Martha Stewart, Miley Cyrus and Sarah Jessica Parker may not seem to have a lot in common, other than that they are all women. However, this similarity offers enough of a relationship to get the attention of celebrity-centered media.
As a recent article from Slate pointed out, this combination of power and gender inevitably leads to a single damning question aimed at female celebrities that does not appear to have a correct answer: “Are you a feminist?”
Female stars have responded in a variety of ways. According to the New York Times, Miley Cyrus has proclaimed that she is a very strong feminist. Meanwhile, other major stars, such as Lily Allen and Meghan Trainor, have been non-committal at best. This array of opinions could be due in large part to the fact that feminism is nothing like a formal political party, making it difficult to form a cohesive agenda.
However, at its simplest, feminism is the belief that women are equal to men in all aspects of society. This word has collected rampant connotations over time that have obscured this basic truth of the ideology. Surely, if Allen or Trainor were asked if they support equality for women, they would answer “yes.” Otherwise, they would be willing to compromise their careers.
All of this, though, is irrelevant precisely because Allen and Trainor are successful. That is not to say that the fight for female equality is over — it’s not. American women still feel a significant pay gap, since, according to the White House, they earn only 77 percent of what a man does. A report by Catalyst found that only 12 Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
Asking if a woman is a feminist is unnecessary to begin with because a woman is not a feminist merely because that is what she chooses to call herself. Instead, a feminist should be apparent through her, or possibly his, actions.
For example, the feminist icon and physicist Marie Curie reportedly did not identify as a feminist, though she would certainly fit the bill if judged by her advancements. Among other achievements, she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, earning this honor for research on radioactivity done in conjunction with her husband. At the very least, Curie must have believed in herself regardless of society’s expectations.
This example may seem far off from that of pop stars such as Trainor and Cyrus. However, Curie was a feminist because she was a pioneer who worked her way to prominence regardless of her society’s treatment of and expectations toward women.
Even if a woman does not announce her goal to be equal to men, she can still prove this same notion through her actions. No one should have to ask Beyonce or any other woman if she is a feminist if what she does is loud enough.
Chelsea Mulligan is a freshman majoring in international studies.