The peril of being famous, female, and having political opinions
(Conversation) – Gal Gadot and Amena Khan, both are female beauty icons, and both tweeted “problematic” tweets about the Gaza–Israel conflict in 2014. And that is where the similarity ends.
Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot hardly needs an introduction. She’s a brand ambassador for Revlon and the face of Gucci Bamboo fragrance. She has a strong social media presence, with 15.9m followers on Instagram and 1.62m followers on Twitter. She’s been described as the “ultimate badass” for “breaking gender barriers as Wonder Woman”.
Amena Khan is a beauty blogger. She has almost 400,000 subscribers on YouTube and her videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Her Instagram presence is even more impressive, with 577,000 followers, and she has become a fashion icon for hijab-wearing women. She shot to national and international fame when she first appeared in a L’Oreal advert for their signature True Match foundation. Her most recent campaign saw her appear in a L’Oreal shampoo advert in her hijab, in what was described as a “game-changing” campaign. So far so good.
But following the emergence of several tweets posted by Khan condemning Israel’s military action in Gaza in 2014, the beauty icon has been accused of being anti-Israel and she quickly resigned from the campaign. Her carefully drafted resignation statement was clearly intended to swiftly but respectfully distance her comments from the L’Oreal inclusivity campaign. But some have questioned why that relationship ended – and who really ended it.
Gadot also tweeted during the same 2014 military assault on Gaza in support of the Israeli army, in which she once served. Gadot has not faced similar censure for this, despite the fact that the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict found that the conduct of both parties amounted to violating multiple international laws.
When Gadot’s tweets emerged, she was accused of supporting the killing of civilians – and the Wonder Woman film was widely boycotted in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia. But Gadot did not feel pressure to resign from any beauty campaigns as a result of her political views.
This article is not about Gaza, it is about the rights of each women to voice an opinion. So from a feminist perspective, how do their positions compare?
Feminism is a broad concept and encompasses many schools of thought. In today’s modern and global society, there is a need to take an intersectional approach.
Such an approach acknowledges that not all women are the same and not all women suffer from the same discriminations. A white upper-middle class woman is not going to face the same discriminations as a black working-class woman, for example. The white middle-class woman may face discrimination through unequal pay for equal labour as compared with men. But the black working-class woman may face the same issue, while also facing racist discrimination which may result in her not even being interviewed for the job to begin with. Despite both being women, they are not treated in the same way.
Each woman has a number of characteristics which intersect and in some cases may lead to greater discrimination. The 2010 Equality Act, which protects against discrimination on the grounds of sex, unfortunately does not extend its protection to intersectional characteristics. This is a major shortcoming in the legislation.
In the 1980s, the current director of SOAS, Valeria Amos, accused white feminists of ignoring the particular struggles faced by black women – including racism – and instead prioritizing issues which would benefit a small number of white middle-class women, such as equal pay and job sharing. Almost 35 years later, has much changed? The difference in treatment experienced by Khan and Gadot in response to their opposite positions on a political issue suggests not.
Gadot is a beautiful white woman, who is portrayed as a strong soldier, an Amazon of Greek mythology. Khan on the other hand is a beautiful Asian Muslim woman who wears the hijab. Research shows that Muslim women face significant discrimination. The unemployment rate for Muslims in the UK is more than double that of any other group, and hijab wearing Muslim women in particular experience greater discrimination – 65% of unemployed Muslims are women. So L’Oreal’s inclusivity campaign was much needed.
For such women, the characteristics of being female, non-white and Muslim intersect to lead to added discrimination compared with that faced by white women on the whole. This is not recognized by the law. Yet the far-reaching consequences of this can be seen starkly in the treatment faced by Amena Khan and Gal Gadot. Khan’s quick exit from the L’Oreal campaign suggests that she is not entitled to hold a political view on the war in Gaza in 2014. Gadot, on the other hand, faced no such repercussions for airing her views, suggesting she is entitled.
Was the problem that Khan’s comments were indefensible, or that they could not be identified with by L’Oreal’s demographic? Is it that this group do not share some or all of Khan’s character traits – being Muslim, being Asian, being a mother? These are traits which are fundamental to her identity and no doubt influence her opinions and life choices – just as having pets and commuting to work would have an impact on a woman’s views on animal cruelty, train fares and equal pay. Both views are valid and valuable. For L’Oreal, a truly inclusive campaign means taking account of the existence of all this diversity.
It seems clear that neither Gadot nor Khan can be accused of being extreme, and both are entitled to their views. But only one has felt the need to resign as a result.
This report prepared by Rajnaara C Akhtar, Senior Lecturer in Law, De Montfort University and Kate Wilkinson Cross, Lecturer in Law, De Montfort University for The Conversation.