For decades, right-wing dyspeptics have propagated a cartoon image of feminists as angry women who do little else but hate men. As it turns out, that stereotype couldn’t be more out-of-touch from what most Americans imagine to be a modern-day feminist.
A new poll from public opinion research firm PerryUndem and highlighted by NPR asked Americans of all backgrounds who they thought were the most prominent faces of feminism in America right now.
The results may be in one sense surprising, especially to those who have bought into the stereotype—and, yet, not at all shocking to anyone who has actually been paying attention to the movement of modern-day feminism and culture in general.
It’s a list of four of the most famous women in the country who have not only served as role models for modern-day womanhood, but have worked hard for women’s rights through outreach, policy, charity, and activism.
It also happens to be a list that includes three black women.
“PerryUndem pollster Tresa Undem believes the prominence of Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé in her survey shows feminism is changing,” said NPR reporter Karen Grigsby Bates in her report. “It’s becoming multilayered and more diverse on several levels, and sometimes it even provides us with a catchy little hook.”
She was, of course, referring to a certain Beyoncé single.
It’s an interesting and encouraging result considering that the poll was not conducted amongst self-identified feminists nor just women, but rather a cross-section of America at large. That means it’s not just feminists who have progressive opinions about who best represents the movement, but rather the American public at large. In other words, even among non-feminists or non-identifying feminists, the perception of what it means to be a feminist may be changing. Even some detractors within the movement who have criticized “celebrity feminism” may be surprised that the actual celebrity faces of feminism are not, as it turns out, just Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham.
However, there don’t seem to be similar polls conducted in the past with which to compare the results, but perhaps it’s also notable that three of these four women also occupy three of the top four spots in another important poll: the latest results in Gallup’s annual “Most Admired Women” survey.
Of course, claiming the words “feminist” for oneself has come roaring back in recent years. It wasn’t too long that so many celebrity women, perhaps most notably Madonna, would recoil at the term and claim that they were something else, a “humanist” perhaps. Thanks to a new generation of activists and artists, and, yes, Beyoncé’s embrace of the word, more and more high profile women are proudly declaring themselves feminists (even, now, Madonna). It seems that the rest of America has finally realized that there’s a whole lot more to feminism.
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