.


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The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

Maybe I should only be shocked that I wasn’t shocked a long time ago.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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