Written by Rachel Redfern as part of our theme week on Male Feminists and Allies.[caption id="attachment_5934" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Sir Patrick Stewart being amazing for Amnesty International.[/caption]
At a spry 78 years old, Sir Patrick Stewart is just as popular as he was 25 years ago in Star Trek: The Next Generation, perhaps even more so now as his persona has popped from talented dramatic actor to powerful women’s rights activist, and an almost mythic status as an all-around amazing human being.
And part of that love and general good feeling toward Sir Stewart is his vulnerable and very personal campaign to end domestic violence, support battered women, and fight for women’s rights. In a world filled with Alec Baldwins, Todd Akins, and Hunter Moores, perhaps we just expect old white men to be entitled and offensive. Similarly, in a world filled with Katy Perrys and Taylor Swifts who insist on denying the need for feminism (how nice for them as wealthy, successful white women) and insisting that they are NOT feminists, it is inspiring to see a man willing to not only own the label, but wear it.
[caption id="attachment_5936" align="aligncenter" width="200"] “This is what a feminist looks like”–and it looks good.[/caption]
And really, it seems mind-boggling that Sir Stewart is seen as an original, groundbreaking human being when in reality he’s fighting for basic human rights. Why is saying, “Stop Hitting Women” such a unique perspective for a male public figure?
But considering the overwhelming response pretty much every time he steps in front of a camera, millions of people are connecting with him in a profound way. It must come from his willingness to share the painful and intimate details of his own past with domestic violence on a global scale, then turn around, listen to someone else’s story, and respond with empathy and sincere compassion. It probably helps that he does all that in a brilliant English accent and fantastic deep, rich voice—that man could read my stereo instructions and I’d breathlessly wait for a plot twist.
And his interest in women’s causes isn’t just a cause-of-the-day as, let’s be honest, most celebrity causes are only to foster a positive public image and distract from that time they hit a pedestrian while doing 90 MPH in their Porsche. As an obviously huge participant in sci-fi conventions where there is a lot of fan interaction, fans are constantly reporting that he is just as committed to spreading awareness when there’s a line of 300 hundred Deanna Trois and William Rikers waiting to get his autograph as when there’s a microphone and a camera in his face.
One blogger tells of the time she got to ask him a question about his fight against domestic violence at an Austin Comic Con convention panel and he was great; then she asked him a similar question when she was standing in line to talk to him and he made a special point of spending extra time with her discussing resources she might be personally interested in.
Sir Stewart’s involvement with Amnesty International has also led him to be the face of a very public campaign, posting his own and his mother’s experiences of domestic abuse at the hands of his father. And on top of that, adding his public criticism of the police’s handling of that situation; at that point, when his mother tried to report what was happening the police would respond, “Well, you must have done something to make him mad.” Or doctors would assert, “Mrs. Stewart it takes two to make a fight.”
The above stories highlight victim blaming at its finest; an unfortunate, but still daily experience for many women who report sexual assault, stalking, abuse, violence, and even the spread of intimate photos online. But I love that while Stewart is harshly critical of such terrible tactics, he’s also a huge proponent of increasing expectations for men and young boys. People are people, some are good and some are bad, but when the expectation is not, “How could you let him do this to you?” but rather, “How could you treat a fellow human being this way?” victims are treated respectfully and the default condition is “Real people don’t treat other people this way.”
And in a society where male revelations about abuse, physical, emotional, or sexual, are still considered a mark of weakness, it’s fantastic that such a successful figure is willing to set an example. Especially when that person is Captain Jean Luc Picard, a super smart, sexy, sensitive, nerves-of-steel spaceship captain. I have a feminist daydream of Kirk (Shatner), Janeway (Mulgrew), Sisco (Brooks), and Picard (Stewart) doing a women’s rights PSA: I would make it my ringtone forever.
And while we wish that things were better for women (and they sort of are), when the response to Rihanna’s own experience is for Chris Brown to get a tattoo of a battered woman on his neck and then sing at the 2013 VMAs, there’s still a long way to go. (Feminist fantasy number two where Stewart eloquently destroys Brown, shaming him so publicly that banks will freeze his bank accounts, give the money to a battered women’s shelter, and Brown won’t be able to find work as a birthday party entertainer in Wyoming.)[caption id="attachment_5935" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Imagine Chris Brown on the receiving end of this.[/caption]
The truth of all this is that as much as we love Stewart the actor, we desperately need Stewart the activist as a substantial male proponent of feminism. As with any movement, people need leaders that they can identify with, and as dynamic as Gloria Steinem is, she might not always be the most relatable face for men who are interested in women’s rights.
Sir Patrick Stewart, we salute you (while possibly wearing a Starfleet uniform).