Opinion | Consumer feminism must change | II


Photo Courtesy of IMDB

Rachel Bloom and Britney Young act in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend which aired in 2015. Columnist Rayna Wuh shares her thoughts on feminism in our society.

By Rayna Wuh, Columnist

The prominence of the male gaze in spaces where women are supposedly empowered extends to the music industry as well. Once again examining “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” the show’s “Put Yourself First” parodies “Worth It,” and the music video is modeled after “BO$$,” both songs by girl group Fifth Harmony. Both fit strikingly well within the category of conditional empowerment.

In the music video of  “Worth It,” there are separate shots of each of the girls dancing suggestively, apparently on their own accord. However, in the background of each shot, a different man is staring at them. While they are supposed to be reveling in their own “sexiness,” the respective girls simultaneously pretend to ignore and acknowledge the men around them.

Implicit in these scenes is the same concept of putting themselves first, but only when it is fulfilling the expectations of men. The lyrics, “Gimme gimme I’m worth it,” also uphold the idea that women only have value based on what they can provide, in this case, specifically for the men they seek attention from. 

In her book “We Were Feminists Once,” co-founder of “Bitch Media” Andi Zeisler discusses the intersection of feminism and pop culture. She articulates how feminism has been rebranded to become more appealing to the masses and how, as a consequence, the language of empowerment is utilized without affecting change that addresses the real issues women face. 

The scene of the “Worth It” video is reminiscent of a phenomenon Zeisler refers to in her book. In the 1970s and 1980s, advertisements targeting women put forth the message of liberation, but still often included male figures as competition or adornment. While women were the intended focus, male roles quietly ensured that women “did not take their newfound freedoms too far” and the status quo remained unchallenged. 

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Later in the book, Zeisler emphasizes that a “rebrand (of feminism) is outwardly focused, a recruitment effort to make feminism appeal to as broad an audience as possible by distilling it down to an image and a few words.” Increasing the interest of the movement by only highlighting a few of the most attractive aspects means that deep-seated issues below the surface frequently get overlooked.

The problems with Fifth Harmony’s management and label’s treatment of women extend beyond implicit messaging. It also extends to the girls who were members of the group. In her new podcast Ally Brooke, member of the pop group, indicated that she did not enjoy her time in Fifth Harmony due to the mental and verbal abuse she experienced.

Elaborating, Brooke said that “there was such inappropriateness, too, within the label — talking to us a certain way, talking to me a certain way, making me feel uncomfortable, making me feel inferior and knowing that they can make me feel that way because I was a woman.”

Underneath all of the promotion of girl power and the glamour of being in one of the most popular girl groups of the 2010s, there were several darker secrets kept out of the public eye. The so-called empowerment on the screen far from matched the lived experiences of the girls on account of them being female.

While “Put Yourself First” is comedic, it also exposes very real issues with the current state of the feminist movement. Mainstream feminism barely scratches the surface of what is needed to move us toward equality and dismantle the societal norms that trap marginalized groups. 

The content we consume does not uplift women just because we say it does. Selling these shiny surface-level glimpses of empowerment as feminism makes it easier for more people to call themselves feminist or feel feminist. However, if the real work is not done to address the underlying problems that women face, this rebranding of the movement can make people feel just good enough to absolve their responsibility and feel no need to do more. 

Empowerment partially comes from within and if something that makes you feel good as an individual and as a woman, that is a positive. However, it is also just as important to examine the external drivers of how empowerment is being sold to women so that we can critically evaluate how we can truly make progress.

Rayna is a sophomore in LAS.

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