popular feminism part 2

While both historic feminisms and popular feminism rally against the injury of sexism, historic feminisms have aimed to liberate women while popular feminism aims to empower them[BW1] . To liberate is to set someone free from a circumstance, while to empower is to give someone the authority to act. To empower, in the case of popular feminism, assumes that the only liberation a woman needs is the liberation from her own self-limiting beliefs. Empowerment says that if a woman simply has more confidence that she can claim justice. It acts as if the playing field is level and waiting for women to summon the courage to play[BW2] . Banet-Weiser argues that the goal of empowerment is ambiguous and popular feminism does not really ever define what it aims to empower women to do.[1] This empowerment can be seen through many different efforts that center visibility. One movement is that of bringing more women “to the table”. Banet-Weiser explains, “The inclusion of women becomes the solution for all gender problems, not just those of exclusion or absence.”[2] I will discuss this further in relationship to Hildegard of Bingen. Popular feminism works to make women more visible as it names where they are not present, but also works to bring the injustices against women to visibility as well, as I will discuss later in relation to Spears. Because popular feminism lives in the form of media, it relies on the branding of ideas. This means that the most easily-packaged feminism becomes the most visible or widely spread. This translates to a feminism that is primarily white, heteronormative, and middle class.[3] Post feminism and popular feminism share many values, but the main distinction is that while post feminism is ahistorical, popular feminist does not disavow feminist politics.[4]

            There are quite a few major differences to point out in Spears and Hildegard. Because of the obvious 900 years between the lives of  Hildegard and Spears, they both produced very different kinds of musics. Spears performs popular music, which falls within Jill Halstead’s definition of low culture music. Halstead describes low culture music as music that is functional and available to everyone. Historically, this included peasant dance music, work songs, folk song, and lullabies to a name a few.[5] Hildegard of Bingen wrote plainchant, and notably a liturgical drama.[6] Hildegard’s work is tricky to classify into either high culture or low culture. I would argue that historically it would have been considered low-culture, as it was functional and accessible (to parishioners[7]); but, in current day it would be considered high-culture as it embodies the anthesis of those values. Both Hildegard and Spears are regarded as cultural figures[BW3]  and musicians. Hildegard’s celebrity was quite different from Spears. Hildegard was regarded as a local saint, medieval author, and prophetess who held much influence over the church.[8] Celebrity for Spears was influenced by the Internet and media. Instead of being focused on her ideas or her sound, instead popular discourse surrounds personal details of her life and body. While Hildegard was celibate, Spears was a divorced mother. Hildegard was alive pre-feminist movement, while Spears lives in a post-feminist era.

            Despite these major dissimilarities, Spears and Hildegard are bound together by their work for the stage, the popular discourse surrounding them, and their reception by feminist movements. There are countless articles and journals debating the ways in which they represent the cultural ideas of what it means to be a woman. This is related to the fact that they are both well-known enough to inspire discourse. They each underwent an era in which  they were considered  abandoned or forgotten by culture, and were later made visible due to the popular feminist movement[BW4] [BW5] [BW6] . Jennifer Bain argues against the popular notion that Hildegard was forgotten saying, “Even though the trope of the ‘forgotten’ female figure has been employed by many popular and scholarly references to Hildegard of Bingen, knowledge of her can be traced from the time of her death until the mid-nineteenth century.”[9] The abandonment of Spears looked a little different. Rather than forgetting her existence, there was a period of time in which the injuries against Spears went largely unnoticed by the public. In the current cultural climate, people are realizing the extent to which she has been violated.[10] Regardless of the validity of whether either figure truly fell out of public consciousness, the reaction has been a sort of collective remembering, or bringing them once again to the spotlight. 

[1] Banet-Weiser, Empowered, 17.

[2] Banet-Weiser, Empowered, 12.

[3] Banet-Weiser, Empowered, 13.

[4] Banet-Weiser, Empowered, 20.

[5] Jill Halstead, The Woman Composer: Creativity and the Gendered Politics of Musical Composition. The Woman Composer: Creativity and the Gendered Politics of Musical Composition. Aldershot [England] ; Ashgate, 1997: 175.

[6] Honey Meconi, “Hildegard of Bingen.” Hildegard of Bingen. Women Composers. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018, 24. During the 19th century German revival of chant— it was made accessible to parishioners. Jennifer Bain talks about the Mechlin edition, which was a liturgical-musical volume which contained some of HOB’s work translated into German by two priests for the purpose of making it accessible to their parishioners as well as others.

[7] Jennifer Bain, “Hildegard of Bingen and Musical Reception : The Modern Revival of a Medieval Composer.” Hildegard of Bingen and Musical Reception : The Modern Revival of a Medieval Composer. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 113.

[8] Jennifer Bain. “Was Hildegard Forgotten?” The Journal of Musicological Research 34, no. 1 (2015): 4.

[9] Bain, “Was Hildegard Forgotten,” 1.

[10] Samantha Stark, Framing Britney Spears. New York Times, 2021: 1:13.