Inez Feltscher-Stepman responds to questions from Culture Editor Emily Jashinsky about Lana Del Ray’s “profound” but controversial critique of contemporary feminism, posted to Instagram on Thursday. Feltscher-Stepman connected Del Ray’s argument to the depiction of Phyllis Schlafly in “Mrs. America” and the feminist movement’s broader devaluation of traditionally feminine qualities.
“Now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f-cking, cheating, etc. — can I please go back to singing about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, or dancing for money — or whatever I want — without being crucified or saying that I’m glamorizing abuse??????” Del Ray wrote.
“I’m fed up with female writers and alt singers saying that I glamorize abuse when in reality I’m just a glamorous person singing about the realities of what we are all now seeing are very prevalent emotionally abusive relationships all over the world,” the singer added.
“Let this be clear, I’m not not a feminist — but there has to be kind of a place in feminism for women who look and act like me — the kind of woman who says no but men hear yes — the kind of women who are slated mercilessly for being their authentic, delicate, selves,” Del Ray continued. “The kind of women who get their own stories and voices taken away from them by stronger women or by men who hate women.”
Is Lana del Ray’s critique of contemporary feminism valid?
I’m not trying to argue Lana Del Rey is some kind of deep, counter-feminist thinker, but the critique she’s leveled at the movement is actually quite profound, and echoes a charge that many other women have raised.
The left-wing feminist movement might be constantly whining about “toxic masculinity,” but it actually has a deep hostility to femininity. Lana del Rey wrote on her Instagram that “there has to be a place in feminism for women who look and act like me,” and her lyrics explore more deeply feminine behavior patterns. (Note, I didn’t say they were virtuous or moral.)
Does her critique intersect with conservative critiques of the movement?
In addition to the similarity above, she’s just noting the obvious point conservative (and simply non-leftist) women have been noticing for decades: the “women’s movement” has turned a pretty deaf ear to the concerns of many actual women.
Just to pick one example, in survey after survey, pluralities of women say they want career flexibility with part-time hours while they raise families. Yet the “women’s movement” is focused on pegging average female pay to average male pay without accounting for any of the choices women make differently from men—college majors, hours worked, tradeoffs between salary and benefits—that result in that disparity.
While they are too clever to come out and say it, the women’s movement has set itself against many of the priorities and choices of millions of women all in a bid to make us just like the guys. What’s wrong with women’s choices, and why are men’s choices the standard to which they should be compared?
To bring it back to Del Ray, who obviously isn’t singing songs about the pay gap, when she writes about being “passive” or “submissive” in troubled relationships with powerful and exciting men, that’s the combination of sadness and fantasy many women can recognize in their own lives more readily than the pop songs she calls out. How many women have had turbulent relationships that they stayed in too long, as compared the “d-ck bicycle,” high-partner-count, casual sex depicted in the lyrics of, say, Nicki Manaj or Ariana Grande? Can’t women even have their own troubles without having to conform to the lifestyles and relationship issues of men?
You’ve connected the dots between Lana’s Instagram statement and Hulu’s “Mrs. America” series, chronicling Phyllis Schlafly’s fight against the Equal Rights Amendment. What’s the overlap?
The latest episode of “Mrs. America” has been the worst of the series in terms of condescending to conservative or more traditionally feminine women. It implies housewives fought the ERA and held socially conservative positions because they were terrified of the outside world, never learned how to think for themselves, and were too timid to do anything about it.
You can just feel the derision for gentleness, sensitivity, grace, domesticity, attention to aesthetic detail—all the traditional feminine qualities—radiating from the screen. The upside of the series is how clear it makes it that the ERA was, and continues to be, about the priorities of certain women acceptable to the feminist left, and not the rest of us.
It’s the same way with this whole dust-up. As the Instagram post points out, our culture has nothing to say about other female pop stars bragging about their endless casual sexual conquests—not that remarkable a feat for beautiful women, I might add.
But songs about being in love with a man who treats you badly, that’s a story as old as time whether it’s Billie Holiday or Lana Del Rey singing it. One might point out that the woman who arguably launched second-wave feminism herself played the Lana role of long-tortured lover to Jean-Paul Sartre her whole life.
How is it that this quintessentially feminine road to ruin became the only road to ruin that’s worth warning young girls against? To be clear: it’s still a dangerous road to ruin. But why is it singled out among all the other ways a woman can make bad decisions or find herself in a bad situation as totally unacceptable for artistic treatment?
You’ve mentioned how Helen Andrews has written about the disappearance of feminine women in corporate media spaces. Is Lana Del Ray expressing a similar frustration?
There’s one sentence that jumped out to me in Del Rey’s post: “The kind of women who get their own stories and voices taken away from them by stronger women or by men who hate women.” In her column, Helen Andrews asked where all the socially conservative housewives and Schlaflys are today. They’re tending to their families, friendships, and homes, all the while having their voices trampled on by their louder feminist sisters, who insist their vision of womanhood is the one that should be respected by the culture at large.
That’s why they needed a Phyllis Schlafly to speak for them in the first place. Can you imagine the women who flooded state capitols with home-baked bread to protest the ERA, many of whom had never been involved in politics before in their lives, bearing up to the onslaught of today’s cancel culture?
We have to make space in our culture for their voices, and I see Lana Del Rey’s frustration as similar, even though they likely have very different views on a lot of social issues. Ironically, feminism has turned the public square into a minefield that favors masculine qualities over the feminine, and makes many women more reluctant to share their voices rather than less.