Meghan Trainor doesn't identify as a feminist, yet she benefits (and borrows) from feminism


My Meghan Trainor rage bubbled up out of nowhere, about 6 months after everyone else’s did. I just remembered a snippet of the the ubiquitous song a couple of days ago, and that’s all it took for me to go on a small Twitter rant. Rather than focus on the culturally appropriative nature of a fairly slim white girl singing this song about “booty” or get into a discussion about where the song falls on the empowerment spectrum, I started to think of why this song was such a hit. We all know America loves a catchy song about butts, but what is it about this cultural moment that makes this song seem like such a superheroic display?

If you think about feminism as an origin story, as I’m wont to do, there’s a point where it cleaves and becomes another animal entirely. For Magneto, it was watching his family get slaughtered by Nazis, and for me it was hearing young women in my freshman Women Studies 101 class argue that wearing Juicy Couture pants was totally a feminist act because their boyfriends said it made their butts look good. Feminism started out as a political project and I’d always approached it as such; shouldn’t the emphasis be on how you feel in your pants, or that we can get to a point where women can just live their lives without thinking about how their butts looked at all?

Enter Meghan Trainor. Remember her, from last year? She’s singing a song about not being a size 2 that also refers to other women as “skinny bitches,” and telling you that it’s okay if your butt is big because boys like it more. There she is, flapping her gums over at The Huffington Post about how she’s not a feminist, even though she seems to have lifted her body positivity narrative directly from the feminist blogs that started that movement in earnest, and gave women a platform to discuss their bodies at all. There’s Meghan Trainor, basically singing me a song about how her boyfriend thinks her butt looks good in Juicy Couture. I kept coming back to the same thought (this is some emperor’s new clothes shit) and then it hit me: despite the arcadian pastel landscape she paints, Meghan Trainor might be feminism’s darkest timeline.

Whenever I’m having a brain-cracking feminist quandary, I refer to bell hooks, my personal lord and savior, and particularly my well-worn copy of her book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Published in 1984, hooks had already put her finger on the pulse of what was happening to the political approach to women’s lives in the wake of second-wave feminism, something she dubbed “lifestyle feminism.”

When women internalized the idea that describing their own woe was synonymous with developing a critical political consciousness, the progress of feminist movement was stalled.

hooks is basically stepping in the arena with “the personal is political” slogan and boxing a few rounds with it, deciding that in the end that examining your personal strife isn’t really the same thing marching on Washington. I’m not sure I agree with hooks entirely—again, things like the body positivity movement can seem very political when women are trying to change the language around how their bodies are seen and discussed—but I do think that the feminist movement has moved to a place where anything goes, which doesn’t always have the political thrust of working for progress and change. These thoughts pair well with something else hooks describes in the book about the idea of organizing around your own oppression:

…’organize around your own oppression’ provided the excuse many privileged women needed to ignore the differences between their social status and the status of masses of women.

In other words, Trainor’s anthem about loving her body makes it really easy for her to frame it as an exercise in self-acceptance and positivity, mainly due to the fact that she 1) doesn’t actually have a big butt and is still within the realm of a socially acceptable body 2) isn’t on the receiving end of the racialized big butt social stigma that has been around since Saartjie Baartman was vandalized.

Again, Trainor doesn’t identify herself as a feminist so maybe I should just leave her alone. And I would, if she didn’t benefit and borrow so heavily from feminism without even a passing glance in its direction. Welcome to alternative universe feminism, where you can make a killing dancing around talking about your butt and feel the tender neckbones of Ida B. Wells snapping under your feet at the same time.

Trainor isn’t a supervillain—just a cotton candy sexist in feminist’s clothing like Katy Perry, the demon that birthed her. Never is this more evident than her recent release, “Dear Future Husband.”

I don’t think it’s an accident that Trainor prefers the aesthetic stylings of the 1950s, a time before fancy things like the civil rights movement and white women working outside the home cropped up. Just like the politics of her butt, Trainor seems to valorize an era that simplifies her argument about what she wants, which is to be in her body and still get a man.  In alt-universe feminism, does that count as a political movement? And should I still be so bothered if it does?

Danielle Henderson is a lapsed academic, heavy metal karaoke machine, and culture editor at Fusion. She enjoys thinking about how race, gender, and sexuality shape our cultural narratives, but not in a boring way.

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