Is Feminism Dead? Two Philadelphia Millennials Weigh In

If you can gauge the national dialogue by the number of celebrities taking sides (Beyoncé! Emma Watson! Lena Dunham!), it’s safe to say that the debate over feminism is back, as a new generation — the millennials — questions the movement.

Layla Jones and Janan McCormick. Photograph by Justin James Muir

Layla Jones and Janan McCormick. Photograph by Justin James Muir

Our baby boomer reporter chats women’s rights and labels with Layla Jones, 21, a Web content producer, and Janan McCormick, 23, a nurse.

PM: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Layla: I was just talking to a friend about this. We were like, you know, I don’t feel like a feminist per se. And then we’re like, why not? We just want equality for everybody; we don’t want to have to label ourselves. But then people get mad and say, “What do you mean you’re not feminists? Do you even know what feminism is?” And I’m like, honestly, I’m not sure, but I feel like I do.

Janan: I feel like feminism is a word that’s like love in the English language. You know how in other languages there are all these different types of words for love, like friendship and family love and romantic love? I feel like feminism has become a word that means something different to everybody.

Layla: When I hear feminism, I don’t necessarily think of man-hating. I do know feminists who are man-hating. But if a guy gives me a compliment, like, “Oh, you look nice today,” sometimes I don’t take offense. Sometimes I’m just like, “Thank you.”

PM: What are your goals in life?

Janan: I want to be somebody that never feels like I can’t do what I want to do. In every aspect of life — in my career, in family and faith and everything — I want to always make certain that I’m making decisions and surrounding myself with people that allow me to be the truest me.

Layla: Professionally, I want to provide an under-represented voice in a national publication. As for life, I guess because I’m an only child, I never really thought about not being able to do what I want. [laughs]

PM: What do you think of Hillary Clinton?

Janan: I think that some of the opinions about her really have nothing to do with her. I’m not always looking at Hillary’s foreign policy, at what does she think about the economy. For me, it’s more like, could she be the first woman president?

Layla: I don’t mind Hillary. I’m kind of mad at her right now because of how long it took her to talk about Ferguson. Maybe because I am in journalism, I usually avoid the headlines that are talking about her in a gendered way, because I think it’s dumb. When I think about someone who could be president, I don’t think “woman,” “man.” I think “capable.” I think she’s a capable candidate and has a great track record.

PM: When and if you get married, will you change your last name?

Janan: I used to think that if I was going to become a doctor, I would not change it. I would still be Dr. McCormick, because I earned the degree. That’s probably a pretty feminist thought. But now, I would change it.

PM: What made the difference in your thinking?

Janan: In this day and age, what family means and what marriage means — a lot of it has changed. And I guess I like the wholeness of … I don’t really know how to say it.

PM: You want to be a unit?

Janan: Yeah. Like a family unit. I like that idea better.

Layla: My mom hyphenated her name. She always says, “Don’t do it, it’s hard, you can never remember which name they put something under.” I kind of want to hyphenate, because I’m the last Jones and I want to have a son. I’m definitely going to change my name, though, because taking my husband’s name doesn’t make me any less me.

Janan: Part of what I want out of life is a partnership. And maybe that’s a feminist thought process. I want to be with someone where we’re a team. And maybe having the same last name makes you more of a team.

PM: Would you commingle your money?

Janan: I have mixed opinions on that. I’ve seen a lot of situations between couples that didn’t work out, and women not necessarily getting to be independent because of finances. My parents definitely raised my sister and me to be financially independent and take care of ourselves.

Layla: It’s just inevitable to me that you get married and now you have to share your money. I yell at my friends. They say, “Oh, it’s my money,” and I’m like, “Girl, don’t you know? Your accounts are going to be together!”

PM: Do you consider yourself pro-choice? Anti-abortion? Neutral?

Janan: I’m absolutely pro-choice. Your body is your body, and if you’re capable of making sound decisions for it, then do what you want.

Layla: I agree. I’m for doing what you want, you know? I have opinions on it, with regard to …

PM: Whether it’s moral?

Layla: Not necessarily moral. I don’t know somebody else’s morals, so I can’t really denote what’s moral. I feel like there are scenarios that are more acceptable than others.

Janan: It’s, like, situational.

Layla: Yeah, situational. You know, it’s nobody else’s business at the end of the day.

PM: That’s one of the best things about your generation — you’re not judgmental.

Janan: As far as judgment goes, I come from a biracial family — my mom is Indian and my dad is Irish. My mom gets really excited when she sees different cultures together. And I’m like, “Mom, nobody in my generation cares. It’s not even an issue.”

PM: What did you think about the big FEMINIST banner behind Beyoncé at the VMAs?

Janan: I would quote Beyoncé on anything.

Layla: I cannot stand Beyoncé. Don’t get me wrong. She’s an entertainer and a businesswoman; she’s a great example. But everybody was calling Beyoncé’s album the feminist album of the year. And their main points were its overt sexuality, which I don’t think of as inherently feminist. I think they were trying to apply something to her that she didn’t even intend.

Janan: I think she meant for her album to embrace being feminine. It is overtly sexual, and I think she intended that. But I don’t think she was saying if you’re a feminist, you dance around in lingerie on top of cars.

PM: Katy Perry was once quoted as saying, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the power of women.” What’s the distinction she’s making there?

Layla: I think she’s kind of doing what I’m doing. I don’t want to believe that I’m not saying I’m a feminist because of the connotation it has, but I feel like that’s what she’s doing.

Janan: You’re erring on the side of, it’s going to get you more negative attention than positive attention, so let’s just say I support women but I’m not a feminist. All bases covered.

PM: So what is a feminist to you?

Layla: There’s a woman on Twitter called Feminista Jones. She’s so dedicated to feminism that she’s not open to anything else. When Mike Brown was killed, she tweeted about it for a while, and then she was just like, “What about all these black women that have been killed?” I understand, but why are you comparing the two? Why don’t you let people talk about this issue right now? It’s … what’s the word I want?

Janan: Narcissistic.

Layla: It is narcissistic. She’s extreme. Feminism and extremism are what I equate. That’s what it is right there. Yup.

Originally published as “Is Feminism Dead?” in the November 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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