Photo: BEImages/Matt Baron.
Shailene Woodley is "50% feminine and 50% masculine," and she thinks you probably are, too. She thinks that giving more power to one gender at the expense of the other is a bad thing. She also thinks the blurred boundaries of gender identity and sexuality are important to consider and acknowledge. Is Shailene Woodley a feminist? Well, according to a pretty surprising new interview in TIME magazine, the answer is "no because 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."
Woodley is far from the first celebrity to respond this way to the seemingly obvious "are you a feminist?" question. In fact, there are a lot of women who have trouble identifying with the term, perhaps because of the unfair but widespread associations of the movement with bra-burning, man-hating, no-armpit-shaving, and other hyphenated words that make people in power feel scared. However, if you take a moment to delve into the modern world of feminism, you'll probably find it's much more about reasonable discussion and inclusiveness than any of those tired generalizations.
Here's the weird thing, though: We've generally found Woodley to be pretty well-informed in past interviews. She's spoken intelligently about sexuality and gender. She's talked about her penchant for foraging without sounding pretentious or annoying. And, yet, she's apparently unaware of the important distinction between feminism and misandry. Weirder still is the fact that she seems to have a pretty good understanding of everything modern feminism is truly about, except that she calls it "sisterhood" instead. And, she goes on to talk about The Other Woman and its thoroughly modern reclaiming of the, well, "other woman" trope. All things that sound pretty in line with the POVs of today's most vocal, respected feminists, right? Check out the quote:
"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."
It's her prerogative if she doesn't want to call it feminism, of course. If she takes issue with the term and wants to rebrand a movement the ethics of which she agrees with, that's an interesting discussion, and we'd love to hear her thoughts on the matter. But, that's not what's happening here. Either the rest of the interview got cut, or she's actually got a much more retro understanding of feminism than we would have expected from such a progressive, generally well-informed person.
Everything about Woodley's presentation before now has shown us the very picture of a thoughtful, sex-positive, ethically conscious celebrity. It's disheartening particularly because there are so few stars willing to engage in a realistic dialogue with feminists — and whether you call yourself one or not, that seems like a conversation worth having. The problem here isn't even just what Shailene said in one interview. Rather, it's the fact that, paralyzed by a fear of the new "f-word," A-listers with immense influence end up propagating old stereotypes about feminism instead of sharing the real message. That's how we end up with such a huge disconnect in the popular consciousness about what feminism means and entails.
Is the mission of modern feminism really too nuanced to state in a quick interview? We don't think so, but just in case celebrity PR people think otherwise, here's a canned statement we would recommend using in the future: Feminism isn't about hating men or shaming stay-at-home moms. It's about owning your body, respecting your gender, and embracing your agency as a woman. There, see? Simple.