A Selection of Contemporary Cultural Icons on Feminism


We’ve all heard Rebecca West’s famous 1931 quip: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” Well, according to the dictionary, it means “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” So we should all be feminists, pretty much. That said, the term does carry some cultural baggage, and is often equated (not by us, mind you) with a certain image of a man-hating, angry female-supremacist. So there’s that.

But since we’re always a little disappointed when female icons disavow the term, considering the definition above, we were fully charmed by Zooey Deschanel’s recent declaration that she is indeed a feminist, Peter Pan collar and all. We were also inspired to take a look at a few of the different reactions the controversial term has gotten from contemporary cultural icons over the past few years. After the jump, a selection of famous women on feminism, their comments ranked from our favorites to our, um, less-favorites. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments.

Louise Brealey, in an interview with The Observer , January 2013:

You describe yourself as a feminist on your Twitter biography. What kind?

“A militant one. Dungarees, moustache, all men are rapists, you know the drill… Seriously, though, I’d like every man who doesn’t call himself a feminist to explain to the women in his life why he doesn’t believe in equality for women. I think Page 3, Nuts and Zoo are bullshit. I don’t wax my pubic hair off. I don’t think working in a titty bar getting fivers shoved up your bum is empowering. And I’m bored of pictures of women in their smalls on buses with fuck-me mouths.”

Caitlin Moran, in How to Be a Woman:

“We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”


“But, of course, you might be asking yourself, ‘Am I a feminist? I might not be. I don’t know! I still don’t know what it is! I’m too knackered and confused to work it out. That curtain pole really still isn’t up! I don’t have time to work out if I am a women’s libber! There seems to be a lot to it. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?’ I understand. So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.

a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it?

If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

Zooey Deschanel, in Glamour , February 2013:

“I’m just being myself. There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f–king feminist and wear a f–king Peter Pan collar. So f–king what?”

Lady Gaga, in an interview with the LA Times , December 2009:

“I’m getting the sense that you’re a little bit of a feminist, like I am, which is good… I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little . . . In my opinion, women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are, and says, ‘I’m great.'”

Björk, in an interview with The Guardian , March 2005:

“I have been noticing how much harder it is for me and my girlfriends to juggle things than it is for men. In the 1990s, there was a lot of optimism: we thought we’d finally sorted out equal rights for men and women … and then suddenly it just crashed. I think this is my first time in all the hundreds of interviews I’ve done, that I’ve actually jumped on the feminist bandwagon. In the past I always wanted to change the subject. But I think now it’s time to bring up all these issues. I wish it wasn’t, but I’ll do it, I’m up for doing the dirty work!

Will it inspire new songs?

“It’s definitely brewing inside me. Maybe if Medulla was my personal, idiosyncratic statement about politics, whatever I do next is going to be my eccentric view of feminism. It’s like any major upheaval, whether it’s the revolution in France or punk for me in the 1970s, you break up all the corruption and fuck up all the bad things, so you can start really fresh. But it’s the law of nature that it all settles again, so you have to keep checking yourself. You can’t ever say, “OK, we sorted out corruption and everyone is equal.” So I might become a feminist in my old age!”

Taylor Swift, in an interview with The Daily Beast, October 2012:

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

(This seems to us to be mostly sweet, but kind of missing the point/definition of the word.)

Carla Bruni, in an interview for Vogue, December 2012:

“We don’t need to be feminist in my generation… There are pioneers who opened the breach. I’m not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I’m a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day.”

She later apologized for her “very clumsy” remarks, explaining “”I imagine I am if feminism means claiming one’s freedom. But I am not if it means being committed in an active way to the fight that some women are still leading today.”

Katy Perry, accepting Billboard’s Woman of the Year award, December 2012:

“I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the power of women.”

(Just — why use this platform to declare that you’re not a feminist in what is essentially your third breath? It seems a little counter-productive.)

Marissa Mayer, on the PBS-AOL series “Makers“:

“I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think that feminism has become in many ways a more negative word. You know, there are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there is more good that comes out of positive energy around that than comes out of negative energy.”

(We want just a little bit more from one of the world’s most powerful businesswomen than “I think that I certainly believe in equal rights,” and then a reaffirmation of a false stereotype.)

Lady Gaga, in an interview, August 2009:

“I’m not a feminist – I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…”

(Holy mixed messages, Lady Gaga! Also, since when can’t feminists love beer? Sigh.)