It is a truth universally acknowledged that the media works in trends. The latter end of 2014 bore witness to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Ebola crisis, and police brutality across America, amongst many other worldwide horrors. But instead of there being a means of constant and continuous coverage of these events – events that were once able to play on enough fear to whip up the population into panic – the development of the previous crisis becomes eventually non-existent once something else breaks the headlines. I wonder if it is right that the media has such a vast influence over our compassion. Instead, the newspapers are left to line the bins, articles are archived, and stories ultimately become a mere pondering over tea at work when the small talk has run dry. How often does it cross your mind that the MH370 flight is still missing? Not often, if you’re as ordinary as I am.
A particular case of this media manipulation occurs within the new wave of feminism. Emma Watson’s speech to the UN in September sparked what seemed like a feminist revolution, as more women and men around the world became aware of its true definition, one which had been lost beneath years of prejudice, fear, and a misconception of what women and feminists should be. It seems like progress has been made or, at least, new foundations for further progress have been set; in the UK, women still earn an average of £209,976 less than men over a lifetime for the same job, according to ONS figures released by the Labour Party. And who can forget the atrocities which are the norm in numerous countries across the world? Little girls are forced to marry men around three times their age because neither they nor their families have any other choice. The recent suicide of Leelah Alcorn is proof of why we cannot leave out transgender women and men from the desire for equality.
After Emma Watson’s astonishing speech at the UN Headquarters in New York, the ‘He For She’ campaign was born. Male and female celebrities became advocates of destroying traditional gender roles for a future without gender boundaries. ‘He For She’ is supported by over 200,000 men around the world, a number which is constantly increasing. Equality between men and women is possible, and campaigns like ‘He For She’ are helping to remove the stigma which comes about through misconceptions of feminism.
But along with this comes a giant however. Even with the power of decent men and women, united as one under the premise and promise of equal rights, these recent developments have been degraded into another trend that is soon to disappear. It has been a while since I have seen a ‘He For She’ photo, in all honesty. The manipulation of trends comes into play through the actions of TIME Magazine. Featured in the ‘Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?’ article was the word ‘feminism.’ Yeah, really. The reasoning behind its placement on the list was because it was supposed to “invite debate about some ways the word was used this year,” but instead “the nuance was lost.” After an acceptable amount of outrage the editor apologised, but the article was not removed.
Another instance of this is through the words of Karl Lagerfeld, the head designer and creative director at Chanel and the man who said Coco Chanel was “never ugly enough to be (a feminist)” in the September 2009 edition of Harper’s Bazaar. Five years after this oh-so-funny quip, a protest took place at the Chanel show at Paris Fashion Week. Down the catwalk marched models, impeccably dressed in the Chanel spring/summer 2015 line, carrying placards of protest. ‘History is HER story,’ ‘He For She’ and ‘Feminist but Feminine’ were but a few of the slogans cultivated by Lagerfeld and paraded in front of the year’s batch of A-listers for nothing more than attention and the hope of controversy. Although onlookers such as Alexa Chung praised the show as an attempt to capture the “revolutionary spirit trickling into our consciousness,” it was hypocritical of Lagerfeld to turn feminism into something disposable, as disposable as the Chanel spring/summer ‘15 line will be in spring/summer ’16. Feminism has become a mere trend for us to fawn over and forget as quickly as possible.
Despite all of this, I need to ask: if feminism has been interpreted as a trend in the mind of the mainstream media, is this necessarily a bad thing? As a popular and powerful trend, feminism is seeping deeply into popular culture, like powerful trends do, and is ever-so-slowly changing perspectives.
Beyonce is worshipped and praised on a grand scale for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is her song ‘***Flawless.’ Between Beyonce’s stunning vocals is a speech delivered by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The two women outline the problems in society when it comes to raising a girl: “You can have ambition but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful otherwise you will threaten the man.” Beyonce is extremely successful and influential and the fact that she is using her powerful position in order to transmit an idea like this is admirable. Beyonce has encouraged feminism throughout her career, but with its increase in popularity within the music industry in 2014 – Taylor Swift reprimanding the critics who said that her songs were solely about boys, Rihanna standing up for the censorship of women’s bodies, Lorde defending Taylor Swift to Diplo’s criticisms of Taylor’s apparent lack of bottom on Twitter – her ideology became radicalised. And it was amazing.
At this rate, feminism for the future won’t be a decision or a choice: it will be the norm. 2014, the ‘good year for feminism,’ will go down in history next to the year Wuthering Heights was published, next to the year women received suffrage, and next to every other year women and men around the world defeated gender norms. The increased popularity of feminism isn’t to fall victim to the apathetic cycles of mainstream news, because it is continuing now to seep so deeply into popular culture. Karl Lagerfeld might have thought he was being clever for “doing something right for the movement,” with the assumption that he would never have to again, but he and every other condescending misogynist have fuelled the fire that is now too strong to be blown out.
Words by Caitlin O’Connor