Someone asked me recently who my ‘feminist idol’ is and I drew a complete blank. An idol is different to someone you admire, it’s someone who you try to emulate because their approach to something reflects what you want to be. The only trouble is, I’ve known for a while that the answer to my problems doesn’t lie in mimicking someone else.
The relationship between feminism and pop culture seems to be held together by individual icons: songstresses, actors and public figures who we credit with spreading the fem-gospel with their sharp wit, smarts and sexuality. I get equally as excitable about these women as anybody else, but I’m wary of placing any on a political pedestal.
The trouble with an idol is you’re never quite prepared for them to disappoint you, and being human, they inevitably will. As soon as someone famous outs themselves as a feminist, their every statement will be scrutinised against the popular feminist narrative. Oddly we spend more time as an online community picking at the words of public feminists than we do picking at the women who denounce the movement, though I’m not sure our constant ‘picking’ is doing us any favours anyway. Analysis, criticism, discussion – these are all valuable things. Twitter rage, witch-hunting and exclusion – these are not.
As always, the expectation of women in the public eye is a kind of perfection that we’ve simply invented. The feminist community is meant to be dismantling unrealistic standards for women, and yet any woman who puts a foot wrong faces immediate expulsion from the movement and permanent, indiscriminate invalidity. I’m not shedding tears for any celebrities, but I am shedding sighs for the longevity of feminism if we’re this unforgiving.
Like all feminist women, I’ve been through one hell of a learning curve. I’ve held opinions in the past that I abhor now; I’m privileged to have had the opportunity to educate myself about different issues and refine my perspective. In the public eye we’re not allowing a learning curve – we’re hissing and spitting instead of teaching.
Feminism is a human movement and imperfection is human, so it’s about time we acknowledged that people are going to fuck up. Even Beyoncé, whose feminist record is pretty solid, has a lyric in one of her songs comparing Tina Turner’s abuse at the hands of husband Ike to a bit of inebriated kink (see ‘eat the cake Anna Mae’). It makes my skin crawl, but I haven’t dismissed the Queen Bey.
Waiting for flawless idols to lead our way frankly reeks of neo-liberalism. My hope for feminism is not to achieve through the efforts of individual women but the combined voice of many reaching for the same goal, albeit with different routes on the way. I understand that idols are an important part of how some people find themselves, but if you don’t mind, I’ll take mine with a pinch of salt.