Zoe Barnes: It’s not that they won’t identify as a feminist, but rather they can’t identify what it means to be one

I AM A FEMINIST. I am more than happy to admit this about myself and, by doing so, have added yet another item to the ever-growing list of things that Taylor Swift and I do not have in common, along with the fact that I don’t have four immensely successful albums, more money than I could count, or an utterly gorgeous head of long blonde hair. In an interview in October earlier this year, the pop star was asked whether or not she considered herself to be a feminist, to which she responded, “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls … if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Before we get any further, I simply cannot emphasise enough that feminism is not “guys versus girls”. In fact, being a feminist is not a lot of things. As a feminist I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I don’t hate men. I don’t live my life in a perpetual state of anger and I do not possess even the slightest inclination to burn my bra. However, there are going to be a lot of people out there that think that I must do, which I’ve just learnt to accept and move on from. However, I can’t begin to explain how disheartening it is when those powerful, successful, strong women do not realise that they would not be where they are today without feminism.

It wouldn’t be fair to single out Taylor Swift as the only influential woman who has publicly denounced feminism on the basis of utterly unreasonable and misinformed stereotypes, as she is by no means the first to do so. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s new CEO and arguably one of the most powerful women in business in the world today, rejected the idea that she could be considered a feminist because she didn’t believe she had the “militant drive” or “chip on the shoulder” to qualify. Lady Gaga seems to believe that due to her love of men, American male culture and, inexplicably, beer, she too could not possibly consider herself part of the feminist club.

The choices that other people choose to make about how they think, how they feel and how they present themselves to the world is in no way my business. I wouldn’t dream of telling people to be something they’re not, just as I expect the same courtesy from other people about my own identity. So if Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and anybody else for that matter decides that they don’t consider themselves a feminist, so be it. The real issue I have with them, however, is not so much that they won’t identify as a feminist, but rather that they don’t appear capable of identifying what it means to be one, instead resorting to definitions that perpetuate stereotypes and caricatures that are inevitably going to be picked up by news stations and celebrity gossip blogs across the world and repeated until they’re considered fact.

Stereotypes are undeniably harmful, establishing the justification for considerable inequality, injustice and ignorance that permeates our societies and obscures the real issues that we should be working towards resolving. I’m not saying that feminism is easy to define, because simply by virtue of its close links with identity and personal experience, its definition means so many different things to so many different people. However, I think that it’s out of plain laziness and ignorance that people choose to define it based on tired, offensive caricatures, something that can be said about attitudes towards a whole host of groups and communities within society, and not only feminism.

I’m under no illusion that I have any chance of single-handedly getting people to amend the way that they view feminists and the feminist movement; I’m sure there will be plenty of people wondering how I found time in between filling my house with stray cats and not shaving my legs to write this article. I just wish that more people, especially those possessing such considerable influence over literally thousands of impressionable, young fans across the world, would do themselves and their intelligence justice by attempting to understand what it means to be a modern feminist, rather than flinching every time somebody calls them the F-word.