WARNING: THERE WILL BE SHAMELESS SHILLING AND FANGIRLING IN THIS POST. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED. PROCEED WITH WHATEVER CAUTION YOU DEEM NECESSARY.
I don't often take the time to discuss celebrities I like, but Friday night at the Trocadero theater in Philadelphia convinced me to make an exception. I was there to see Gerard Way, a fantastic solo musician who was the founder and lead singer of My Chemical Romance as well as the brilliant mind behind some truly great comics like The Umbrella Academy and The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. It was a fantastic show and if you have the chance to check him out on this or any future tours, I highly recommend you do.
But this is not a review or a critique of his artistry. However much I enjoy criticizing art in private, I don't feel like it's my place to do so on a public forum, as well as the fact that whatever flaws Gerard Way may have, I'm blind to, because I've adored him since I was 19.
However, the ways he uses his power as a public figure, that's worth discussing. It should be noted that at the tender age of 28, I skew significantly older than most of Gerard Way's fanbase. He had a captive audience of teenagers, mostly young women, who adore him, follow him on social media, and would respond to whatever he chose to say, and it was this: (paraphrasing)
"I've been on the internet and seen a lot of the shit that women, young women, get thrown at them, and I just wanna say ladies, it's coming from old, white dudes with power who are afraid of you!"
"Never, ever, ever give up control for free!"
"Things are changing and I'm loving it. I'm not scared of this generation being in charge at all. Stay strong, ladies!"
In a world where the Millennial generation is constantly under attack from the previous generations (i.e. the ones who raised them) for their perceived laziness, their lack of ambition, their addiction to their phones and their general crappiness, having a Gen X'er who's also a major pop culture figure tell them not only that he's not afraid of them, but that they're awesome, is incalculably huge. People respond to how they're treated, but being treated well by adults when you're a teen is so rare it could qualify as a superpower, and we consistently wonder why teenagers are so sullen. Maybe it's because we tell them almost constantly that we implicitly hate everything they think, like, do, are?
In true patriarchal fashion, women seem to bear a stronger brunt of this than men. Not only in pop culture, but politics, women are told that they are nothing more than the sum total of their sex organs, and that those body parts are public property. For every amazing woman who stands up for herself and her sisters, there's an oppressive body of men--and even more disheartening, other women--who want to shout her down. And yet, here's Gerard Way, pushing 40 (I know you don't believe me, so here), white, and a guy, benefitting from the current power structure no matter which way you spin it, and he's encouraging young women to change the world, showing he's not afraid because their power and strength is something to be celebrated instead of loathed.
They say young women need role models, and it's fucking true, but feminism is about celebrating everyone, and in the changing world young men need to see that better opportunities for women =/= worsening or fewer opportunities for them. Too often, young men are told that feminism is not for them, that it wants to take from them, and that's why men like Gerard Way are so important as public figures. He's married, has a child, beat the odds in overcoming alcoholism and in earning his living making the art he wants to make. He's surrounded by adoring fans and is successful in every measurable way. And he's a feminist.
The only real problem with Gerard Way is his singularity. For every him, for every Wil Wheaton, for every Joss Whedon, for every George R. R. Martin, for every man with a public audience who steps up for equality and improvement, who shares instead of hordes, popular culture will respond with a thousand different ways to shut them up, to put us all back in our boxes, keep us chugging along in a system where the current winners are the only winners, and everyone else suffers through. So take some inspiration. Learn by example.