But is it feminist?
Laura // 15 September 2008
I’m becoming little tired of the above question, this idea that being a feminist involves slapping pro- and anti- feminist labels on every little aspect of our lives. I can’t quite pin down exactly where this idea has come from, but my finger is waving in the general direction of middle class Guardian reading types such as myself who have the privilege of being able to worry about the politics of bra-wearing because we don’t have to work our arses off just to put food on the table or care for our (non-existent) kids.
Lipstick. Heels. Blow jobs. Sex and the bloody City. All have been subject at more than one point to endless hand wringing and, even worse, gleeful G&T fuelled proclamations of guilty pleasure. Let’s get some fucking perspective.
While these apparent hotbeds of controversy are of course worthy of critique, and indeed should be critiqued, the aim of feminism is not to proscribe a One True Feminist lifestyle and personality identikit to the myriad of different women in the world. The significance of any given thing is entirely subjective: lipstick means different things to different women, ranging from oppressive to entirely mundane to liberating, and it is ludicrous to try and categorise it as anything other than a stick of colour intended to be applied to the lips. We can talk about the ways in which the beauty industry affects women’s lives in these different ways, and then go about dealing with the problems this discussion brings up, but attempting to slap an “Anti-Feminist” label on a L’Oreal Colour Riche Deep Red achieves absolutely nothing. Every live long day, women are accused of asking for rape because of their appearance: this is what we need to address, not whether wearing lipstick is Feminist or not.
Feminism isn’t supposed to be an elite club of women who “get it”. Arguing about whether someone’s personal choice, and indeed your own personal choice, is “Feminist” or not – regardless of whether that choice was made in x y or z social context – is no better than a Heat writer poking fun at some random celebrity’s cellulite, and infinitely more alienating. What matters is a dedication to achieving women’s liberation and effecting social change, on whatever level that individual is able to do so and feels comfortable with, not whether or not they like waxing their pubes or watching Friends.
And banging on about how naughty you are because you like watching Friends or waxing your pubes doesn’t help either. It still buys into the idea that feminists should be categorising every little bit of their lives according to some media-warped feminist-lite understanding of the phrase “the personal is political” rather than working to effect women’s freedom. Not only that, but it belittles those who do make what may be for them important decisions to engage or not engage in a certain practice or cultural phenomenon.
I don’t give a shit if Sex and the City is “Feminist” or not. I like that it has four female leads, and that it helped some women be more open about their sexual desires, but I hate the consumerist and beauty ideals it subscribes to. These issues matter in the real world, and they are issues I want to address. Whether or not SATC is Feminist, whether or not my watching it makes me a “good” or “bad” feminist is completely irrelevant.
Women are suffering from poverty, violence, abuse and oppression the world over, and some of us feel we have to worry about being chucked out of the meeting for wearing a Wonderbra? Now that ain’t Feminist.