Jess McCabe // 21 December 2008
I spoke to the journalist for over half an hour, and made it clear that I support the protests against the series of beauty pagaents taking place at various universities, but I think that’s doesn’t come through at all from the way I’m quoted in this piece.
I’m not misquoted, I stand behind what I said, but I also fundamentally disagree with Gemma Soames’ argument.
Soames argues there is a ‘new feminism’ – but also that the protests against the university beauty contests are somehow not a part of it.
You could be forgiven, reading the headlines and opinion columns of recent weeks, for thinking that you had woken up in 1978. At protests greeting the recent Miss University London beauty pageants, there were screams of moral outrage, pickets at the entrances to nightclubs and yells of “Objectification” ringing out across pavements, as angry young women in duffel coats protested at cute young women in ball gowns. On the one hand, it was cheering to see that feminist activism had not died, but on the other, it might have struck you as looking a bit, well, retro.
I know this piece is in the “life and style” section of the newspaper, but dismissing political activists on the basis of what they’re wearing (duffle coats) and that, to you, they look a bit “retro” is beyond silly. At the end of this article, you’ll also find a guide to “new feminist” outfits:
Lipstick, heels,1950s dresses — think Dita Von Teese meets the Bloomsbury set — or girlie grunge (look to Courtney Love circa 1990)
Haha. It’s actually so silly I’m not sure what to say.
She then goes on to quote only feminists who disagree with the protests (apart from me, obviously, but then again she’s chosen not to quote me actually *saying* I agree with the protests). Which is, perhaps, why you could come away from reading this article with the mistaken impression that the protests against the beauty pagaents are about women wearing dresses and heels.
For Marie Berry, 27, who started up her own feminist magazine, KnockBack, three years ago, it certainly didn’t advertise a brand of feminism she identifies with. “I thought the protesters looked a bit silly, a bit like a stereotypical idea of what a feminist should be. The slogan was ‘SOAS is for education, not for your ejaculation’, but I don’t think it’s a gender issue. This competition wasn’t about men. It’s for girls.”
A beauty pageant might not be your average woman’s idea of fun, but these contestants were all girls enlisted at top-notch universities, and who all had chosen to be there. Targets ripe for feminist outrage? Not according to the American feminist Katie Roiphe. “I think the proper reaction to a beauty pageant these days is to be bored by it. I would have thought that old version of feminism, which was violently opposed to lipstick and high heels, had died out by now. It’s an extinct image of feminism — that you can’t be both frivolous and serious or care about clothes and read books at the same time. And, in a way, it’s sort of depressing that these same old-fashioned battles keep on being recycled.”
Take heart, sisters, for there is a new breed of feminist out there that is reinventing the ideology. Subscribing to the original feminist theories of equality (equal pay, equal rights and the importance of a right to choose), they pick the fights that mean something to them, ignoring the elements of feminist politics they find irrelevant. For Berry, whose zine is billed as the anti-women’s mags women’s mag (cover lines include ‘The magazine for women who aren’t silly bitches on a diet’), that fight is about how women are represented in the media. “KnockBack started as a spoof women’s magazine,” she says. “We despise Cosmo and Heat. They broadcast a fascination with getting boyfriends, getting married, make-up, appearance and gossip that appeal to the least desirable parts of our emotional spectrum — jealously, gossip and being mean. And that’s not what we care about. Being a girl isn’t like that for us.”
Though that doesn’t mean they can’t take an interest: “As a woman, you can’t not buy shoes and wear dresses. Plus all of that stuff is fun — it doesn’t take away from your power as a woman.”
Obviously, feminism is a spectrum not a single-minded ideology, so you are going to find some feminists who disagree. And that’s not a “new” thing, either. But that’s just part of what feminism is about – it’s not OK to choose some women from one side of this debate, declare them the ascendent feminists and leave it at that.
I think she’s totally misrepresenting the current situation. If anything, it’s clear that the most high-profile activism this year have been boring old protests, about boring old issues such as violence against women, campaigns around objectification, and, of course, in response to the attempts to cut the time limit on abortion.