Being a star in 2016 is a tougher gig than it used to be. In addition to one's chosen craft — acting, singing, performing in any way — there is a responsibility now, more than ever, to maintain an attractive social presence. This doesn't mean showing up to the right parties or events, though for the purposes of curating a good Instagram it helps. No, this is about social justice and understanding where your fans are on the issues.
Several times in 2015, stars disappointed their fans on social issues again and again, from the gender pay gap (Kate Winslet, Jeremy Renner) to diversity behind the camera (Matt Damon) to representing as a role model (Caitlyn Jenner). One star continually impressed with her depth of knowledge about intersectionality, feminism and more — and she's decades younger than all of them. That star is Girl Meets World's Rowan Blanchard.
Blanchard, a Disney star who is stretching that label to its best possible limits, has come into her own as a bright, intelligent young woman with a sophisticated understanding of the world far beyond her years. Her thoughts on white feminism last August were particularly impressive for their complexity.
"While white women are making 78 cents to the dollar, Native American women are making 65 cents, black women are making 64 cents, and Hispanic women are making 54 cents," she wrote. She then proceeded to quote scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw from 1989, though Blanchard herself was born in 2001. "'The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society.'"
What this indicates is that Blanchard did a considerable amount of research to inform and develop her own opinions, choosing to listen to the voices in the past in addition to those of the present. But what sets this message apart most is the medium: She posted it in response to a question on her Tumblr.
This is beyond just tweeting along with fans during an episode of her show, like the stars of many network series do now. This is engaging with fans on a deep, philosophical level. She took a good question and used it as an opportunity to both explain her place in the world and educate others.
She's done the same with Instagram posts about living with depression, tweets rejecting the requirement to smile in photos and participates in different social media initiatives to help spread powerful, women-first ideals.
The presence she's curating illustrates more than simply an adeptness manipulating social media tropes or a fondness for social causes — it shows a respect for her fans. She trusts them to understand and be willing to learn about intersectionality, and the importance of changing perspectives on sexual assault. She does this even though they surely are mostly the young girls and boys watching her on Disney Channel — because she herself is a young girl.
To call her "young" feels like a dismissal, or at least a reduction of her to a certain niche. Yet, that's what's most impressive about Blanchard: She uses her youth to spread her message to a much wider audience, not as an excuse or limitation.
This is what other stars can learn from her, how to respect fans and engage with them on issues they care about. Not everyone has to double as a feminist activist preaching the word about sexual assault on college campuses or the pay gap, but they should be aware of those issues. After all, socially progressive platforms like Tumblr are showing that these fans do care about these causes. It's why Oscar Isaac can get into a brew of trouble for something as minimal as wearing an Atlas Shrugged T-shirt five years ago.
2016 will be interesting to watch. Will more stars gaffe the way Damon, Jenner and more did last year? Or will they follow a playbook set out by bright, sharp and, yes, young women like Blanchard and Amandla Stenberg? Time will tell — though Blanchard need pay them no mind. She'll just keep inspiring no matter what.