Can you be a Disney princess and the feminist messiah? I wondered this earlier this week, upon seeing new images released for the new Beauty and the Beast film. It stars She Almighty – Emma Watson – the woman who hates female subjugation, gender stereotypes and all-round sexism, yet will be in a franchise that romanticises all three.
In fact, Watson’s career choice confirms my suspicions that she is not the militant campaigner the world has taken her for, but mushy and romantic. As I saw her in Belle’s yellow gown – which I had myself aged four – I tried to imagine Germaine Greer and Camille Paglia doing the same, and failed. No wonder, of course, because they’re big, bad feminists.
They are a forgotten breed in this watered-down age. If there’s such a thing as hard and soft Brexit, then there is hard and soft feminism too. Unfortunately, the latter has grown out of proportion thanks to Watson types. Her ascent highlights everything that’s wrong with sexism: put a pretty woman on the podium and you can sell historically unpopular movements.
Over the last few years I’ve been baffled by the delusional reception Watson’s speeches on gender inequality have received. These have, in some cases, not actually been speeches but series of questions, as if a wind-up doll had become stuck on loop. ‘What if? What if?’ she uttered over and over again, in a recent UN talk in New York. (Spoiler alert: there were no answers).
But such sentiments are eaten up by young, intellectually malnourished girls. It’s not just Watson leaving them hungry; it’s all the other celebrity feminists, who use the ‘f word’ as if being quizzed about their outfits on the red carpet. Forget ‘I’m wearing Gucci,’ it’s now: ‘I’m a feminist’. Yet none of them have anything interesting to say on the matter, other than ‘I love equality’ and ‘don’t touch my bum’.
We are now at the mercy of these softies, united by their ability to make total non-comments on the subject of women’s issues. Take the young popstar Miley Cyrus, who once said: ‘I still don’t think [women are] there 100 percent. I mean, guy rappers grab their crotch all f**king day and have h*s around them, but no one talks about it. But if I grab my crotch and I have hot model b***es around me, I’m degrading women?’
Then there’s Claire Danes, who said: ‘I am a feminist… And I’m so glad that Lena Dunham exists, because she is one too, and she’s quite vocal about it.’ Because if there’s one thing soft feminists will do, it’s endorse others in their collective. They’re like vampires, feasting on each other’s inane thoughts. Then they suck the rest of us in, and insist that every right-thinking woman must pronounce she is a feminist.
In truth, I’ve had enough of soft feminists. I thirst for the edgy, old days which my generation has never really tasted. I got a sense of what I was missing watching Camille Paglia recently speak at Barbican’s Battle of Ideas. She dazzled with her nuanced and brave array of views on gender issues. Sadly, her type of radical, hard feminism is being drowned out by the softies.
Our society has become incredibly simple in its appetite for debate; so much so that complex thinkers have become too much for people’s minimalist minds. The divisions between Brexit and Remainers, as well as Trump and Clinton supporters, shows that we like everything in binary code. Hard feminist arguments are considered too complicated or dangerous. And why bother with intellectual debate, when simply saying ‘I’m a feminist’ is enough to prove one’s credentials.
What I particularly miss from this branch of feminism is its lack of ideas for how to enhance the lives of women. One hard feminist, perhaps unintentionally, is Sheryl Sandberg; whose book, Lean In, suggested that the problems women face in the workplace can be redressed through individual willpower. This notion caused wide offence because it suggested the power of female agency, an unpopular idea with soft feminists – who see external systems as the source of everything wrong in the world.
Soft feminism is more than trite; it blends fashion with unfashionable concepts, which renders the latter useless. We will never realise feminine potential if we stay on this diet of brainless commentary – of women who have nothing to say other than ‘sexism is bad’. So dire is this situation that no one now notices the irony of the UN’s feminism ambassador starring in a Disney film. This is the stuff of childhood dreams, not feminist fantasy.