A Likely Feminist

I don’t think Tulisa Contostavlos is a household name in New Zealand (or the US).  Certainly the only reason that I’d heard of her is because I spent last winter developing a my knowledge of British comedians, discovered the awesomeness that is Simon Amstell and watched a lot of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.  For those who don’t know she was part of a British group called N-Dubz, she judged British X-factor, and she’s about to release a solo album.

And it turns out that she’s awesome. Recently, a scum-bag ex-boyfriend of hers released a sex-tape.  Horrifically, this is an occupational hazard for women like Tulisa.  And if they have a scumbag ex-boyfriend prepared to release a sex-tape, young female celebrities are trapped in a web of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, judgement.  Women in her position have had their careers threatened, and been forced to offer ridiculous ‘apologies’ to keep their job.  It is very difficult for the young women caught in this web of judgement to respond to it without reinforcing some of the ideas they’re being attacked with.

Tulisa didn’t respond with a press statement forced by her management or employers, but with another video – where she is straight up, direct and refuses to be shamed by toxic ideas about women’s sexuality:


Just go watch the whole thing.


My appreciation for this awesome video was slightly marred because I learned about it in this article from the guardian website.  Because the author is not content in celebrating Tulisa’s response.  She also emphasises how ‘unlikely’ it is that Tulisa would provide a feminist response.

Tulisa  has talked explicitly; about being in an abusive relationship as a teenager and the effect that had on her well-being.  I’m just looking at interviews linked on wikipedia and she is very explicit about misogyny and the effect that it has had on her life.  And yet the article doesn’t even feel the need to explain or justify why she thinks Tulisa is an ‘unlikely’ feminist.

Because when a commissioning editor at the Observer describes Tulisa as an ‘unlikely’ feminist – the subtext is pretty close to being text. It would be uncouth to be explicit about the class-differences which underly the author’s supposed surprise.  After all this is Britain and you can hear Tulisa’s voice – and on the guardian website no more explanation than that is needed.

I think it’s really important to make the subterranean explicit.  That’s the only way to recognise these off hand lines  as an effort to claim feminism as the exclusive property of middle-class women. This is both an assumption of what feminism is, an expression of what the author wants it to be, and act of maintaining those borders; for the author feminism is a movement that only recognises middle-class women’s expression of their experiences, and allows people to be shocked when working-class women express themselves at all.

The best response of course, is to watch Tulisa’s video again and say that there’s nothing unlikely or surprising about it.

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8 Responses to A Likely Feminist

  1. 1
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Reading that article, I thought that the intended explanation is pretty clear – the reason Tulisa was unlikely to have produced a feminist response has little to do with her working-class background and more to do with the fact that as an X-factor judge she is a figurehead of mainstream UK celebrity culture. The surprise isn’t that she spoke; the surprise is that she chose to say something actually meaningful and honest rather than use her resources (or let her employer use them) to make her into the next Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian.

  2. 2
    Eytan Zweig says:

    To put it another way, the tone of that article doesn’t strike me as being a sign of the snobbery of that middle class aimed at the working class, it’s the snobbery of an intellectual aimed at a celebrity.

  3. 3
    james says:

    But she hangs out with Dappy? And’s in hip-hop. Can’t you see how she would be an unlikely feminist if she does that. It’s like saying someone who hangs out with George Bush and is in a gun club would be an unlikely peace activist.

  4. 4
    Robert says:

    I am probably far from attuned to nuanced class-based dogwhistles in an English context, but I didn’t read any class identification into the “unlikely” characterization. Rather, it seemed she was valorizing the young woman’s feminist speaking-out, because it’s so unusual for people in the popular culture to be unabashedly feminist in this way. I certainly did not come away thinking the writer was patronizing or dismissive of the artist; she seemed rather frankly admiring, and interested only in putting “blame” precisely where it belongs, on the young man who callously violated his partner’s privacy.

  5. 5
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    My first reaction to the video was surprise because it didn’t seem feminist to me– my initial phrasing was that there was no theory in it. My more considered reaction is that that it wasn’t at all about women and men, it was very purely about individual relationship and betrayal.

    Obviously, people define feminism in a lot of different ways, and I had no idea my definition might be that far from the usual.

    I was also intrigued and impressed that Tulesa didn’t say what I was expecting her to– that ex-boyfriend had shown himself to be a person not worth getting into a relationship with. I have a feeling that’s what I would have said if I’d been in her position, though I might have refrained for the sake of dignity.

  6. 7
    RonF says:

    I’m tracking Nancy here. This is an individual response to an individual situation. If someone could tell me what’s “feminist” about this I’d appreciate it.

    I must say I think she’s handling this in a very dignified manner. It’s a credit to her character.

    I can’t imagine why (outside of a commercial setting) anyone would let someone record them having sex. I don’t see anything immoral about it. But as this young woman has found out there’s some very practical reasons not to, as I think she seems to have implicitly acknowledged when she said “This won’t happen again.”

  7. 8
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    From another angle, I think that video probably wouldn’t have been made without a lot of cultural change caused by feminists.