The feminine feminist???

October 4, 2011 at 8:32 pm (Uncategorized)

For much of the last century the word feminist has amassed a number of negative connotations; accepting and wearing the label of feminist doesn’t always come easy.  Traditionally the word has been rife with anger, militancy and hate instead of the intended positive ideas of humanity, equality, pride and acceptance.  Feminists have been dealing with a negative stigma for nearly a century.  What started as a progressive and forward-thinking movement is now stained with a serious backlash of misconception, judgment and close-mindedness.  Many women that actively believe in feminist ideas and theory are wary of accepting the label because of its existing undesirable connotations.  For some, the word conjures up ideas of hairy, unwashed, “butch” women that hate men and wish to have them extinguished.  This old-fashioned paradigm is a shame for the women’s movement and contributes to the great detriment of a group simply fighting for their rights as human beings.  Our society has effectively turned feminist into a dirty word.

Where did this stigma originate from?  The first wave of feminism traditionally associated with the early twentieth century suffrage movement featured trailblazers like Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and Alice Paul.  These pioneers worked tirelessly to achieve the right to vote and gain improvements in professional settings and healthcare.  Though at the time these women were perceived as “radical” women fighting for “radical” causes, this alone surely could not conjure up such detrimental ideas of what a feminist is. 

I suggest that the possible launching point for negativity associated with feminism is likely based on three factors: the dividing of the sexes as fallout based on the push (by women) for equality, women’s anger toward men as their oppressors and men’s rising fear of women gaining power.  This ardent battle for freedom and egalitarianism has serious penalties.  Because the original feminists were solely women and most feminists today are women, the movement has misguidedly become a woman versus man issue instead of a feminist versus non-feminist issue.  This leaves an unfortunate residue over the importance of inalienable rights and instead manages to separate the sexes into opposing forces.  This important acknowledgement is part of what contributes to the societal idea that being a feminist equates to hating males.  Though most feminists do not, in fact, participate in male-bashing or hatred, it does bring to light an important question: is it emotionally possible to not feel some hatred toward one’s oppressor?  Warranted anger on this level is a sad, yet understandable progression that will continue until the suppression ends.  Forced by these patterns of oppression, women have been forced to fight endlessly and ferociously for equality. This tenacity, determination and doggedness have no doubt contributed to the stereotype of a militant woman.  However, it should be noted that social change rarely comes without a serious degree of obstinacy, fight or firmness.  It has largely and aptly been identified as a fight for civil rights because to achieve this opportunity, women were forced to go to battle over it; anger, after all, is imperative to any dominated group.  Since men are granted a certain amount of power from time of birth, they never have to stage a battle for equality, thus the thought of a woman enforcing her constitutional rights is alien and threatening. 

The feminist movement attempts to seek equality between the sexes, not to target women as superior.  This line of thinking was foreign to most males.  Their subsequent denial and refusal forced women to attack, therefore perpetuating the idea and cycle of “hatred” toward males.  Achieving equality without painful backlash is no easy feat.  Filmmaker Therese Schecter’s independent film, I Was a Teenage Feminist proves the ever-popular mislabeling of feminism by filming men and women in New York City’s Times Square describing feminism in one word: Lesbian  (After Ellen staff, 2008).  While lesbians can of course be feminists, these misguided ideas serve to reinforce incorrect stereotypes associated with feminism.

  The unfortunate stigma of the angry, male-bashing woman continues to follow feminists to this day.  Some of this can be contributed to radical feminists’ actions.  Not wearing make-up, not shaving under arms or legs, not conforming to traditional female dress or beauty standards; this was a way to physically show abhorrence to the unrealistic standards of beauty women are held to.  Because gender roles are so pronounced in our society, these women have become the “face” of modern feminism, mostly by default.  Our media informants tend to flock to the most dramatic sources available, eager as we are to label others and put them in our confined, easy-to-figure-out boxes.  These examples of radical feminists become the norm in our social world, as they are portrayed by our ever-critical and biased media sources. 

Women have been fighting insulting stereotypes for decades; however there is a wave of modern feminism racing through the country that promises to challenge these stereotypes.  A feminine (traditionally defined, of course) feminist that embraces a love of pink, lipstick, and high heels along with embracing a love of human rights and equality for our country’s gals.  Some are confused by this notion: isn’t a feminine feminist an oxymoron?  This new paradigm shift can be indefinite and difficult to decide upon: where does one draw the line between playing into unfair female roles and beauty obligations while maintaining a status of fighting for equality in the sexes?  Slowly however, some feminists are coming to a personal and inspiring bridge between these two worlds.  Confusing and subjective as it might be, there seems to be a new trend of embracing some modern beauty standards (such as fashion, makeup, or highlights) while eschewing others (such as breast enhancements, Playboy magazine, or Botox).  The new vision of feminism seems to promote navigating your own way, while still actively pursuing and engaging in the commitment to women’s rights.  This back-and-forth can be confusing, no doubt; what message are we sending with images of Barbie dolls, cheerleaders, and Victoria Secret models?  Things are not always black and white.  The ultimate question being, does one have to give up their femininity to be a feminist?  And conversely, if over-exposing sexual images and ideas to girls/women is dangerous, could it also be dangerous to encourage girls/women to suppress their femininity?

In our materialistic and beauty-valued world, it is nearly impossible as a young girl or woman to not grasp onto the most basic examples of femininity.   From a very young age it is cultivated; we are taught that it is not only valued to be beautiful, but preferred.  The key perhaps rests in how strongly we pursue this ideal beauty.  We obviously do not intend to teach young women that their value lies in being merely decorative, but how far should the pendulum swing the other way?  Is this new brand of feminism simply riding on the coattails of sexual exploitation, or opening a whole new adaptive and welcoming chapter to our manicured and well-groomed sisters?

Author Linda Scott writes about this touchy subject in her book, “Fresh Lipstick; Redressing Fashion and Feminism”, surmising that feminism needs to terminate its long-standing fixation on the principles of personal appearance, as it is an issue that has separated women much more that it has assisted their movement.  Fresh Lipstick; Redressing Fashion and Feminism (as cited in Chamberlain, 2005). Again, we are forced to examine the issue of unity within the movement itself and its relevance when standing up to injustice.  Why should women spend energy nit-picking about the details of our equality when the equality in question has yet to happen?  As Scott writes, “Voices from around the world report a variety of conditions and systems under which only one thing holds constant – the universal second-class status of females. If there was ever a moment when the women of one culture had a responsibility toward their sisters in other nations, this is it. We should not waste time quibbling over what to wear to the conflict.”  Fresh Lipstick; Redressing Fashion and Feminism (as cited in Chamberlain, 2005).  Scott’s poignant argument demonstrates that there are more weighty problems to tackle when looking at the worldwide condition of women.

In this feminist’s opinion, the change is an optimistic and encouraging one.  Our united cause should be just that: united.  We all wish to be as valued, heard, esteemed and respected as men are.  Simple awareness of the issue could be half the battle.  As long as lines of communication are open, feminists are possibly finally on a healthier track to changing the horrible association with the “f” word.  Though a cohesive and united objective of feminism might not be existent anymore, this new paradigm is now allowing women the freedom to adopt their own definitions and embrace differing determinations of what feminism means to them.  Cultivating the idea that feminists, like women, come in all varieties can in itself create a feeling of empowerment.  Women are now coming up with inventive and socially-exact methods in which they “recast femininity as a richly-textured and subtly nuanced way of being, no longer at the opposite pole of institutionalized feminism, but intertwined with it in a mutually-enriching symbiotic relationship.”  (Miceli-Jeffries, 1994).

As definitions of feminism become increasingly varied and convoluted, so do our perceptions of the notion of “femininity”.  Now it seems that women are grasping the concept that these two formally polarized philosophies of feminism and femininity can co-exist harmoniously, albeit in a truly personal and individualized way.  Feminists have fought for decades for freedom in their choices; now is the time to embrace and support one another’s efforts to carve our own path to that freedom.  We are all different, distinctive and intriguingly unique individuals, but amidst those differences lay the common cause of equality.  I hope feminism has a future that includes holding tight to our most precious commonalities, while relaxing our quest for a model version of the word, “feminist”. 

 

 


Chamberlain, C. (2005). Beauty and Fashion vs. Feminism. The Feminist ezine. Retrieved September 16, 2011 from http://www.feministezine.com/feminist/fashion/Beauty-Fashion-Vs-Feminism.html

Miceli-Jeffries, G. (1994). Feminine Feminists: Cultural Practices in Italy. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.  Pp. xxiv,272.

Review of: I Was A Teenage Feminist. (2008). Retrieved September 18,2011 from   http://www.afterellen.com/movies/2008/10/teenagefeminist

Permalink 1 Comment