Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Superficial Feminist

I'm not sure if it's the stress of the last few days, or the serious lack of sleep, or the 20+ hours in front of a computer a day (!?) but I woke up with a migraine and feeling generally awful this morning! And so I'm taking myself back to bed to watch fabulously trashy tv, (GossipGirl) and work on this article... 

I did get a slap on the wrist for writing 'bollocks', I warn you now and hope it doesn't offend! It will be gone in my edit. Here's the readable...

Ok, so lets get it all out there… Yes, I am a feminist. I am also a wife of three years and a lover of fashion. I am 24 years old and rarely leave the house without make-up. Perhaps you could call me a superficial feminist? …Or am I just putting myself down now?

Feminism is tricky to define, even most feminists struggle to agree on what it constitutes. I am relatively new to the concept, the history and the continuous battle. At my age, life as a woman seemed easy enough; education, contraception and ‘having a voice’ were a given. I think I was, as many other girls are still doing, walking around blind. The shear amount of naked female flesh in newspapers and on billboards sanitised my awareness to accept this as simply ‘one of those things’.

 In the summer of 2007 I came across a book that I could, dramatically, say Changed My Life. Reading ‘Female Chauvinistic Pigs’ by Ariel Levy was like wiping grubby fingerprints off my glasses. Suddenly everything became clear and I became, not angry, but shocked I suppose. Suddenly everywhere I looked there was an injustice, there was an elephant in the room and no one else wanted to be aware of it. I guess life is ‘easier’ if you are not.

Levy’s book was controversial because she accused members of the female sex of objectifying other women and themselves. In effect doing patriarchy’s job for it. I started actually seeing all these naked girls in advertisements and on magazines, wearing T-shirts labelling themselves Porn stars, in clubs kissing other girls while the boys watched, and on television crying because their lack of bosom was ruining their lives. I may get the evil eye but I found it embarrassing to be female. I wanted to separate myself from this, but perhaps this is where the problem began? Women do not support each other enough. I found it fascinating when I worked in retail. In a changing room so much is shared, it was my job to help women pick out an outfit that she would love, and so she revealed what she wanted, where she was going and why. She told me she was conscious of her arms but loved her legs; we deliberated on whether it was suitable to wear black to a wedding, or on how short was still suitable at a certain age… We complimented each other and laughed before it was back onto the street to the stony silence and that elusive competiveness. I am aware that women bonding through shopping is probably an unfortunate example, but one that stayed with me, and the part of retail that I miss the most. We should praise each other more and not doll ourselves up to the specifications, or for the approvals, of men.

No doubt you will be offended by that last comment and insistent that you dress to please yourself. You probably do. Although many people present themselves in the same way because society is dictating what is considered attractive. I do not exclude myself completely from this assumption. I would like to be slimmer, to have tanned skin and long straight hair. I shave or wax regularly and dress to ‘flatter’ my body shape... And I have the cheek to call myself a feminist? Well, yes. Despite considering myself to be a feminist and having come across several women and men who consider themselves to be also, I still have the awful stereotypical connotation of what a Feminist looks like and would rather not be associated with that. See, I’m shallow- but not proud! I said ‘perhaps you could call me a superficial feminist’, but perhaps you wouldn’t call me a feminist at all? I would attempt a spiel about how we live in such a visual society, but that is a bit of a bollocks excuse isn’t it really. My, actually rather testosterone-proud, husband even dabs on a bit of make-up from time- to –time, so making the most of ones appearances shouldn’t be in line with your feminist morals! Although I do fear that this frustratingly unchanging face of feminism may scare people off like it did in the late seventies!


  1. As a man I am *deeply* offended that you would use a slang term for a part of my sexual anatomy in such a derogatory manner! :-P

    Very good article - I don't think that a concern with how you look automatically makes you superficial.
    Thinking it over further (I like how you can get me to do that) women's autonomy over their body and their appearance is probably a good starting point for any feminist critique - but especially now. Would I be fair and accurate if I said that the central differences between men and women are concentrated around appearance? I think it is only women who are regularly judged for their appearance - as long as a man shaves and his clothes fit, no mentions what he is wearing. Meanwhile it is very hard for any woman, no matter what her accomplishments, not to have her appearance commented on.

    I don't know if you could define a feminist way of dressing but a feminist probably should not:
    1.Shave her body hair - unless she herself finds it uncomfortable not to. Women shaving their body hair - esp. pubic hair - simply encourages male dislike of the natural female body.
    (I suppose I am a hypocrite since I shave regularly, however this is as much to satisfy other men as women - shaven or not I'm still unattractive.)
    2. Wear high-heels - shoes that are more expensive, less long lasting, more difficult to walk in and hurt you feet and knees as a matter of course - why?
    3.Cover or uncover her body more than suits the climate.
    4.Place an idea of attractiveness ahead of her physical and mental health (difficult.)

    I suppose this still comes close to the old "bra-burning" idea from the 1970's - there is no easy solution to the choice between refusing to play the game or attempting to play the game by your own rules - something to ponder perhaps.

    But don't let a man tell you what to think ;-)

  2. haha! You do make me laugh...

    I'm quite surprised you put the shaving thing in there... how is that feminism and shaving maintains such a link!? Hypothetical question...

    It would definitely be fair to say the central difference between the sexes is judgement on physical appearance. Women are under constant scrutiny and many have to play a balance of juggling appearing professional enough to be taken seriously, and feminine enough to, what? Be given a chance? To be liked? To appear to have it all, brains and beauty? Perhaps somewhere in here could be a factor to why physical appearance has become so paramount, with women spending billions a year on beauty products and fashion?

    My believe however, in contrast to your 4 point feminist plan, ;) , that women should be able to wear whatever they like without judgement on their capabilities. I do agree on your third and fourth points, but do not think that there should be a feminist dress code. I feel that if more women had self respect, (sounds harsh but possibly true) they wouldn't present themselves as sex dolls, base their worth on the opinions of others, or admire people like Jordan. Which is what I want to challenge, by featuring women in the magazine who have worked hard to achieve something using their brains and not flashing their chests. To present a different kind of role model- women who enjoy fashion and look good but still maintain the respect of men and other women alike.

  3. By shaving your body hair you are simply giving in to the patriarchy and the ideal of a hairless "woman" - that is actually more like a doll or a child.

    I don't think there should be a feminist uniform, or that shouldn't call yourself a feminist if you wore/did those things - but I think they are of questionable worth.

    Have you read 'Wetlands' by Charlotte Roche?
    I've read a few of the reviews - not upto much as a book apparently, but interesting as a revolt against what you might call the "mammal-denial" where women are meant to be shaved, clean, scented, without wrinkles or sweat - and menstruation is definitely unmentionable.

    Self-respect or self-esteem is a whole other thorny issue which I grapple with myself. The thing to do is to find qualities or talents that you have which you can feel proud of - I suppose if you are a woman living in a culture like ours you might well want to have you appearance as a source of self respect.
    I think it's very hard not to base your feelings of self-worth on the opinions of others - we are social animals after all, we are made that way.

    Although there is nothing about Jordan that I find attractive, I think she comes in for too much stick - she's making the best living she probably ever could, and seems pretty happy doing it - I prefer to blame The Sun rather than the page 3 girl.

    Also I've decided to nominate you for a Dardos award - basically it's a chain blog recommendation meme - I will add your name to the list at my blog - comment there if you accept.

  4. Well aren't you lovely! Not that I really understand what a Dardos means but it sounds cool.

    I agree, I agree, regarding your hairless comment. This is such a thorny subject, (feminism) which probably explains why magazines on the subject are so far and few between! And then collaborating that with fashion... perhaps I've created a mountain that will be too high to successfully climb? Grrr, must rid that self-doubt... it's just such a challenge.
    Jordan is a whole subject in herself, but page 3 wouldn't exist without girls being happy- and feeling empowered- by posing topless. I recommend you flick through Female Chauvinistic Pigs by Ariel Levy, it's the book that inspired this whole feminist side of myself! and so this whole crusade I find myself on... it's most definitely thought-provoking! I'll make a point of checking out 'Wetlands'.
    Thanks again, so much, for your comments! You make me analyse what spirals out of my head and onto this page, I appreciate your time.

  5. For some reason I didn't get e-mail notification of your response comment and only just noticed it now... like finding an extra fiver you didn't know you had ;-)

    A synthesis of fashion and feminism is important and must be attempted, just remember the history books record the names of those who tried to climb Everest and failed before Tenzing and Hillary made it, no one remembers the swarms who came after (nothing like encouragement huh? ;-)

    Internet comments wouldn't exist without lonely and obsessive young men being happy - and feeling empowered - by posting them. ;-p

    At the same time I'm very glad if you find what I write interesting or useful, and I appreciate that you take time to reply.

    I got FCP out of the library and I'm 2/3 through it now - in fact I have half of a reaction post that I'm going to put up now and finish in the morning.