21st Century Feminism: The Media and Pop Culture

From UBC Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

What is Feminism?

Feminism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as an "advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; and the movement associated with this" (OED). It is embedded in our society and culture and is conveyed through so many mediums that it sometimes goes undetected. Examples of places that may convey the feminist movement ideals could be university lectures (entire degrees- eg. Bachelors in Feminism), academic/non academic literature, newspaper articles, social media movements, news broadcasts, movies, etc.[1]

Women holds sign for protest during Woman's Liberation parade in 1970.[2]

"The issue of rights for women first became prominent during the French and American revolutions in the late 18th cent., with regard especially to property rights, the marriage relationship, and the right to vote. In Britain it was not until the emergence of the suffragette movement in the late 19th cent. that there was significant political change. A ‘second wave’ of feminism arose in the 1960's, concerned especially with economic and social discrimination, with an emphasis on unity and sisterhood. A more diverse ‘third wave’ is sometimes considered to have arisen in the 1980's and 1990's, as a reaction against the perceived lack of focus on class and race issues in earlier movements" [3]

21st Century Feminism

The feminist movement is still ever present across the globe in the 21st century, although the medium through which the movement is conveyed has changed drastically by reason of modern day technology such as the internet, social media, and an array of readily available media platforms. Technology such as the internet has created a certain ease to the projection and manifestation of the feminist movement. As well, 21st century Feminism has also become more inclusive in regards to male advocates, where as throughout most of history, feminists were considered to be mostly females.

The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism

One trend that has accompanied feminism in the 21st century is the rise of a new-found Neoliberal Feminism. Neoliberalism refers to the ideology that the onus of responsibility is now on the individual. Rooted in economics, the basis of Neoliberalism removes government of its role in the care and concern for the individual, and places the power in the hands of the people. This movement has coincided with modern day feminism that has seen the effects of gender equality where the woman is now seen as the ruler of her own destiny, and "accepts "full responsibility for her own well-being and self-care" according to Catherine Rottenberg.[4] Neoliberal feminism has been associated with a sense of post-feminism in which the feminism movement is rejected and replaced with the idea of complete gender-equality. Angela McRobbie, a well known feminist and theorist, describes it as an age where '"feminism is taken into account...as having passed away. What once may have had some role to play on the historical stage is no longer needed: feminism is associated with the past". [5]

The Media and Feminism

News channels and Feminism in 21st Century

Feminism, the movement itself and the ideologies, are often covered in the media, including the in the news.

News broadcasters are generally responsible for bringing awareness to topics and events of importance at the time in society. However, when it comes to feminism, the topics can become heated and very opinionated which can cause trouble for the news channel. Therefore, the topic of feminism tends to be somewhat regulated because of controversies associated with broadcasters being "too feminist" or "too sexist". Nevertheless, in the last decade or so, news stories regarding feminist actions have become more frequent as feminism has become more mainstream.

Hollywood and Feminism in 21st Century

Feminism has seen an increased representation in film in the 21st century. Female characters as well as non-heteronormative characters are more readily represented than they have been in the traditionally patriarchal Industry. This upswing of feminist films[6] has been in no small part due to the momentum gained by the feminist movement and the recognized change of the film-going demographic.

An example of a 21st century film that discusses the issues of feminism is Big Eyes, a biographical American film starring Amy Adams and Christopher Waltz. The film is set in American 1950's and is about a talented female artist and her disgruntled and sexist husband who decides to market her artwork as his own because he believes society doesn't want to buy female artwork. While the film includes tremendous acting by both actors, it also raises the important topic of feminism and the rise of the feminist movement during that era.

Big Eyes movie poster [7]

Along with many Hollywood films that use strong, independent female leads to promote an ideal of feminism, the labels actor and actress have also become de-sexualized and reduced to the unisex term actor for both male and female. This change possibly have occurred because of prejudice against female actors.

A recent example of feminism advocacy in Hollywood was at the Golden Globe awards 2015 when Patricia Arquette delivered an acceptance speech imploring the Americans to fight for equal pay and woman's rights (in the film industry) and all across America. After her speech [8] social media was buzzing with talk about equal rights for women. The fact that a female American actor was able to stand on stage in front of millions of viewers and essentially call out Hollywood on pay equality shows that feminism has truly permeated and made a difference in Hollywood today.

Internet and Social Media Feminism in 21 Century

The internet has created a "community" where societal opinions and discussions can occur all in one location, linking people across the world by the click of a mouse. Feminist theories and movements are promoted through Facebook pages, social media posts on Twitter, Blogs posts, chat room discussion boards etc. By simply searching #feminism on Instagram, 1, 045, 463 posts had been made under "most recent", that's a lot of talk regarding feminism. There are also popular Instagram accounts such as Feminist Problems [9] run by, "just another feminist dealing with the everyday stupidity of society & trying to change the world one photo at a time." This account makes light of more serious feminist issues through jokes, quotes, and memes, yet it also promotes talk about pressing feminist issues of 21st century, such as equal pay in certain job sectors. The internet and social media have become an important medium for the messages surrounding feminism.

Scholarly Interpretation of Feminism in the Media: The "F" Word: How the Media Frame Feminism by Debra Beck

Debra Beck argues that modern day media is rarely friendly towards feminism. Her article explores how the media frames feminism and causes a warped social view of what feminism is. Beck says that while most women support feminist ideals, they do not label themselves feminists, which she believe to be because they want to avoid the negative image associated with being a feminist (Beck, 1998). The media (TV shows, News, Talk shows, Advertising etc) has re-imagined feminists as disagreeable, bristly women who would rather stay single and alone forever then be with a man who doesn't agree with their "hard feminist ways". Because of this extreme idea of feminism, women and men who identity as feminists have become cautious to convey their ideologies for fear of more false labeling. [10]

21st Century Feminism Within Popular Culture

In the 21st century Media and Pop culture has created a medium with which individuals can share ideas, styles and opinions at the touch of their fingers. The ability to spread information around the globe at the click of a button has become a modern day phenomenon. Social media platforms such as “Instagram”, “Facebook” and “Twitter” not only provide celebrities with the ability to share their lives but can also lead to everyday people gaining overnight fame by their post going “viral” and gaining hundreds of thousands or even millions of views in a matter of hours or days. This new way of perpetuating one's path to fame can be particularly detrimental to some people, as they become obsessed with the number of likes comments and followers that they have.

Examples of Feminism in Pop culture in the 21st Century

Lady Gaga “Born this way” foundation, is an example of how a particular figure in pop culture can make a difference in the lives of everyday people and strives to empower youth, particularly female youth, in building better communities. The Born This Way foundation was founded by Gaga in 2011 after her album “Born This Way” was launched. She founded it as her way of advocating for the struggles that many youth face such as bullying, racism and appearance. During the launch of her Born This Way foundation, Gaga stated that her organization would be based on “The three pillars of the Born this Way Foundation are SSO. The first “s” is safety. The second “s” is skills. We want kids to feel safe in their schools or safe in their home environments, so that they can acquire the skills to be a tolerant accepting and loving person. And then we believe that this will lead them towards the “o” which is opportunity.”[11]

Essena O’Neill, was an Australian Instagram star who quit unhealthy social media. She is an example of how pop culture can be detrimental to some women. While many women are able to use social media to share their interests, it can become overwhelming and obsessive tool for others. O’Neill is an example of a young “social media celebrity” who developed an unhealthy habit with her online presence. On October 31st 2015, O’Neill launched the website http://www.letsbegamechangers.com in order to share her story about breaking away from social media; her recent re-upload of her video titled “Dear 12 Year Old self” has gone viral on the internet, and she discusses her personal experiences with social media and how it lead to her unhealthy addiction to having a perfect online presence.

Beyoncé performing "Run the World (Girls)" on the 2011 Good Morning America Summer Concert Series

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, “Yours and Mine” [12] On December 21st 2014, the pop-star figure released a Youtube video presenting her perspective on the way that young woman portray their own body, how she controls her body and the way that she was able to embrace her true values through her marriage with the Pop icon Jay-Z. Beyoncé elaborates on how she views herself as a feminist “I’ve always consider myself a feminist, although I was always afraid of that word because people put so much on it. When honestly it’s very simple, it's just, you know, a person who believes in equality for men and woman.” [12] The star created an accepting atmosphere and considered the struggles that all social groups go through, especially women as well as other minority groups. Knowles-Carter has accomplished many things that could easily be related to the feminist movement: she often performs with an all-female band, promotes gender equality (GQ's interview, February 2013 issue), has written many feminist-oriented songs ("Independent Women" (2001), "My, Myself, and I" (2003)) promoting female empowerment. However, she often faces criticism over her scantily-clad outfits and sexually-charged performances.

Ellen DeGeneres, a popular comedian turned talk show host in the United States, seeks to promote confidence within women and takes a feminist stance with a comedic twist. Ellen is a popular icon in modern day pop culture and is someone who many young and middle aged woman look up to. Ellen is a selfless individual who is known for her inner and outer beauty; this is seen through her own COVERGIRL makeup line. Her humanitarian work and desire to build a global community makes her a role model who people can relate and strive to be like. In her “Woman on twenties” skit, she showed her support when she said “It's important for young woman to have a constant reminder that there are amazing female role models, and that they can do anything.” [13]

Orange Is the New Black, a hit television series consists of most, if not all of the actors and actresses raising awareness on important issues on feminism off-screen. Actress Samira Wiley told The Guardian and The Huffington Post on her social role. “I feel a responsibility to young girls who want to follow in our footsteps. I feel a responsibility to the prison community. I feel like when you get to a place where you’re more visible or where people point at you and say ‘Samira Wiley, what is she doing?’ you have a social responsibility in the world. I’m actually thankful for the amount of responsibility that has been handed to me from the show. I feel very honored.” [14] Danielle Brooks, actress for “Taystee” wrote an essay for Glamour magazine saying “Ideally, I want to see all beauties, all shapes, all sizes, all skin tones, all backgrounds represented in my profession. Now that I am blessed to be that reflection I was once looking for, I’m making a promise to speak out for that little girl that I used to be. I might not have the power to change what media puts out there, or to convince young girls like me that they should love themselves single handed. But what I can do is start with me.” [15] Famed and respected actress is Lea Delaria who plays Carrie “big boo” on the series. On the Ellen show, Lea stated that “[OITNB] is surreptitiously feminist, you know what I mean? We have a lot of women on our show of every shape and size and age. I think it’s something that young women can relate to. You don’t see that that much on television” [16]. Laverne Cox also spoke to DAME magazine about what feminism means to her. “I think trans women, and trans people in general, show everyone that you can define what it means to be a man or woman on your own terms. A lot of what feminism is about is moving outside of roles and moving outside of expectations of who and what you’re supposed to be to live a more authentic life.” [17] Last but not least, Lorraine Toussaint revealed her thoughts and the importance of helping non-white minority and older actresses break the glass ceiling. “I love to work and shows like ‘Orange’ are breaking that glass ceiling for women. The lie that women are not marketable and are not marketable overseas – ‘Orange’ has blown that out of the water. So I think more than any other time, this is a really terrific time to be a woman of color over 50 in this business. The tides are changing and I’m going to certainly do my part to assist in that.” [18]

Emma Watson, HeforShe Campaign Speech at the United Nations Headquarters. Emma Watson, a well known young actress and celebrity, gave a speech on September 20th, 2014 for the launch of the United Nations HeforShe campaign, a "movement for gender equality."


  1. "Feminism." Oxford English Dictionary Online. N.d. Web. Nov. 2015. http://www.oed.com/
  2. Second-wave feminists march during the Women's Liberation parade in 1970. Digital Image. Web. Nov. 2015.
  3. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/69192?redirectedFrom=feminism#eid
  4. Catherine Rottenberg (2014) The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism, Cultural Studies, 28:3, 418-437, DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2013.857361
  5. McRobbie, Angela. "Beyond Post-Feminism." Public Policy Research 18.3 (2011): 179-84. Web. 21 Nov 2015.
  6. "Feminist Films." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 July 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Feminist_films
  7. Big Eyes. Digital image. IMDb Big Eyes (2014). IMDb, n.d. Web. Nov. 2015. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1126590
  8. Patricia Arquette winning Best Supporting Actress. March 9. 2015. Youtube. Web. Nov. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wx-Qh4Vczc
  9. “Feminist Probs”. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/feministprobs/
  10. Beck, Debra. 1998. "The "F" Word: How the Media Frame Feminism". NWSA Journal 10:1 139-153. Print.
  11. http://entertainment.time.com/2012/03/01/10-questions-with-lady-gaga/
  12. 12.0 12.1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4pPNxUzGvc#t=312
  13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZqJN4-zFVU
  14. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/10/the-oitnb-cast-are-badass-feminists-and-its-awesome_n_7544998.html
  15. http://www.glamour.com/inspired/blogs/the-conversation/2015/05/danielle-brooks-body?mbid=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=pubexchange_article
  16. http://www.afterellen.com/tv/197111-lea-delaria-talks-orange-is-the-new-black-screwdrivers-and-laura-prepon
  17. http://www.damemagazine.com/2014/06/01/laverne-cox-i-absolutely-consider-myself-feminist
  18. http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/interview-lorraine-toussaint-on-commitment-to-characters-the-bechdel-test-and-baring-it-all-for-orange-is-the-new-black-20150511