I have always been a committed feminist.
From the moment I could think seriously about these things, I was disturbed by how women were represented, frustrated with how being a girl affected people’s perception of my abilities, and annoyed by the lazy assumptions that no one seemed to question about gender.
Perhaps it was the headmaster of a local school saying, “And a special well done to the girls competing in this maths tournament.” Or how half the women I saw in the media seemed to be naked for reasons no one could adequately explain. (Did they lose their top in high winds before wandering onto a film set? It’s a true mystery.) Maybe it was teenage boys advising their female peers that they should probably get in the kitchen and make them a sandwich. Whatever it was, the imbalance between the way women and men were seen and treated seemed clear early in life.
However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly alienated from a certain type of feminism—one that isn’t feminism at all, but a strange parody of itself that’s conveniently used to maintain the status quo. It’s a feminism with a very limited view of what constitutes equality and success. Its priority appears to be young, attractive, and rich women. Furthermore, it’s been fully embraced by marketing in order to sell us stuff under the guise of “empowerment.”
With this, there are some emerging keystones of this commercial faux-feminism that, honestly, I think we can afford to ignore. For example:
You have to be a #GirlBoss
Celebrating women who’ve become leaders in business is no bad thing. It is an undeniably amazing achievement considering that only 50-odd years ago, employers thought it was completely reasonable to pay women less than their male colleagues for the same job. Even now, women only hold 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles (which should be a comfort to those guys worried that women are taking over the world).
However, corporate and financial success is by no means the only way to measure feminist achievement. Not everyone has to be a leader, and in a world where lots of corporate interests are highly destructive, women don’t necessarily have to participate in this system in order to make their mark. If the idea of being a #GirlBoss leaves you cold, and this ruthless, bossy, traditionally “masculine” world isn’t somewhere you want to compete, that isn’t some kind of feminine weakness; it’s a valid human choice.
Backward and in High Heels
When it was observed that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backward and in high heels, it highlighted how women’s achievements and talents go unrecognised while men’s are lauded. Kind of like how people think it’s impressive that Trump’s a (maybe) good businessmen, while completely overlooking the saint-like patience that Melania exhibits every day in putting up with him. Yet a few decades down the line, it feels like this sentiment has warped into a different idea—that in order to be truly successful, women need to work twice as hard and look fabulous at all times.
Like Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in “Jurassic World” running away from dinosaurs while never removing her heels (because it’s important to have taut calves while fleeing from monsters), or the kick-ass female characters who never visibly age even if their story covers 20 years, the message is: you can be a powerful, independent woman as long as you look good doing it. To be scruffy or unfashionable—a sign of a maverick personality in men—is to be Bridget-Jones-esque in uselessness and unreliability.
Profits would crash in the cosmetic and fashion industries if women got used to the idea that they only really need to put in about as much effort to their appearance as men do. The marketing myth of a modern woman who runs her home and career while being forever young and beautiful has cynically enveloped the idea of empowerment, as if impractical shoes and expensive make-up are in fact accessories to our ongoing liberation.
Men are Overgrown Kids who need Managing
There’s a weird phenomenon in advertising that places women as organised, sensible, capable grown-ups, while men are a bunch of silly kids who can’t be trusted to pair up socks or hoover because they’d just spill beer everywhere and the house would explode.
I think it was meant to be flattering, but it does neither side any favours. In this cliche, women get told we are actually the superior ones—which is nice, if a bit patronising. But, we also end up doing all the work while men get to sit about relaxing because their hands are too manly and strong for delicate tasks such as the washing up.
Basically, thinking we have to do everything because we are simply better at it leaves us sorting out the laundry while they have all the fun, which seems like a bit of a bum deal to me.
You should Blindly Support other Women
In the last United States election, I was disappointed by the sexist rhetoric surrounding criticism of Clinton, and horrified that Trump eventually won. However, I was also pretty unimpressed by the sly insinuation that women should have to support Clinton because of loyalty to the sisterhood. No one was telling men to vote for Trump because he’s one of the lads, so how come, for us, it had to be so reductive?
Gloria Steinem (who is often wonderful and has since apologised) even went so far as to say that young women preferred Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders because they were attracted to his male supporters. You can say “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women” as much as you like; sometimes we just don’t agree with each other. Sometimes we think the way certain women think or behave isn’t something we want to get on board with.
We seem to have gotten to a weird moment in history where women in the limelight can’t even sneeze without someone writing a think piece about why this is a step forward in feminist history. Unless, of course, they fall out of favour, when everything they do will suddenly be regressive and evil; just look at Taylor Swift. Women have to deal with so much misogyny and negativity that I can completely understand the impulse to defend and pedestal other women where we can—but asking for blind support is probably one step too far.
Like most ideologies, there are no real rules to feminism (which is probably why we end up arguing with each other all the time).
All we can do is find what resonates with the way we see the world, and try our best to live to those principles. You may completely disagree with me, and that’s fine. The important part of feminism is believing in and fighting for equality between men and women—and it’s this belief that will drive us forward.