Shailene Woodley has said before that she isn’t a feminist. Her reason at the time was a bit… strange. She told Time in an interview, “I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance… My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism.” This rejection of feminism is a misunderstanding of the term itself; feminism isn’t necessarily about taking men away from power, but about allowing equal opportunity for all genders based on their equality. However, she’s recently changed her stance, and while she now identifies as a feminist, I’m still confused about what she’s saying.
In her latest interview with the New York Times, it was pointed out to Woodley that while she finds friendships with women important, she’s disavowed feminism. She responded by saying, “I would today consider myself a feminist.” She continued: “If females start working through the false narrative of jealousy and insecurity fed through a patriarchal society, then not only will we have more women feeling confident in themselves and supportive of one another, but we will start introducing a type of matriarchy, which is what this world needs. We need more softness and more silence and more pause through the chaos.”
Hmm. First, I take issue with calling women “females.” Essentially, the term “female” refers to the species of a sex that can reproduce (it’s a scientific term) while the term “woman” is specifically for humans. Thus, referring to women as females reduces women to their parts (and is a way of erasing trans women), among other problems covered fully by Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu on Buzzfeed. It also just feels demeaning and weird, and I can’t help but cringe whenever I hear or read it.
Further, suggesting we introduce a matriarchy is definitely not the point of feminism, as women can be just as destructive as men. Part of the point of feminism is acknowledging we’re equals, after all: Being born in a given body shouldn’t grant you power over anyone else.
Woodley also reinforces the sexist, gender-essentialist idea that women will naturally introduce “softness and silence” into the world. Women can be hard, badass, loud, raunchy, destructive, quiet, tender, stoic, and literally every other thing — reducing them to stereotypes is neither realistic nor helpful. Feminism does not exist to lift up stereotypically feminine qualities over those that are masculine; rather, it exists partially to smash the idea that women are confined to a constricting idea of femininity and allow women and non-binary folks to exist as they already are, and break boundaries anyway.
Yes, it’s great that Woodley is willing to change her stance and identify as a feminist. Her interpretation of what that means, however, seems pretty muddled here.
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