Riding a new wave of feminism driven by an unlikely mix of commerce and online discourse, the British feminist doesn’t give a damn if you like her politics. She does want to make you think.
When reigning pop queen Beyoncé Knowles stood, with the unshakeable self-assurance of a warrior, in front of a boldly lit, capital-lettered declaration of “FEMINIST” at the MTV Video Music Awards last month, the media responded with something approximating rapture. “The zeitgeist is irrefutably feminist: its name literally in bright lights,” wrote Jessica Valenti at The Guardian, while Amanda Marcotte at Slate argued that the singer had put paid to the idea that feminists are just “ugly wannabes” who “hate men” and children. The New Republic’s Rebecca Traister called the performance “one of the most powerful pop-culture messages of [her] lifetime.”
The moment marked a crest in the current wave of popularity and recognition feminism has been enjoying in popular culture recently. Young celebrities from Lorde to Miley Cyrus to Taylor Swift have been eagerly claiming the label, while old school media like Cosmopolitan and Playboy have given themselves feminist makeovers. Beyoncé’s performance just made it official. Feminism is cool now: no longer the refuge of, as conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh once put it, women who had been excluded by “the mainstream of society,” but front and center of the mainstream itself—celebrated by queen bees, and Queen Beys.