By now, Big Bang Theory actress Kaley Cuoco’s comments that she is not a feminist have gone viral. The online backlash was so fierce that Cuoco has walked back her original statements. Pundits who miss no opportunity to perpetuate feminism’s negative branding have chastised those who criticized Ms. Cuoco for daring to part from “the tribe.” Yet finger-pointing is less important than understanding both what might have prompted Cuoco’s remarks and the reactions of feminists who were irritated by them.
“Is it bad if I say no? It’s not really something I think about. Things are different now, and I know a lot of the work that paved the way for women happened before I was around. I was never that feminist girl demanding equality, but maybe that’s because I’ve never really faced inequality. “I cook for [husband Ryan Sweeting] five nights a week. It makes me feel like a housewife. I love that. I know it sounds old fashioned but I love the idea of women taking care of their men. I’m so in control of my work that I like coming home and serving him. My mom was like that, so I think it kind of rubbed off.”
Ms. Cuoco does not seem to understand what feminism is. First, let’s put her comments in the context of a woman who recently signed a contract to be paid $1 million dollars per episode for The Big Bang Theory in a deal that stands to net her and her co-stars Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons $90 million each. It is doubtful that her tennis player husband is generating that kind of dough at this point in his career. Here is Cuoco’s money statement: “I’m so in control of my work that I like coming home and serving him.” Sounds like she wants to play housewife as a counter to her being a power player at work.
Could it be that Ms. Cuoco doesn’t want to be seen as emasculating her husband with her big fat paycheck and so goes out of her way to make sure she is offering up TLC at home? That is certainly her right, but why would she presume that feminism and cooking for hubby are mutually exclusive? Answer: they are not. How two people act behind closed doors is their own hooting business. There is no answer at the back of the book to determine how a marriage should best function and those choices do not nor should not take away from a woman’s power in the workplace nor limit the role or roles a woman adopts in private.
But here is where we get into the negative branding that likely prompted Ms. Cuoco to make these comments in the first place. Feminism has long been treated like the “F” word, conjuring up images of man-hating, bull-busting women in comfortable shoes. Even Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post once referred to feminists as the “hirsute Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood.” Wrong, Kathleen.
Not so long ago, The Daily Beast published a study indicating that only 20% of women are willing to use the word “feminist” about themselves and only 17% of all voters said they would welcome their daughters using the “feminist” label. When you look at the unfair bashing the word receives, can there be any mystery as to why some women might be repelled by it?
Women in the workplace are still graded on their likeability, are admonished to be pleasing, to smile more and not to be “abrasive.” What man doing the same job would be told such a thing? Plenty of women are acutely aware of these “instructions.” Is it possible that the Kaley Cuocos of this world likewise do not wish to be attached to the negative and false “feminist” traits put forth by self-serving men and women who bash other women in order to maintain a seat at the man’s table?
Feminism means, simply, the equality of men and women, equal pay for equal work, and a woman’s right of self-determination. I would add the caveat of an end to violence against women. Feminism also means you have a right to stay home with the kiddies if that is your choice, assuming you are in a financial position and/or have the support to exercise that option. I didn’t catch anything in the definition of feminism that includes male-bashing or not caring for your family or husband. Hopefully, you take care of each other.
This is what happens when someone who may be less than informed gets a large bully pulpit from which to influence others. In fairness, Ms. Cuoco likely did not expect her every word to be weighed and measured, or that she would be required to hold up the banner for all women. Since far more men than women get the opportunity to be “power players,” this seems to go with the territory for a woman who has made it. Her success in Hollywood is the exception, not the rule.
Ms. Cuoco is not required to be a “feminist,” but according to today’s standards, she would probably be shocked to discover she already is one.
For example, if Ms. Cuoco learned that Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons were being paid twice as much as she was per episode for the same work – I think you’d see her declare herself a feminist real fast. Those “feminist girls” of yesteryear are the reason Ms. Cuoco is getting equal pay.
One can stand up for one’s rights and still be babe-alicious.
The outrage her comments sparked online were best summed up by this tweet:
Sooo easy to say you’re not a feminist when you are living a life of privilege fought for you by feminists…#KaleyCuoco — 2015 Jo✌ (@joferguson9) January 2, 2015
Whatever her intent, Ms. Cuoco’s comments that “things are different now” perpetuates the idea that all battles for women’s equality have been won. Yet recent stories as disparate as a woman being murdered by her partner on Thanksgiving, Ray Rice’s domestic abuse, a Sheriff “accidentally” shooting his wife, Jill Abramson being fired as Executive Editor of the NY Times for being “abrasive,” or even the recent SONY scandal show that we are not nearly done.
As illustrated by SONY’s hacked emails, Hollywood is merely a microcosm of the rest of society. Women executives are paid less than men for the same job. Huge stars Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress Oscar winner) and Amy Adams (5-time Oscar nominee) were paid less than their male co-stars in American Hustle. Women in Hollywood, like women in any other business, are still fighting for the opportunity to be graded and paid equally – and to get equal opportunities to excel.
As someone who has lived and worked in Hollywood for 25 years, I can tell you how few times a woman is helming a film, TV or commercial project, or, a more rare occurrence, has her hands on the camera. I have worked with brilliant female directors (Mimi Leder, to name one) all too easily sidelined after one flop whereas equivalent males get opportunity after opportunity. So when someone negates the “feminist” brand, it may also belittle the causes women are fighting for. Frustration is understandable.
One also hopes Kaley Cuoco realizes that a woman can be a feminist and still cook a meal for her husband every night if she feels like it. The operative concept here is choice. Cuoco’s original statements were just as much a stereotype as the statements of those bashing the feminists who purportedly “bullied” Cuoco out of her opinions.
No one has to attach themselves to any label or tribe, but as a famous person, Kaley Cuoco might wish to be aware that her comments get outsized attention and can be used and misused for purposes she never intended.
Better to understand the subject matter first.
Original version published at Anita Finlay’s blog. Reposted, in full, with permission of the author.