Since Shailene Woodley said she isn’t a feminist in early May, there’s been a hubbub. The star of Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars took some flak when she said she believes in “sisterhood more than feminism,” and she held her position on the term “feminist” in The Daily Beast, saying, “I know how I feel and I don’t need to call myself a ‘feminist’ or ‘not a feminist’ because I know what my truth is.” At a moment when a certain brand of disingenuous feminism is praised to an entirely disproportionate degree (Who run the world? STILL WHITE MEN, BEYONCÉ), maybe it’s more important to pay attention to what Woodley is actually saying about women and the world than to whether she self-identifies as a feminist.
1. She thinks about empowering girls through her work.
“For me, one of the things that I’m so passionate about in life is empowering young girls to reconnect with their own power. There’s this trend in society where, up until The Hunger Games, which was one of the first young adult series that did this, it was always the damsel in distress, or the girl having to change herself for love…there are a lot of movies where someone falls in love with someone else based purely on attraction, and there’s no depth, and no conversation. It just feeds the fire of materialism, and feeds the fire of make up, and false attire, and whatnot. The one thing I really loved about Divergent is that Tris is a heroine and fights for what she believes in, is passionate about it, and is willing to risk her life for the greater good of humanity, but also, the relationship between her and Theo. I feel very proud to be a part of a franchise that doesn’t exploit young love, and doesn’t exploit what that means, and really treats it tenderly. They’re more partners than they are lovers, and for me, that’s what I want in my life.”
—The Daily Beast
2. Like, really.
Her “…biggest issue is to pick films that are honest and not detrimental to girls.”
3. She interrogates Hollywood’s standards for female performers — particularly “beauty” standards.
“I was told to start dressing more ‘cosmopolitan’ for my ‘campaign.’ I remember saying, ‘Are you telling me that if I dress a certain way, my chances are better for an Oscar?’”
—The Daily Beast
4. She’s concerned about unrealistic expectations of what women “should” look like.
On filming scenes where her character is sleeping: “It’s so ridiculous the woman wakes up and she’ll have makeup on! I don’t even look like that after a photo shoot!”
5. She wants to change those expectations.
“In [The Fault in Our Stars], I am trying to rewrite what a female lead can look like: You’ve never seen a woman on the poster for a movie with a cannula in her nose.”
6. She has short hair, and she barely washes it, because she’s accepts her own body.
“I only shampoo it like once a month — the oilier, the better.”
—Into the Gloss
7. She doesn’t pretend that makeup is empowering.
Furthermore, she sees that patriarchy constricts women’s choices. “Day-to-day, though, I don’t wear makeup at all,” she said. “I will get my makeup done for appearances and events. For me, to show up to something like Live With Kelly and Michael with Converse on and no makeup would be disrespectful. They’re dressed up; it’s their territory. I think there is something to be said about switching up old paradigms, but you have to turn the wheels slowly. You have to pick and choose where you are going to represent you and the things you keep sacred, and then there are the things you have to do for the public, for Kelly and Michael, and for the Oscars. I respect the establishment, but I don’t sacrifice my own integrity. I wouldn’t wear fake eyelashes or crazy extensions. It’s always me — just maybe the public, pretty-in-a-Cinderella-dress me.”
8. She only wears used clothes.
“I exclusively buy used clothes.”
9. She doesn’t wear diamonds.
It’s unclear whether she does this because wearing diamonds is an ostentatious display of wealth or because buying diamonds is likely fueling violence. Maybe it’s some other reason. In any event, it’s a thoughtful move.
10. She reads female authors and is invested in the female voice.
Marlow Stern at The Daily Beast asked her if there are any personal idols she’s dying to meet. She said, “Yes…but unfortunately she’s dead, so it won’t happen in the physical realm: Anaïs Nin, the French author.” Three cheers for explicit female sexuality.
11. She supports other women actors.
When her friend Brie Larson got a part she wanted, she said, “I know Brie will be brilliant. She can use this film as a platform to say something important about women and hostility and the courage it takes to speak your mind.”
12. To repeat: She supports other women actors.
When Dakota Fanning got a job Woodley wanted, “My dad pulled me aside, and he said: ‘Shai, what are you doing? You have so much anger, and you’re feeling so let down by the fact that you didn’t book [this]. I want you to close your eyes right now and picture this Dakota girl, and I want you to send her so much love and so much light because one day you’re going to book something that you really want, and you’re not going to want all of the girls around you that you competed against to feel anger against you. You’re going to want them to support you on your journey. And so it’s your turn right now to support Dakota on her journey.’ And so I did that.”
13. She thinks existing as a woman is a triumph.
“We wake up every morning and we’re already winning. It doesn’t matter what our boss says, what our boyfriend says, or what the mean uncle you’ve never gotten along with says. None of that matters. All that matters is that we are alive.”
—The Daily Beast
14. She tweets about periods.
What’s up, menstrual discourse?
15. She takes her vaginal health into her own hands.
Shailene Woodley’s treatment for yeast infections: “Another thing I like to do is give my vagina a little vitamin D.”
16. She’s stoked that young women are calling more of the shots.
Marlow Stern at The Daily Beast mentioned to Woodley, “In Old Hollywood, it was usually the aging star — the Cary Grant — who would be cast first, and then influence the casting of his love interest. Now, young actresses like you, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kristen Stewart are being cast first and having a say in the male co-star.”
“That’s true,” Woodley said. “I’d never even thought about that. Yeah, man!”
17. She is willing to risk her position of power in the hope of empowering others.
“But we’re born into a fear-based society that prefers to label things, and now I’m labeled ‘Shai, the hugger.’ Everyone went crazy when I said that I liked to get sunshine on my vagina. But why not? It’s fucking great! You should try it! I wasn’t hurting anyone, but still people cautioned me not to say things like that. After The Descendants, I was afraid, but I’m not anymore. There’s really nothing to lose. And I might even give someone else the courage to speak up.”
18. She’s committed to depicting female sexuality in a way that seems authentic.
“Everyone was freaked out because I’m nude, but in real life, when I have sex, I’m naked. I don’t have a bra on, and I don’t usually have panties on. So let’s make a real movie! Let’s bring truth to the scene! I didn’t want to be exploited, but this girl — like most girls when they first have sex — doesn’t know what she’s doing. I wanted their first kiss to be sloppy, teenagerish making out. When you’re younger, you think you know what to do, but you really don’t.”
19. She openly acknowledges her fluid sexuality.
“I fall in love with human beings based on who they are, not based on what they do or what sex they are.”
—The Hollywood Reporter
20. She doesn’t appreciate being compared to Jennifer Lawrence just because they “both have short hair and a vagina.”
When Jimmy Fallon asked her about being compared to Jennifer Lawrence, she said, “Comparisons always lead to despair.” The audience booed. She later said to Lynn Hirschberg, “As women, we are constantly told that we need to compare ourselves to a girl in school, to our co-workers, to the images in a magazine… How is the world going to advance if we’re always comparing ourselves to others? I admire Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s everyone’s favorite person to compare me to. Is it because we both have short hair and a vagina? I see us as separate individuals. And that’s important. As women, our insecurities are based on all these comparisons. And that creates distress.”
21. She rejects labels.
“Labels are for other people to understand us, so for me, I know how I feel and I don’t need to call myself a ‘feminist’ or ‘not a feminist’ because I know what my truth is. If you need in your own mind to say that I’m a feminist so you better understand where I’m coming from and what my ideals mean, then that’s for you. Labels are for people to understand one another, not for us to understand ourselves.”
—The Daily Beast