“No,” the actress Shailene Woodley answered recently when asked if she considers herself to be a feminist in the Time interview heard round the blogosphere. Why not? Because “I love men and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the man away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.” The outrage soon followed — “Shailene Woodley Has Some Thoughts on Feminism, and They Are Not Good,” said one headline; “The Shailene Woodley Uproar Shows We’re Getting Celebrity Feminism All Wrong,” read another — in yet another iteration of the “let’s debate a celebrity’s feminist credentials” argument. What no one seems to be asking, though, is why we keep making feminist icons out of our celebrities.
The cycle by now is familiar: Every few months, an interview with a female celebrity goes viral, on the basis of the celebrity’s disavowal of the word “feminist” or conservative approach to gender. Sometimes a pop star is involved — Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga spring to mind — while other times, it’s an actress — Woodley, now, and Kirsten Dunst and Susan Sarandon before her. Yesterday it was Miley Cyrus, slammed for telling a terrible rape joke and riding an inflatable penis. Tomorrow, someone new will go though this veritable rite of passage.