“I’m a humanist, I am for nice easy balance,” she told the magazine, and a little piece of my heart died. When prominent female figures reject the label of feminist on the basis of being a humanist or for all people, it implies that feminism doesn’t fight for the equality of all people (which it does) and that a cohesive movement for women isn’t necessary (which it is).
I’m not surprised when some 20-something white-cis guy tries to drunkenly lecture on how he’s not for feminism because he’s for everyone. I just turn 180 degrees on my bar stool so I can concentrate on my crispy pint instead of the topknot warlock who thinks he’s really bringing up some great points. I expect these dudes to be stuck in their view of second wave feminism and I don’t want to waste my night off trying to explain intersectionality. But when a public figure I respect like Meryl Streep casts off the word feminist like it’s a straightjacket that would prevent her from being pro the-rights-of-anyone-besides-women, it’s super disappointing.
Meryl Streep is not the first Oscar winning actress to reject the label of feminist. Marion Cotillard recently criticized feminism as separatist in an interview with Porter magazine, saying, "For me it doesn’t create equality, it creates separation. I mean I don’t qualify myself as a feminist." For me, it is not so much the refusal to be called a feminist (though that in itself stings), but the reasons Streep and Cotillard give for not being feminists. Saying you’re not a feminist because you’re a humanist casts an unfavorable shadow over the feminist movement.
Perhaps the reluctance to identify as a feminist comes from the many misconceptions surrounding feminism or even the multiplicity of definitions the word entails. So next time we ask someone if they are a feminist, let’s make the next question, "What does feminism mean to you?"
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