Are You a Feminist?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The French actress Marion Cotillard recently gave an interview to Porter magazine in which she said, “I don’t qualify myself as a feminist.”

We need to fight for women’s rights, but I don’t want to separate women from men. We’re separated already because we’re not made the same, and it’s the difference that creates this energy in creation and love. Sometimes in the word ‘feminism’ there’s too much separation.

Cotillard joins a long list of female celebrities who’ve declined to identify themselves as feminists out of an assumption that the word implies widespread rejection or dislike of men.

Shailene Woodley:

I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from power’ is never going to work out … We have to have a fine balance. My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism.

Carrie Underwood:

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a feminist, that can come off as a negative connotation. But I am a strong female.

Salma Hayek (who’s since changed her mind):

I am not a feminist. 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.

Kelly Clarkson:

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.

Lady Gaga:

I’m not a feminist—I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…

You could call this feminism’s PR problem—that people who’ve never thought much about Betty Friedan or the sex wars or women’s suffrage or marital rape understand feminism to be a Political Movement, with all the internal conflict and jockeying for power and us-versus-them that political movements imply. In rejecting the word, Salma and Carrie and Kelly and Shailene and Marion and Gaga are understanding feminism by what they assume it opposes: men.

But it’s hard to solely blame bad publicity (there can be no advocate more powerful than Beyoncé, who literally stood in front of the word “feminist” spelled out in six-foot high letters) when the real issue seems to be a profound degree of misinformation among women and men as to what feminism actually means.

Because whatever the history, whatever the nuances, whatever the charged sentiments associated with political activism, being a feminist is very simple: It means believing that women are and should be equal to men in matters political, social, and economic. They should be able to vote. They should have equal protection under the law and equal access to healthcare and education. They should be paid as much as their male counterparts are for doing exactly the same job. Do you believe in these things? Then, you are a feminist.

Or, as Caitlin Moran puts it in How to Be a Woman:

We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism.’ We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist—and only 42 percent  of British women—I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?

So what do you think? Email hello@theatlantic.com.