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Emma Watson and the explosion of cupcake feminism

Michelle Avenant's picture

Emma Watson’s address to the UN has been shared on my facebook feed by people I would never have equated with feminism.

Watson’s speech – indeed, her very presence at the head of this campaign – is far from unproblematic. Still, it is heartening to see one of the world’s most renowned actresses use her influence to address inequality (however naïvely), and it’s always exciting to see the feminist lights flickering on in people’s heads.

Another reason I’m not fanning myself with bell hooks papers in excitement, though, is that we are living in the era of #BringBackOurGirls: an age in which it is fashionable to make a massive racket about a cause on the internet without doing anything to address the issue on the ground.

In light of this, I can’t help but feel that Watson’s speech, and probably the entire #HeforShe movement, is little more than a particularly trendy explosion of cupcake feminism, a brand of feminism articulately encapsulated in this statement by pop star Taylor Swift:

“So many girls out there say ‘I’m not a feminist’ because they think it means something angry or disgruntled or complaining. They picture like rioting and picketing, it is not that at all, it just simply means that you believe that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities.”

Cupcake feminism is the undisciplined, sugar-high, vegetable-hating child of the feminist universe. The groundbreaking, intersectional feminist approach we need to make a tangible dent on inequality is a giant bitter pill to swallow, and so cupcake feminism weeds out the morsels it finds attractive and palatable, and leaves the rest. Thus we have celebrity feminists proclaiming that they just want equality and world peace you guise, but no angry, disgruntled, complaining rioting and picketing - that doesn't bode well for one's public persona.

Apart from being selfish and often espousing double standards, this approach to feminism is ineffective. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the reason so many feminists get angry and disgruntled and complain, riot and picket is because politely asking for The Patriarchy to kindly step down doesn't work.

Cupcake feminism is a vapid ideology, but it has its uses. As my friend Gorata aptly said, Watson’s speech is “very good PR for feminism”. Watson has inscribed feminism with a positive connotation in popular culture, and perhaps, as a result, more people will listen and learn instead of running away screaming when feminism is mentioned.

Viewing feminism as a positive thing is an important gateway for any future feminist, and while I definitely wouldn’t call Watson a “game-changer”, she has oiled the latch on that gate for a few thousand people, and I will celebrate this for the small victory it is.