You Aren’t a Feminist Just Because Your Shirt Says You Are

Feminism requires dirty work.

Don’t believe me? Check out the documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (available on Netflix). Read Roxane Gay. Review all of this year’s presidential campaign, in which a woman (flawed albeit, but aren’t we all?) with years of experience in national office lost to a sexist, racist, narcissistic, egotistical sexual assaulter.

But today’s society likes to filter feminism, to make it less threatening to the patriarchy. So, the media gives us celebrity feminist “role models.” For example, Taylor Swift, whom the media and public praised for donating money to Kesha in light of her sexual and emotional abuse allegations against her manager. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t make it go away. Money isn’t going to give Kesha the justice and healings she very much needs.

An article last month from Independent cites Lena Dunham as one of the top five most credible celebrity feminists. Dunham recently said she wished she had had an abortion. Yes, abortion should be legal, and we need to fight the obstacles that state governments are putting in the way of access to abortion. But if we could completely control when we got pregnant (if only…), we would, rather than have to put our bodies and minds through an invasive procedure. Dunham’s statement doesn’t represent feminism.

Roxane Gay wrote a great piece for The Guardian in which she questions the role of celebrity feminists in society. Why do we need these famous people to tell us that it is okay to be feminists?

“But it irks me that we more easily embrace feminism and feminist messages when delivered in the right package – one that generally includes youth, a particular kind of beauty, fame and/or self-deprecating humour,” Gay said. “It frustrates me that the very idea of women enjoying the same inalienable rights as men is so unappealing that we require – even demand – that the person asking for these rights must embody the standards we’re supposedly trying to challenge.”

Jennifer Lawrence claims to be a feminist, and our culture at least used to love her because of her self-deprecating humor. Beyoncé, another feminist, is absolutely gorgeous and internationally famous. Why do we need these women to justify our demands for equal rights? Why can’t normal women’s anger against inequalities be enough justification?

Then, after we are given our celebrity “role models,” then we are given merchandise. We get T-shirts to wear that say “Nasty Woman,” or “Feminist as Fuck,” to assert to the world that yes! We believe in women’s rights! Some of the money for these sales goes to Planned Parenthood or other beneficial organizations. That’s great. But if all you do is wear a shirt, you are not a feminist. Plus, ironically, many of these T-shirts may be produced by woman laborers in unsafe working conditions.

What happened to effective methods of producing change? What happened to protesting? What happened to calling out sexism when you see it? What happened to working with organizations that promote women’s equality? What happened to educating the public on the inequalities women face today (sexual abuse, pay gap, no paid maternity leave, reproductive rights being taken away, etc.)?


These actions require work, sometimes scary work. Sometimes, as Roxane Gay would say, even women with good intentions are “bad feminists.” I’m a bad feminist, for sure. I don’t even take the actions I claim are important.  So maybe nothing I say has any credit. But I do know feminism is more than a shirt, or saying “I support [insert celebrity name here] because she/he’s a feminist,” or anything that is not directly promoting women’s equality.

So please don’t use the word so lightly.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

4 thoughts on “You Aren’t a Feminist Just Because Your Shirt Says You Are

  1. Maybe a good feminist is not necessarily an activist or contributor but someone who takes their equality for granted by choosing their path without regard to gender. Early feminists dreamed of the day that women were viewed as being on the same plane as men; that we wouldn’t need to call out our rights because they would be considered the norm. Let’s be careful not to grade each other on how we live the feminist dream.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s very true, and I can’t wait for the day when women are seen as equal to men. It just frustrates me that feminism has become some kind of trend that is put on merchandise or claimed by celebrities when it really requires a real dedication to equality! Thank you for your feedback 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s