In a recent interview with TIME magazine, Shailene Woodley claimed that she does not consider herself a feminist despite her empowering female roles in films. In doing so, Woodley explained that she chooses not to identify with feminism:
“….because I love men and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from 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.”
Woodley then described how she values sisterhood. According to Woodley, “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…”
I think that Woodley’s response highlights the common misguided assumptions about what it means to be a feminist. To better clarify the focus of feminism, I refer to a few excerpts of her comments and compare them to my own beliefs.
I have always viewed the construction of one’s feminist identity as an ongoing process and I consider myself someone who has grown into my own personal grasp of feminism.
I remember first becoming aware of my feminist identity after reading Sarah D. Bunting’s “Yes, You Are” in one of my Women and Gender Studies classes. I had always supported women’s rights but I did not necessarily label myself as a feminist.
In retrospect, I realize that my initial reluctance stemmed from a misinformed view of feminism. My current definition of a feminist parallels that of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
As Woodley intended to refute a feminist label, she still made, what I consider, a feminist remark. While her rationale is slightly flawed, I wish that I could show Woodley that she is, in fact, a feminist even if she needs to learn how to better embrace it.
At the same time, Woodley is either unaware of or does not seem to fully acknowledge how feminism has helped her to succeed. After all, Woodley receives admiration for her ability to, at the very least, portray female agency and she would be unable to flourish without the presence of feminism. Her performances contradict her opposition to feminism in that her career is built on the feminist framework that previous actresses have exposed. Therefore, her empowered roles rest on the struggle for women’s equality within film and mass media. In these roles, she is not empowered at the expense of men’s power and privilege, but rather by attaining an equal level of power and privileges.
Most importantly, though, is not how Woodley or other people decide to identify or label themselves. Instead, feminism grows based on people’s willingness to behave like feminists. Even though the process of having progressive, successful women identify as feminists clearly helps the movement to develop, feminism requires people to believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards the equality of sexes.