Pharrell vs. Beyoncé: Have feminists let men off the hook?

Are feminists forcing women to achieve a higher standard than men? Pharrell Williams, wearer of Arby’s-shaped hats and the artist behind one of the biggest hits of the moment, Happy, has recently declared himself a feminist and received a fairly warm welcome compared to his fellow feminist, Beyoncé Knowles.

Celebrity feminists like Williams and Knowles have the  opportunity to squash the fear and lack of relatability that surrounds the term ‘feminism,’ and can draw attention to important issues in the feminist movement.

However, Pharrell’s messaging around his new “feminist” album G I R L is mixed at best and it’s clear that he’s not exactly well informed about feminism. He offers the following:

“Women are for one my muse and how can you rightfully continue to accept things from them when they are not treated equally?”

“I appreciate them in my little dirty ways here and there, but at the core… is a deeper appreciation.”

Pharrell, “appreciation” of women and “feminism” are two different things and crediting the usefulness of women as objects of inspiration and “dirty” thoughts doesn’t fall into the latter category. Additionally, Willams’ hand in Robin Thicke’s purported date rape anthem Blurred Lines doesn’t help his cause.

However, the press he’s received from his feminist declaration often recognizes this misunderstanding and gives him the benefit of the doubt as a newcomer in the admittedly tricky landscape of feminism. 

Personally, I am onboard with lending some leeway when it comes to newly found feminists. It’s a rough road to navigate and we all make mistakes. Also, having a community that’s supportive through those mistakes ultimately makes it easier to be a feminist.

The problem I find with Pharrell’s feminist debut is specifically in contrast to another celebrity who has recently been put through the ringer for her representation of feminism – Beyoncé.

Before Beyoncé even came out as a “modern-day feminist” her clothes , dance moves , relationship with her husband , and lyrics were constantly analyzed for feminist value. There are feminist academic studies critiquing her and discussion abounds on whether she is “qualified to be a feminist”.

Famous women who are seen to represent feminism are often faced with an unwelcoming and hypercritical community because one woman can’t be everything to every feminist (see Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham). It’s as if we expect men to struggle with feminism but we don’t afford this same courtesy to women because they must be the face of the whole movement.

While we should always think critically about what celebrities are feeding us, let’s recognize that no single person will embody feminism as a whole because being human, being a woman and being a feminist are all about being wise enough to learn from our mistakes.

Sara Omary is a semi-recent grad from UC Berkeley in Marine Science and Environmental Politics who loves very little more than she loves pizza and the company of her cats.

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