How the endless cycle of “Is Jennifer Lawrence feminist?” is killing us softly

By Maddie Butz

I constantly reexamine myself in my day-to-day life. From whether my bra strap is showing, to tucking my hair back perfectly, self-monitoring is an art, and one that women have perfected. But even worse than habitual monitoring of my appearance, is my constant questioning of my actions. I find myself wondering, sometimes multiple times a day, if what I’m doing at that moment is a feminist act. Does is break boundaries? Is it educational? Does it feature a strong woman? And moving deeper into kyriarchical systems; is it ableist? Am I representing diversity and tolerance? Is this racist? Am I racist? 

This constant questioning is a hallmark of the feminist movement. To be honest, I see it as a blessing and a curse. Once you see life through a feminist lens, there’s no going back, and applying the filter of what’s right and fair to every activity is unshakeable. This tendency is common, especially in modern feminism, where our every move can be tracked online and criticized as a whole. There are thousands of questions that seem so burning and necessary to ask, like what is feminist art? What is a feminist job? Is watching bridal-themed TV shows feminist? In fact, who is allowed to call themselves feminists in the first place? All of these questions are essential, and can define our personal views of a movement. But one of the most obsessive questions for us tech-savvy and social media-addicted third wavers is which celebrities are feminist, and which aren’t?

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Now, Jennifer Lawrence, like many other female celebrities, is a bit of a sticking point for me. She’s fawned over in the mainstream media, on Tumblr, and even in the feminist blogosphere. She’s been upheld as a body positive role model, an offbeat princess who isn’t like other more formulaic female actresses, and she’s shown that she’s someone I would like to have lunch with. She’s genuinely funny (even if she doesn’t have much of a filter) and she reminds me a lot of some of my favorite driven, independent, and imaginative girls. But as always, there are some who disagree with the Lawrence-centered cult of admiration. There are some legitimate critiques of her, especially of some of the public statements she’s made. She thinks that OCD is “cool and quirky” (not something I would advise saying aloud to someone with a mental illness), calls herself “dyke-y,” and rubbed her butt on some sacred rocks in Hawaii. There’s also the touchy subject of her “body positive” statements, and how progressive she really can be when she’s clearly still white, blonde, and only a size or two above the “norm” in Hollywood.

To be honest, I find it upsetting and a little heavy-handed when feminist bloggers attack J. Law. And this isn’t because I don’t find some of her statements problematic. It’s because as a female celebrity, Lawrence is already subjected to almost constant media scrutiny and the kind of vivisection of her body, her face, her work, and her personality that only comes from being smack in the middle of the eye of the mainstream media. Nobody deserves to be constantly picked apart. Continually critiquing women for what they say and how they say it isn’t healthy or productive in the real world, and it certainly isn’t good in medialand. Not to mention that whenever we devote space to rehashing Lawrence’s accidental rudeness for the thousandth time, we lose the time and energy that we could be using to uphold other, better role models. Instead of evaluating whether or not Jennifer Lawrence is a “real feminist”, we could instead be writing profiles on Gabourey Sidibe, Robyn Lawley, or Melissa McCarthy.

On a related note, people can be complex. Jennifer is a person, and people make mistakes. She’s 23 years old, as old as my boyfriend, and he still eats gummi bears and plays Call of Duty on his xbox (sorry for outing you, babe). Maturity, and more specifically, the finding of an appropriate level of respectfulness, comes with age. Not to mention, her unfiltered, slightly provocative charm has been pounced upon by handlers and reporters as a “diamond in the rough” aesthetic, and it’s almost certainly been exaggerated in her media training. People find her endearing, and that’s something that her managers definitely take advantage of.

In a world of Facebook, blogs, and 24/7 media coverage, we all have the ability to track each other’s every move. Timehop, a trendy app, allows you to see what you posted on Facebook and Twitter exactly one year ago that day. There’s an indelible record of all your stupid inside jokes from high school, back to the days when you used “gay” to describe everything that irritated you, to the time when you “married” your best girlfriend ironically. If you don’t groan when you see those things, you’re not human. And that’s the point: if all your past errors are laid out before you with no context and no opportunity to apologize, that creates an environment where you aren’t allowed to move on, grow, and learn. Celebrities make mistakes every single day, and sometimes years go by before they apologize. But sometimes, bringing up some crappy thing someone did in 2012 isn’t productive or useful, and it definitely doesn’t bring anything new to the discussion at hand. It’s just another way for us to track and categorize people into “good” and “bad” groups, into “feminists” and “anti-feminists.” And as we all know, the world isn’t so simple.

Yesterday, one of the feminist pages I subscribe to on Facebook shared this video. It’s part of Lady Parts Justice’s new campaign to support Texas abortion rights and women’s access to healthcare generally, especially reproductive care. It’s an excellent video and pretty funny if you ask me. But my first inclination when I watched it wasn’t to say “Wow, that’s a pretty clever way of making a point. Good message!” Instead, what instantly popped into my mind was Silverman’s 2007 clip where she jokes about blackface. It doesn’t really make sense, and frankly it’s just uncomfortably racist. For a long time, it pretty much poisoned all of Silverman’s work for me. But, am I going to let one (terrible) skit from seven years ago influence whether or not I support Lady Parts Justice, and Silverman in general? It’s an unpleasant question to ask, and a difficult one. Ultimately, it’s a question that we all have to ask ourselves, and decide on our own.