Add famed performance artist Marina Abramovic to the list of powerful women at the top of their field who don't want to be called feminists. Abramovic told the Guardian that she was initially hesitant when Rufus Wainright asked her to lead a women-only lecture at Meltdown 2012:
"I am very clear that I am not a feminist. It puts you into a category and I don't like that. An artist has no gender. All that matters is whether they make good art or bad art. So I thought about it, but then I said yes."
Now, Abramovic is excited about the lecture — she plans to focus on what feminine energy entails and says she won't allow any men to attend — but why waste time being scared of the term "feminist"? Is it because she's afraid that if she identifies with the movement she'll be a feminist first and an artist second?
"What constantly surprises me is when a woman breaks through the glass ceiling in her field and feminists automatically assume she's one of them," Aminatou Sow, digital strategist and founder of Tech Ladymafia, told Amanda Hess in an interview for her recent piece on the difference between women who work in tech and journalism, inspired by Marissa Mayer's disdain for the term. (Earlier this month, we wondered whether it mattered if Meyer thought she was a feminist, and concluded that it's more important that she act like a feminist than identify as one.)
Hess found that women journalists usually have no problem identifying as feminist while women who work in the tech world engage in feminist action (mentor women, care about the gender ratio, etc.) but shun the title itself. Sow added that "grassroots feminism needs a rebrand." But why wouldn't feminists assume Abramovic and Mayer aren't one of them?
In times of feminist-related doubt, maybe it's always best to refer back to Caitlin Moran, the bestselling, straight-shooting author of How to Be a Woman. Last week, Moran told Hoda and Kathie Lee that feminism is a "dirty word" for some women because people associate it with "being very angry, hating men, and never wanting to have sex." (And wearing bad outfits to boot, she said.) She continued:
In the book I do a test, and the test is this: if you put your hand inside your underwear and you see that you have a vagina, you check that, that you're a lady. So the answer to that question is, "Are you a lady," yes. And then you say, "Do you want to be in charge of your vagina?" and the answer is yes. Then congratulations, you're a feminist.
It's hard for me to decide whether it's a step forward that more high-powered women don't see themselves as feminists — that our society has evolved so much that at least some women can afford to be "gender-blind" — or if it's a bad sign that even the world's successful women feel they have to shun the term as so not to alienate male peers and/or be labeled.
Meltdown 2012 – Marina Abramovic: 'Artists can do whatever they want'
‘How To Be a Woman': A fresh take on feminism [USA Today]
Debate over new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer reveals divide between women in media and tech [Poynter]