Feminism is under siege once again, and the culprit this time is actually a rather powerful woman in her own right: film actress and May’s Harper’s Bazaar UK coverstar Kirsten Dunst. The award-winning actress of the Spider-Man series and 2011’s Melancholia is being lambasted for her statements in an interview with the 85-year-old fashion publication.
“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued,” Dunst told Ajesh Patalay of Harper’s Bazaar UK. “We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking — it’s a valuable thing my mum created. And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work.”
Dunst’s comments were not well-received by the feminist community. Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan dismissed Dunst’s words, writing, “I’m not going to couch this much because Kirsten Dunst is not paid to write gender theory so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she’s kind of dumb about it.”
Jezebel isn’t especially known for its tact — and why should it be? The publication has a reputation for irreverence. Yet the types of responses that are penned by the likes of Ryan hurt the cause of feminism more than help. When writers such as Ryan are given free rein to arrogantly dismiss the opinions of the precise group they seek to protect, it undermines the feminist cause that Jezebel purports to promote and, in turn, detracts from the credibility of the publication itself.
Jezebel’s founder Anna Holmes told The Telegraph in Oct. 2013 that she started Jezebel with the mission of empowering women and giving them a credible voice in political discourse.
“I felt very strongly that young women were interested in politics, and could talk about it as intelligently as they could about fashion, often within the same hour,” Holmes said.
Dunst was offering an opinion from her personal experience as to what makes her feel happy and fulfilled as a woman. Refusing to honor her statements and calling them “dumb” apparently constitutes talking about the issue of gender “intelligently.” Jezebel’s discourse harms the cause of actual feminism, which should seek to protect all women, regardless of their personal theories on happiness — not just the ones who further their (rather profitable) editorial agenda.
Dunst’s comments are rooted in her personal reality. The actress does not claim to bear the cross of the feminist gospel — she’s an exceptional professional in her field who believes that there is merit to the way her mother raised her, and that traditionally established gender roles create a helpful sense of structure when it comes to maintaining expectations in personal relationships.
The reality is that women have a right to refuse to marry if they feel it interferes with their ambitions. Dunst is not saying that women ought to “Wife the F— Out,” as Ryan asserted in her headline, and Dunst’s assertion that the feminine is undervalued in contemporary society is only validated by Jezebel’s dismissal. Are women who desire to fill a traditional, domestic gender role supposed to feel intellectually inferior or socially stigmatized as detractors of the feminist cause?
This is precisely the notion Jezebel and Ryan seem to be engendering through such a response. At its worst, the publication pushes a false dichotomy, separating and galvanizing the pro-“feminist” from the “uneducated” traditionalist masses. This type of partisan discourse creates unbridgeable gaps and a reluctance to get the opposition to compromise. Sound familiar? Maybe that’s because it’s the same method that the U.S. Congress recently used to negotiate controversial legislation such as the Affordable Care Act. And in case you’re wondering, Gallup’s latest Congressional approval ratings are at 13 percent.
The best way to advance the cause of feminism is to educate and inform Americans about existing social and economic inequalities between the genders. This is most effectively accomplished through meaningful, constructive discourse which takes into account the opinions of all women, including those who disagree with parts, or all, of the feminist movement. But Dunst’s comments about her personal preferences and opinions seem to be, for writers such as Ryan, a justifiable motivation for ideological bigotry.
Dismissing someone’s opinion on account of the fact that she isn’t “paid to write about gender theory” is plenty of fun for those who buy into Jezebel’s particular brand of feminism — in Ryan’s article, it’s a fleeting catharsis of arrogance, crassness and feigned outrage — but the only women really benefitting from the feminist cause in this emotionally manipulative way seems to be female members of the Gawker Media family and Jezebel founder Anna Holmes.
Euno Lee is a senior majoring in English Literature. He is also the Managing Editor of the Daily Trojan.