Feminism for the elite

Keira Knightley
Keira Knightley attends a special screening of “Boston Strangler” at the Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Feminism for the elite

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If you’re not particularly involved in the feminist movement, its mention in the year of our Lord 2023 will probably conjure up images of #MeToo, the pay gap for actresses and soccer players, and so-called abortion and transgender rights.

These topics lend themselves to punchy headlines, and they’re sexier than talking about, say, healthcare reform, barriers to entering the workforce, and the price of groceries. There’s a reason Taylor Swift’s comments on the politics of the day make headline after headline and her ignorance of the recent egg price crisis went largely ignored.

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The women’s movement is suffering from what writer Phoebe Maltz Bovy calls “photogenic feminism.” After a 2020 interview with model Emily Ratajkowski caused one reader to comment, “There’s a little piece of every woman’s past in there,” Bovy noted that the media were quick to elevate Ratajkowski’s concerns about the modeling industry, perhaps at the expense of issues that we average women face.

“The problem comes from the cultural insistence that this is the female experience, essential and universal,” Bovy wrote. “It’s as if feminism forgot about aging and invisibility, about unfair beauty standards, and agreed with feminism’s opponents to treat the women men don’t notice as nonentities.”

This recently played out again in a Harper’s Bazaar interview when Keira Knightley bemoaned the role that made her famous.

After the actress appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean at the age of 17, her character “was the object of everybody’s lust,” Knightley said, adding, “Not that she doesn’t have a lot of fight in her. But it was interesting coming from being really tomboyish to getting projected as quite the opposite. I felt very constrained. I felt very stuck. So the roles afterwards were about trying to break out of that.”

This, in an interview that also touched on motherhood and child care and other issues more familiar to most women, became the top line.

“Keira Knightley Says Lusty ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Role Made Her Feel ‘Caged In’ and ‘Stuck’: I Wanted to ‘Break Out of That,’” announced Variety.

“Keira Knightley ‘Felt Very Stuck’ After Sexualized ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Fame,” echoed IndieWire.

And so on.

This isn’t to say that Knightley has no right to complain about feeling so sexualized at such a young age. In the end, however, she signed up for the role, and she benefited from it. The plight of a gorgeous woman whom others recognize as being gorgeous is perhaps not feminism’s most pressing concern.

Even Knightley seems to acknowledge this herself later on in the Harper’s Bazaar interview. Discussing her latest role in The Boston Strangler, a true crime thriller now streaming on Hulu, Knightley laments that the police investigating the real-life crimes didn’t take the murders of the middle-aged victims seriously enough.

“Now that Knightley is almost 38, she is particularly interested in the way women are perceived as they grow older,” the profile notes. “In The Boston Strangler, many victims were in their fifties, and so were ignored by the media. I remind her of [investigative reporter Loretta McLaughlin’s] quip: ‘How many women have to be killed before it’s a story?’”

“‘They were referred to as elderly!’ Knightley exclaims. ‘They were victims of these horrific crimes, yet they weren’t looked at. They were invisible to the public.’”

The problem is that even modern, mainstream feminism isn’t all that helpful when it comes to the needs of women who aren’t rich, beautiful, and famous. What we’re left with is a feminism of the elite, in which the virtue-signaling concerns of the upper class trump those of the rest of women, who are left voiceless and invisible.

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