The Kate Hudson Debacle, or Why Feminism is for White Women Again

[This article previously appeared on the other blog I contribute to, I Fry Mine in Butter]

hudsonLately, the definition of the word “feminist” has become somewhat vague. With so many women fleeing from the term, whether because they don’t feel represented by it or because they fear its perceived negative connotations, the relevance of referring to yourself as such is in dispute. Perhaps because the meaning of feminist — and in turn, the meaning of feminism — is in flux, a disturbing slant towards a kind of “selective feminism” has emerged.

For example, many women seem to feel that because another woman is privileged in some way, or because her lifestyle is different, or her actions distasteful, she is not deserving of the basic rights we as feminists demand all women have — namely, control over our bodies and the way in which our bodies are discussed. Celebrities are routinely slammed with decidedly non-feminist language when they exercise their right to alter their bodies, especially when said alteration is of a body part which is perceived as sexual in nature, like say, a boob job. They’re referred to as “plastic”, their choices derided as superficial and detrimental to women, called “bimbo”, “Barbie”, “slut”, “whore”. Do female celebrities exempt themselves from the protections of feminism because they have money and fame? Is it true that when a woman becomes famous, she’s traded in her right to not have her body denigrated and her choices regarding her body respected? I understand that being in the public eye puts you in the line of fire for snarky comments, but should we as feminists be the ones shooting? As I understand feminism, it applies to all women, and an attack on one subgroup of women puts the larger group equally open to attack. A woman should not be “Othered” because she’s overly privileged.

If it’s okay for people to comment negatively on say, Kate Hudson’s surgically altered body, then it follows that it’s fair game for people to comment negatively on Gabourey Sidibe’s body size. Most self-described feminists, or feminist refugees, would object to that comparison. But the fact remains that both women deserve the right to have agency over their bodies without judgment or condemnation. You can’t have your Kate and Gabby too. Either all women have that right or none do, if we believe in the basic tenets of feminism. Express your disappointment that women feel they need to alter their bodies to succeed in an appearance-obsessed industry, but don’t attack the woman’s choice to alter her body.

Not to beat a dead horse, but the example of Tina Fey’s classist, sexist attack on Bombshell McGee is a pertinent one because those kinds of feelings are expressed by many women on a regular basis, not just famous comedic writers/performers. In situations where an affair has taken place, the default is to eviscerate the mistress and not the cheating husband. Whether it happens to a woman in the public eye or to the woman down the street, wives are cast as the long-suffering madonnas and the mistresses as the home-wrecking whores. Why do so many women blame not their husband for cheating on them, but the woman he cheated with for “luring” him into that situation? One might answer that men are expected to be unable to control their sexual desires, but the other woman should “know better” or have some kind of sisterhood with the wife. Breaking that perceived bond of sisterhood means the other woman is no longer welcome to benefit from the protections of feminism — she is fair game. Her body, her morals, her values are all legitimate topics for public discourse. Once again, the woman is Othered by her distasteful-to-some actions.

I would think it would be fairly clear why selective feminism is a slippery slope. However, many women will fight tooth and nail for their right to body snark, or blame other women for a man’s actions, or look down on women who make choices they don’t agree with. Only when the tables are turned on them do they understand why we need to support even straight, able-bodied, cis-gendered, rich, white women’s choices in regards to their bodies. Yes, these same women have been responsible for the erasure of many marginalized groups’ lived experiences in the past (and unfortunately, sometimes in the present). But it’s a testament to the success of feminism and vocal, visible marginalized feminists that most of us now recognize and support the rights of women of color, trans women, queer women, and many other truly oppressed groups of women. However, it appears we need to again have the backs of those who feminism, in its nascent form, was designed for — the privileged. Because if we don’t, we’re all back at square one.

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9 Responses to The Kate Hudson Debacle, or Why Feminism is for White Women Again

  1. The Pale and Pallor April 26, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    Great post. I agree with so much of what you say, especially that we can't be selective about who we want to stand behind, all women deserve us to have their backs. The whole Bombshell McGee thing blows my mind, HE was the one cheating and photos aired of him Nazi-ing it up too, but she's the one getting all the flack. I think a lot of the hatred is because she has so many tattoos too, which has nothing to do with anything.
    I consider myself a full-fledged feminist, it's nice to run into another one :)

  2. Lori April 27, 2010 at 2:58 am #

    I completely agree that people shouldn't attack or make fun of people for their individual choices, particularly those regarding their bodies. But, I don't think that has anything to do with feminism, but with being a decent human being.

    I think it's dangerous to allow feminism to become nothing more than some pact where we uncritically affirm every choice every other individual woman makes about her body (or her life). Feminism, to me, has nothing to do with affirming or not affirming any woman's individual choices. I don't care if Kate Hudson or anybody else has plastic surgery. I do care that there is enormous culture pressure on women to conform to certain standards of beauty, and that plastic surgery is the only way to conform to those standards for even the most beautiful women. As such, I wouldn't go around affirming Hudson's choice to have plastic surgery. I'm not going to snark on how her body looks or condemn her for it, but neither am I going to go around supporting her for it. Honestly, I don't care either way about the choices she makes; I care about the structures that she makes those choices within and that condition those choices. I'd say, personally, that those structures are a legitimate area of concern for feminism, but not the individual choices of any individual woman, and certainly not an uncritical, rah-rah "You go girl!" kind of support for any- and everything any individual woman chooses to do. Somebody making fun of Hudson might be kind of a mean person, but I don't think they'd necessarily be a bad feminist (although they might be), because feminists aren't under any obligation, I don't think, to universally affirm other women's choices. Nor, I think, should they, because I don't think feminism has anything to do with judging or not judging individuals for their individual choices. Instead, it has to do with the (oppressive, hierarchical) structures within which those choices are made, and transforming those structures so that people are increasingly liberated.

    And, while I agree, again, that it's just mean-spirited and wrong to make fun of anybody's body, I do think there's a difference between having plastic surgery and being fat. To conflate Gaby and Kate Hudson seems to assume that both women's bodies are equally the result of conscious choice, when that's not the case. I get what you're saying, but I do think it's important to make that distinction in a culture where so many people do seem to believe that being fat is a choice people make (and one they could easily "fix").

    • Tasha Fierce April 27, 2010 at 9:16 am #

      I don't think you have to affirm another woman's choices or support her choices, I'm saying we need to support the RIGHT of women to MAKE those choices. I agree with you about the enormous cultural pressure on women to affirm traditional standards of beauty — I think I mentioned that in the post. I do believe this is a feminist issue because so often this is woman-on-woman crime and it is definitely about respecting the choices individual women make, although we may disagree with them or think they're problematic.

      The issue of Kate and Gabby is in essence the same to me because what I'm talking about in that case are the rights of women to not be shamed for their bodies, whether it's by choice or not. And to the unenlightened public, being fat IS a choice Gabby is making, because popular wisdom suggests if she just ate less and exercised, or got weight loss surgery, she could lose the weight. NOT my opinion, to be sure, but an opinion many in the general public share. So in that sense, we have to defend her choice not to subject her body to countless failed diets and dangerous surgical procedures, and at the same time educate that being fat is not necessarily a matter of choice. But it all comes down to the right of women to have agency over their bodies.

  3. aebhel April 27, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    I agree, and would also like to say that this applies not just to privileged women but to women whose opinions and actions are to some degree or another in opposition to feminism itself. I find, for example, Sarah Palin's and Ann Coulter's politics and tactics abhorrent, but I'm violently uncomfortable with some of the gender-based insults directed at both these women–often by self-identified feminists.

    I don't have to agree with or support celebrities' choices to modify their bodies and diet excessively to conform to restrictive beauty standards. And I don't. But I try to recognize that the bodies of these women are no more public property than mine is.

    tl;dr, feminism is for all women, not just 'good' women.

    • Tasha Fierce April 29, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

      Exactly, I feel the same way about women whose opinions we disagree with. Attack the facts, hell attack the annoying mannerisms, but leave the gender-based insults alone.

  4. bunny florentine May 3, 2010 at 1:16 am #

    Finally! I have been waiting for someone to say that about Bombshell McGee/Jesse James – the amount of blame leveled at her compared to him is ridiculous. He was the one who was married and cheated on his wife; yes, Bombshell McGee has shown a severe lack of judgment in hooking up with a married man, but she didn't cheat on anybody. The rampant sexism and girl-on-girl hatred sparked by this (and you're right – the tattoos are probably a huge reason why women are so quick to label her as 'bad') is ludicrous.

    Good post!

  5. chriso May 3, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

    This is a great post Tasha! And while it's not the entire crux of it, I have been bothered more than once by some really sexist stuff Tina Fey says. She's made a lot of really negative comments about strippers and other women who do sex work. I feel like it's that thing of being a feminist for certain kinds of women and looking down on other kinds of women as "pulling down the gender" or something.

    • Tasha Fierce May 6, 2010 at 8:57 am #

      Yeah Tina is problematic, I love 30 rock but I didn't know she was married, which kind of sours me on her obsession with depicting lonely single women. This last season was particularly bad with that.

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