Susan Sarandon, Anger, and the F-Word (Feminism, That Is)

Susan Sarandon, aka Gaia mother of us all, has apparently joined the list of women in the public sphere who don’t identify as “feminist.” As someone who does claim the F-word, this one stings a bit.

I can accept the loss of Taylor Swift (her definition of feminism as “guys versus girls” is way off anyway), but it’s hard to surrender Sarandon because she’s always lived the term’s underlying ideology. When a woman like Sarandon eschews the feminist label, you know it’s been done thoughtfully, with full knowledge of the word’s history and implications. And it raises some real doubts.

So what’s in a name, specifically, that of “feminism”?

Lizzie Crocker at the Daily Beast has noted that feminism perpetually suffers worse publicity than Federline-era Britney. There’s no room for an overview of the movement in the packed curriculums of middle and high schoolers, so most people encounter it in college, if at all. Consequently, feminism’s popular definition is informed by stereotypes of “strident bitches,” to quote Sarandon. In other words, most of America associates feminism with anger, and this assumed rage causes many women to shy away from the word. After all, an angry woman is an irrational woman (not to mention an unattractive one). Disassociation from feminism is really a form of self-preservation, an attempt to be heard and taken seriously.

My question is, when sulfuric acid costs about 40 cents and can be hurled in women’s faces, when 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail, why can’t I be angry? There’s a difference between being mad and being hostile. I can be angry with the general cultural situation that makes the above possible, without being an angry individual or angry at individuals. Make sense?

If you want to gather support and understanding for your cause, you need to have a dialogue with others, and you can’t do that if anger is controlling you. But it’s disappointing to watch celebs opt out of the feminist label and in doing so, deny that anger is a legitimate response to social injustice, not to mention a motivator for seeking change.