Not even kidding. I mean, she could run naked through the streets of Omaha holding an unlit candelabra shrieking the incorrect lyrics to "Call Me Maybe," and while that may be 'public indecency,' I could come up with some asinine excuse on her behalf despite the fact that I've never met her. So when Shailene slipped into the headlines once again recently for her controversial thoughts on feminism, I knew I had to say something. But it didn't stop at me 'needing' to say something; I truly want to something. So this is me saying something, and not just because Shailene Woodley is an amazing actress and philanthropist and public figure who I truly have no problem defending, but because there is absolutely no fault (pun intended, I guess) in her words, because they came from a place of genuinity and interpretation of what feminism means to our society. Shailene's thoughts reflect something greater than the thoughts of a young woman with an affinity toward Mother Earth; her candid conscience proves that feminism -- despite its publicity and omnipotence in modern life -- isn't as clearly defined as many should hope. But first, some background information.
- Shailene is currently promoting The Fault in Our Stars, along with author John Green, and costars Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff.
- As part of the press junket, Time asked Shailene if she considers herself a feminist (a reasonable question considering Shailene's propensity for playing "strong female characters")
- Shailene replied by saying that she doesn't consider herself a feminist, and her exact response follows:
- "...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. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance. My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism. I don’t know how we as women expect men to respect us because we don’t even seem to respect each other. There’s so much jealousy, so much comparison and envy. And “This girl did this to me and that girl did that to me.” And it’s just so silly and heartbreaking in a way."
- Chaos has since ensued
Many news outlets remain objective on the topic (despite headlines that highlight Shailene's words to seem quite disrespectful), while others feel the need to pitch in their two cents, which is totally justified, so I'm totally gonna put in mine.
Writing for The Washington Post (an outlet I personally respect and regard with high esteem), Alexandra Petri chooses to omit parts of Shailene's quote because she believes it's appropriate to "leave it there," and goes on to say, "...Shailene, I'm pretty sure you are still a feminist." Yet in the very same article, Petri wisely cites Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, novelist and advocate for equality and feminism, whose beautifully-articulated TED Talks I highly recommend. She cites Adichie's speech at a TED conference regarding feminism. Coincidentally, when controversy arose regarding Beyonce's usage of Adichie's speech in her song "***Flawless," suggesting that Beyonce isn't as feminist as she projects herself to be, Adichie expressed that those who claim to be feminist are feminist. Shouldn't that mean, using that logic at least, that those who claim to not be feminist are, indeed, not feminist? My apologies to Ms Adichie if I'm making an inappropriate inference. Just a thought.
On to bigger matters.
Much of the scrutiny surrounding Shailene's words center around the assumption that she misunderstands feminism, when I truly don't think she does. I think Shailene understands feminism the exact way many others do, especially those who do not consider themselves feminists.
Unfortunately, to many people, feminists are:
a. all women (perhaps Amazonian?)
which certainly does not begin to accurately identify this widely diverse population of people. I'm not saying that Shailene subscribes to these views, as I cannot speak for her, but these misconceptions surely exist not just in the US, but around the globe. Just watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's speech on the topic to hear her experiences with feminism and its struggle to gain the attention it deserves.
Yet, despite the fact that people (that's right, plural) have severe misconceptions of feminism, Shailene Woodley (whose views on feminism aren't even necessarily misconceptions) receives the attention and hate and harsh remarks because not only is she a "Hollywood celebrity" (a term she probably doesn't identify herself with), but she's a "Hollywood celebrity" who plays "strong female characters," as previously mentioned.
If Shailene Woodley never left ABC Family and played Amy Juergens, the teen mom, on The Secret Life of the American Teenager for the rest of her career, her words would not be paid any mind. Instead, Shailene has expanded her horizons to play the unfiltered Alex King in The Descendants, the astoundingly bright-despite-her-home-life Aimee Finicky in The Spectacular Now, and more notably (and recently) Tris Prior in Divergent, and Hazel Grace Lancaster in The Fault in Our Stars. While all of her characters have flaws, critics laud Shailene for her untouchable ability to embody both those weaknesses and their luminary strengths. Apparently, it puzzles many that Shailene plays empowered women at the same time as not being a feminist.
Rather than viewing Shailene's words as indicative of the fact that feminism isn't being conveyed as poetically or positively as it deserves to be -- as it undoubtedly asserts itself as, in one word, equality-- and perhaps a signal of the fact that "hmm, perhaps we should stop criticizing those who have varying thoughts on feminism and encourage awareness on what we believe feminism to actually be," the media (obviously to gain traffic) headlines their articles with "Shailene Woodley Not a Feminist Because She Loves Men," despite the fact that there's more depth to what Shailene said to Time (she's a supporter of sisterhood) and even that she still supports some ideals that feminists do (empowered women, respected women).
Oh yeah, that's right. You can support similar values to what feminists value and still not be a feminist.
We, as people, have minds that work like kaleidoscopes: we pick apart, we put together, we construe, we scatter. Feminism to Shailene Woodley is most certainly not entirely the exact same thing as feminism to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and there should be absolutely nothing wrong with that. Feminism is an incredibly complex matter, with a lot for one to wrap their brain around. Shailene Woodley's comments to a Time reporter during the press junket for her contemporary romance film are not most likely uncalculated and perhaps don't even encompass all of her thoughts on the topic.
Feminism, no matter how progressive it has proven itself to be, will never be perceived as harmoniously and as equal as it hopes to be. I, admittedly, don't view feminism on an equal plane to many feminists, and that's not because I disrespect feminism or what it stands for, but because I've had experiences in the past with feminism that have given me my own take on the idea. Shouldn't that be accepted; shouldn't that be respected?
Shailene Woodley's words regarding feminism and sisterhood do not corroborate her as uneducated or as someone without "cogent, insightful things to say about feminism," as Alexandra Petri suggests in her Post article, but rather as someone who is valiant (or, should I say, dauntless) enough to express her views on a topic so sensitive to society's soul.
Shailene Woodley is not an ignoramus. She is not an invalid. She is not insensitive. Shailene Woodley is someone who, like millions of others, has an opinion and rationale for that opinion, yet because her opinion isn't ear-candy, it receives backlash. I don't know when Shailene Woodley went from a humble girl who gathers her own fresh water from natural springs and happens to be in a few movies, to a racy politician whose words rock the feminist community. Shailene Woodley is not an ignoramus. She is not an invalid. She is not insensitive. She is not a feminist.
And because she justifies herself; because she has her own take on such a complicated subject; because she is comfortable enough in her thoughts to express them to Time, and through them, the world; because she is allowed to possess an opinion,
that is okay.