Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Time for a new type of feminism

I've babbled on about how I'm frustrated by certain aspects of feminism - mostly that traditional feminism seems to seek equality by encouraging the view that women are the same as men. Call me a "girl," but I don't want to pretend that pet adoption commercials don't make me cry, and that I can carry a six foot Christmas tree from the car to my living room by myself, in order to be considered a "strong woman." Personally, I think my strength is very different than the strength I admire in certain men, but that doesn't make it any less valuable. Similarly, I don't think allowing a man to open the door for me or buy me dinner, makes me any less intelligent, independent or liberated. I happen to like it when a man wants to make me feel special by treating me with a little touch of traditional chivalry...as long as he also treats me with respect.

Recently, I discovered that I also have a bone to pick with "lipstick feminism." Prior to my recent online research (brought about by Monday afternoon ADD), I mistakenly thought that lipstick feminists were those that didn't find it contradictory to both be a feminist and to spend time on one's appearance. If this were the case, the mere number of products in my bathroom and eye-shadow colors in my make-up case, would make me an excellent candidate for admission into this group. For me, clothes and make-up are hobbies, sources of enjoyment, that are completely separate from my feelings about what makes women equal to men as human beings. I mean, what's wrong with having a little glamour in your life?

However, beyond an inherent "no-judgement" clause for the number of trips a woman makes to Sephora in any given month, lipstick feminism doesn't find conflict between stripping, pole dancing, flashing, girl-on-girl exhibitionism - sometimes even glorification of prostitution - and feminism. Additionally, lipstick feminism often associates sex with power, and the power of sexual allure as power over men.


I certainly don't think it's anti-feminist to purchase Carmen Electra's workout video (hell, I'd probably eat worms if someone provided evidence suggesting that it would make me look like Carmen) or attempt to liven up a workout routine by taking a cardio-strip class. I also have no problem admitting that I sincerely enjoy sex. But aside from my shock at the idea of glorifying prostitution, I just don't agree that any type of feminism should focus so strongly on sex or power. How did a movement originally intended to ensure that women have the same rights as other human beings, become a power struggle in which stripping, and even prostitution, are used as proof points to argue that women offer as much value to society as men? Does that seem counter-productive to anyone else?

In What Went Wrong , I suggested that the misguided evolution of attraction is partially responsible for our youth obsessed culture and the acceptance of random hook-ups. But I'm beginning to think that feminist backlash has also danced to a few songs at the American "ho-down."

No matter what Oprah says, instead of learning how to develop, appreciate and leverage our individual personalities, unique talents and inherent femininity, young women are striving to become bobble-heads with 0 percent body fat and fake boobs, while drunkenly making out with each other in bars to win attention from men. And, if making out with a buddy doesn't win the man's heart, there's always an opportunity to share the epitome of intimacy with a complete stranger, and then pretend you've never met, when you run into him at the gym or grocery store.

Typically, we point fingers at men for our sex-obsessed culture and the rise of Internet porn. However, as painful as it may be to admit, there's also a connection between feminism, the sexual revolution and the reign of sluttiness. Between 1950 and 2009, being a slut has transformed from a label of shame to a symbol of feminism; proof that, since we're just like men, women can satisfy their carnal needs without emotional attachment. Sleeping with men for sport has become an aspirational quality, something that makes a woman independent and strong.

Congratulations, feminism.

Sex will always be important part of humanity, but my concern is the personality its importance is beginning to develop. Instead of girdles and chastity belts, we have four year-old girls with t-shirts that say "Future Porn Star" and forty-five year-old "cougars" prancing around bars in cleavage-baring halter tops and micro-minis. Although I'm suddenly appalled at how conservative I sound, the point isn't conservative or liberal - it's moderation. We've swung from one extreme to another in the span of 60 years, and we need to find some middle ground. If feminism is meant to benefit women, then I think it's time to focus on bringing an end to the backlash that has left an increasing number of beautiful, intelligent women struggling with self-acceptance. It's time for a new type of feminism.


Anonymous said...

I whole heartedly agree. I've recently been very upset about the new 'ideal' for girls. Sexual ambiguity, scantily clad clothing and whole shows dedicated to picking a partner based on games and public make out sessions. There are even studies of young girls "choosing" to be/act stupid to get the attention of boys. There needs to be room for self-acceptance and mutual respect. And why is it that there no longer seems to be a respect for intimacy?! Its all gratuitous and blatant.

Anonymous said...

Howdy, I wandered over here from Your Ill-Fitting Overcoat.

On the issue of feminism = equality, I think the problems with that kind of discourse are legion. Most obvious to me as a Black woman? Most middle-class white women are hardly waving signs (or, let's be real in this day and age, wearing strident t-shirts and signing e-petitions) to be treated equally to Black or Latino men. As far as I can tell, mainstream feminism has never been about equality so much as extending the full benefits of whiteness to white women without interrogating the way that the constructed image of white womanhood (fragile, inept, etc.) is used as a tool of racism.

On your beef with the pro-sex folks, believe me, I feel you there. I don't see any shame in appearing "conservative", and I think that rendering hyper-sexuality equivalent to empowerment is just another strategy to substitute culture for politics.

Which stinks, any way you cut it.

Anonymous said...

I totally think you are on to something. I think what is bothering you about the prostitutes, four year-olds in porn star t-shirts and 45 year old "cougars," is that seeking male attention and approval is being mis-defined as empowerment. These women aren't empowered. Rather, they are defining their own self worth based on how much attention they can get from men whether it's in the form of 1) being attractive enough to a man that he will want to pay for sex, 2) being attractive enough to a man that he will want to have a random hook up, or 3) an acknowledgment of their general attractiveness.

I totally agree with you that sex is a very valuable and important part of the human experience and women do and should want it as much as men.

But what defines a person and empowers them should be more than whether the opposite sex finds them attractive. It should be based on their interests, accomplishments, ideas, and goals. For a person to pretend that all she is is a pretty face or a nice body or thinks that is all she needs to be takes us back many many steps.

Great blog by the way. You are awesome and brave for putting it out there. Glad I found it!

Laurie Stark said...

Agreed, agreed, agreed! With you and with the commenters above. I take issue with defining a woman's power solely in its relation to men. And M's point is a great one with regard to "feminism" = "wanting full privilege of whiteness" rather than "wanting equality for all". Indeed.

Anne's Friend said...

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