Powerful Women Who Reject the Feminist Label
The word "feminist" can’t seem to shake folks’ preconcieved notions. Unfortunately, many people incorrectly equate the word with being aggressive and hating men. Feminists aren’t against men. Feminists are against discrimination and want equality for folks of all genders in every sphere of life.
While some powerful women, like Dolly Parton, have been maligned by earlier iterations of the feminist movement and are uncomfortable with the term "feminist," others simply seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means and have bad-mouthed the term "feminist," thus perpetuating harmful, misogynistic stereotypes. These famous women reject the label — find out why.
Although she’s known for empowering women, fighting for equal pay and discussing gender-based discrimination, Dolly Parton doesn’t self-identify as a feminist. "I must be [a feminist] if being a feminist means I’m all for women," Parton said. "But I don’t feel I have to march, hold up a sign or label myself."
Icelandic musician Björk has said, "[I don’t identifiy as a feminist] because I think it would isolate me. I think it’s important to do positive stuff. It’s more important to be asking than complaining." The assertion is surprising coming from the boundary-pushing singer, who has basically merged her music with performance art.
The Voice judge and American Idol superstar Kelly Clarkson tried to "Breakaway" from the label, initially saying, "No I wouldn’t say feminist — that’s too strong. I think when people hear feminist, it’s like, ‘Get out of my way, I don’t need anyone.’ I love that I’m being taken care of and I have a man that’s a leader."
"My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism," actress Shailene Woodley has said in the past. "I don’t know how we as women expect men to respect us because we don’t even seem to respect each other. The word ‘feminist’ is a word that discriminates, and I’m not into that."
Although singer Katy Perry has had her fair share of feuds and missteps, one thing is for certain: She’s willing to listen and grow. Back in 2012, Perry was named Billboard’s Woman of the Year and, in a celebratory interview, she told the magazine "I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the power of women." Contradictory? Undoubtedly.
Initially, superstar Taylor Swift was hesitant around the "feminist" label too. "I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life," she said. While that’s a nice sentiment, it’s not taking into account factors like workplace discrimination and the gender pay gap.
Despite the way she advocates for equality these days with projects like her Born This Way Foundation, Lady Gaga once declared, "I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men, I celebrate American male culture — beer, bars and muscle cars." Like so many others, her take is undergirded by a fundamental misunderstanding of feminism.
Despite being an empowering role model, country music superstar Carrie Underwood has really distanced herself from feminism. "I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a feminist," Underwood stated. "That can come off as a negative connotation. But I am a strong female." Jesus, take the wheel.
Even outside of the pop world, Madonna was a pioneer in the ‘80s and her persona and actions helped expand society’s perception of women and sexuality. Nonetheless, the legendary popstar has always shirked the feminist label. Instead, she’s landed on a broader term.
"I think of myself as a humanist, because I think it’s less alienating to people who think of feminism as being a load of strident bitches," Sarandon said. "It’s a bit of an old-fashioned word. It’s used more in a way to minimize you." It’s true: The label has been co-opted by people who oppose equal rights, pay and education, and hurled at women with agency as an insult.
Actress and author Demi Moore was reportedly devastated when she had to drop out of the film Lovelace (2013). Due to personal circumstances, Moore had to forgo a cameo as famous feminist Gloria Steinem. Irony of ironies? The actress doesn’t consider herself a feminist.
Sarah Jessica Parker
We couldn’t help but wonder: Did Sarah Jessica Parker realize what she was saying? Despite being hailed as an icon for her starring role on the woman-fronted Sex and the City, Parker is yet another celeb who’s putting distance between herself and the term.
Evangeline Lilly is known for her trailblazing roles. Whether she’s starring as Kate in Lost, taking down Orcs as an Elvish warrior in The Hobbit series or teaming up with the Avengers as Wasp, the actress consistently plays strong, game-changing women. But the action star still isn’t keen on the term "feminist."
Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Ray’s take on the movement begs the question: Will you still love her when she no longer embraces feminism? Of the topic, the singer said, "For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept. I’m more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities."
When it comes to Joni Mitchell and her music, all of us are like the Emma Thompson character in Love Actually: Here for a good cry, to really feel something. What we’re not feeling? Mitchell’s longstanding take on feminism. "I’m not a feminist… I don’t want to get a posse against men," the musician said.
This singer-songwriter rose to fame in the ‘90s as Ginger Spice, a member of the best-selling girl group of all time, the Spice Girls. Here’s the thing: You can be one of the faces of the most successful women-helmed musical group in history but still say outright terrible things about other women.
French actress Juliette Binoche believes that "[Feminism] just puts people in a stereotyped way of thinking. I think creation and doing, being active, is more important than talking about it." In the same interview, Binoche went on to say that her mother self-identified as a feminist and brought her along to demonstrations and marches.
The Big Bang Theory actress Kaley Cuoco has a real privileged outlook on feminism. She has stated that she’s well aware of the work that paved the way for women, and that it happened "before [she] was around." But…she doesn’t seem to understand that equality still isn’t a reality.
Actress Salma Hayek isn’t beating around the bush when it comes to her feelings on feminism. "I am not a feminist," Hayek has said. "If men were going through the things women are going through today, I would be fighting for them with just as much passion. I believe in equality."
"Given my experience of being passed around like gender-politics cocktail food, I don’t identify myself as a Feminist, capital ‘F,’" Monica Lewinsky has said. And, honestly, who can blame her? Most of us would be jaded if we were in her position. Lewinsky received flack from both sides of the (political) aisle for her relationship with President Bill Clinton.
Carla Bruni, an Italian-French musician and supermodel who married former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has claimed that feminism is old hat — and unnecessary. "My generation doesn’t need feminism," Bruni claimed. "There are pioneers who opened the breach. I’m not at all an active feminst."
The 25-year-old singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor often writes about female empowerment, body image and other topics feminists hold close. However, she has also distanced herself from the feminist label, saying bluntly, "I don’t consider myself a feminist, but I’m down for my first opportunity to say something to the world to be so meaningful."
"Feminism," singer Lily Allen said. "I hate that word because it shouldn't even be a thing anymore." What’s frustrating about this? Even though we’ve made great strides in some venues, like suffrage, women (and other folks) still face discrimination on the basis of gender in the workplace and elsewhere.
Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow has made waves with her lifestyle brand Goop thanks to some of the brand’s more not-so-genuine products. However, even though Paltrow’s take about feminism isn’t quite on the money, she scores points for being authentic here. In advising a friend, Paltrow said, "This may not be feminist, but you have to compromise."
It’s difficult to know where, exactly, singer Miley Cyrus stands on virtually any issue. She’s been outspoken — about various movements, about her own identity — but a lot of what Cyrus says seems to be in flux. And that’s understandable: She’s grown up in the spotlight and is trying to navigate things in the public sphere.
Sandra Day O’Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor, a retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, was the first woman nominated to the Supreme Court. On this historic nomination, O’Connor said she "felt a special responsibility… I [had to] do an adequate job so it would be possible for other women to be appointed without [people] saying, ‘Oh, see, a woman can’t do it.’"
Emmy- and Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo may have a bunch of accolades to her name, but one label she doesn’t want to tack on to her identity is "feminist." In a 2012 interview with Salon, Leo staunchly said, "Well, I don’t think of myself as a feminist at all." You can’t get more to-the-point than that.
Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep is known for her impressive craft, but, evidently, she really put her acting skills to the test in 2015’s Suffragette. In the film, Streep co-stars as Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the key organizers of the women’s suffrage movement in Britain. Why was it her best work?
Actress Jacqueline Bisset has been on the receiving end of some high-profile sexism. She once mentioned "living with two men" — her roommates — and was shamed for it, with attackers assuming her relationships with the men were of a sexual nature. Later, she was criticized for being a "cougar" because of her relationships with men younger than her.
American businesswoman and investor Marissa Mayer is undoubtedly one of the most high-profile and powerful women in tech. She’s known for being the co-founder of Lumi Labs as well as ex-CEO of Yahoo! And Mayer has a net worth of $620 million. But, despite all of her success and business smarts, Mayer still has a fundamental misunderstanding of feminism.