Given that it’s coming to the end of the year, it’s somewhat unsurprising that several articles have featured highlights of the past twelve months. Multiple times a day, such articles are shared or posted by friends of mine on various social networks: ‘Best TV Moments of 2014’, ‘Most Important Cats of the Year’, ‘Top Goals So Far This Season’ – they’re ubiquitous and, to be honest, they’re often quite entertaining.
Also this year, feminism has gained an even stronger presence in the media. This has been – from my experience – predominantly positive, with an increasing amount of individuals debating feminist issues online, discussing gender inequality and analysing occurrences and events from a gender perspective. But of course I would say that this is a good thing, given that Gender and the City has attempted to join in on this conversation.
However, the intersection of media discussions on feminism and end-of-year reviews has, for me, been rather disturbing. For example, the most recent article to appear on my ‘News Feed’ named Emma Watson the ‘Feminist Celebrity of the Year’. Now, Emma Watson has undoubtedly made some significant achievements in 2014 pertaining to feminism: her speech at the UN catalysed an array of conversations about gender universally; the #HeForShe campaign that was launched aimed to engage 1 billion men and boys by July 2015; and she attempted to reduce the stigma that is often attached to feminism as a term by embracing it continuously throughout her argument. I do not have a problem with Emma Watson, although I am aware that there are several imperfections of both her speech and the campaign. I do, however, have a problem with assigning anyone with this label. The Feminist Celebrity of the Year was not an isolated ‘award’. There were articles that listed ‘The Most Iconic Feminist Moments of 2014’, ‘The Top Feminist Fiascos of 2014’, ‘The Most Powerful Feminist Moments of 2014’, etc. Why the media insist on ranking the winners and losers of feminism is beyond me.
Let me first try to add a positive spin to these lists. Firstly, they do seem to create awareness of certain events that occurred throughout this year, both in terms of how gender inequality is still a very real problem and the efforts that are being exerted to alleviate this inequality. Secondly, they mostly illustrate feminism as a positive notion and aim to dismantle the stigma often associated with the term.
However, there are still several inherently problematic aspects of classifying feminism and gender inequality in this way. These lists propagate that there is a single notion of feminism that can be classified in some sort of objective order. This simplifies the very notion of feminism, which is a complex and diverse term. I understand that everybody adopts their own individual notion of what feminism is and such articles simply aim to illustrate an individual’s perspective. This would not be a problem except that these lists are available to a mass audience and exemplify feminism and gender inequality in a specifically narrow way. For example, many of these rankings featured stories and individuals predominantly from America and the UK, generally with high-profile celebrity status. Newsflash: the fight against gender inequality is happening everywhere and, I’m sorry, but Taylor Swift identifying as a feminist has not helped to improve equality this year. Sure, such celebrities may have made feminism more ‘cool’ but, let’s face it, that’s about the extent of the effect this has had.
The so-called ‘winners’ of these lists are somewhat questionable as well. On several of these articles, Beyoncé featured quite significantly. I would call myself a Beyoncé fan but, if I’m being truly honest, to call her the epitome of modern-day feminism is troubling. Yes, she performed in front of a giant sign reading ‘Feminist’ and, yes, she wrote a very impressive feminist essay. While I am more than willing to accept that it is difficult to get things 100% right all of the time, it still makes me uncomfortable that somebody who normalised scenes of domestic violence in one of her songs is lauded as a superhero who is mitigating gender inequality.
Call me extreme, but I believe that such arbitrary rankings have the capacity to cause a detachment from our very humanity. What’s next? A ranking of ‘The Saddest Events to Happen in 2014’? Will the Ebola virus be placed top because of the deeply saddening death toll or will the recent attacks at a school in Peshawar clinch the title because the majority of those who were murdered were innocent children? Frankly, that would be ludicrous – both are awful, alongside countless other events of 2014. Attempting to decide which is worse does not only demonstrate a lack of tactfulness: it shows a fundamental lack of empathy. Human lives are lost. All these events are tragic.
Gender inequality is a reality that we face everyday, universally. It isn’t a competition where we should pit achievements against each other. If someone is doing something to tackle this inequality, it should be celebrated. If an event occurred that demonstrated that this inequality is being challenged, it should be celebrated. But please, let’s stop ranking this for our own entertainment. Because when it truly comes down to it, the fact that gender equality is still not a reality, renders us all losers. That incremental steps are being made to confront this inequality will hopefully make us winners. But nobody has won yet, so please let’s stop pretending otherwise.