December 11, 2012
OK, Internet, I’ll bite. For the past week you’ve been insisting that people like me should be outraged that, upon receiving her Billboard Woman of the Year Award, Katy Perry felt constrained to note that she’s not a feminist. Like anyone was asking, which they weren’t, but maybe “Woman of the Year” sounded too serious to someone beloved for her willingness to attach sparklers to her boobs? Feminism is heavy and Katy Perry is light and fun and lollipops, and she was probably thinking of her core fans when she made that comment—which shows that she’s smart and not the dummy some feminist bloggers would paint her to be. But I contend that Katy Perry’s (and Taylor Swift’s, and even Marissa Mayer’s) rejection of feminism is: 1. not really something feminists should bother about and 2. kind of predictable. And I will make my argument by talking about marketing and sociology, because that is how I roll.
First let’s talk marketing, because I do PR for non-profits and am totally worn out from explaining that you can’t expect people to support your cause just because YOU think it’s righteous; you have to persuade them, and that’s where marketing comes in. The first thing you learn about in marketing is audience and messaging. Your audience is the group you’re trying to reach, and your message is the pitch you tailor just for them. If you want to make that pitch appealing, you have to know who you’re pitching, which means you need to narrow your audience to a specific group—it can’t be “everybody” or “all women.” No matter how popular a product/idea is, nobody’s target audience is as big as everybody, not McDonald’s, not Starbucks, and certainly not feminism, whose popularity, last time I checked, was lagging somewhat behind that of cheeseburgers and lattes.
When you narrow your audience you’re implicitly admitting that there will always be some people who are simply not persuadable by you; they don’t want what you’re selling. That isn’t their fault, nor is it yours—the point is, to be successful you don’t need those unpersuadable people. Social movements don’t succeed because they convince everyone on earth they’re right, and in fact usually succeed despite a lot of people thinking they’re wrong. So when someone like Perry says she’s not a feminist, I say let her go. Feminists don’t need her to get what they want, and are unlikely to win new converts by yelling at her about it. Not to mention that we all have better things to do with our time.
So that’s why Katy doesn’t matter to feminism. But why wasn’t she persuaded by it in the first place? Feminists fought hard to make the world safe for her candy cane panties! Why doesn’t she like us? I think Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is a better example here, because she’s more obviously a direct beneficiary of feminists’ work (e.g., to increase educational and professional access). Despite this, Mayer has publicly distanced herselffrom the cause—why? There’s a theory in sociology which says that social change is always led by the middle class; movements may recruit people from upper and lower economic groups, but change always starts, and moves fastest, in the middle. That’s because people on the lower end of the scale often don’t have enough leisure time to do things like march and go to meetings and hand out leaflets. And people on the upper end of the scale, like Mayer, have attained too much success within the status quo to really be motivated to change it.
In other words, you have to be somewhat uncomfortable, for whatever reason, with society as it is before you want to undertake its overhaul. While Mayer no doubt endured her share of sexim from the fratty geeks of the tech industry, she is now, in all likelihood, the boss of said geeks, so why should she give a damn? Feminists shouldn’t be surprised that conventionally successful women sometimes shy away from a movement that’s dedicated to questioning the social and economic foundations of their success. They may not want to remake society. It’s treating them just fine. So to those ladies I say goodbye & good luck, and then I turn my attention to the audience who is open to my argument, who is ready for change.
So what do you think? Do Katy Perry and Marissa Mayer matter to the feminist cause? Should feminists be trying to recruit them? Tell me in the comments!