Feminists can wear lipstick

Submitted by Editor on Tue, 07/09/2004 - 20:37

Fluffy Feminism: Reinstating the "Feminist Stereotype" As we enter the 21st Century, many have suggested that feminism is no longer necessary or even has "gone too far." Yet we live in a world where women are still paid less than men, where the top positions in the legal, medical, literary professions, and even the top schools are all male dominated. Misogyny is permeated into our culture: Ali G asks if women should be allowed to sit on the jury "when they have the painters in," thousands of women consider the scatty, ignorant ("someone who thinks Rimbaud was played by Sylvester Stallone"), calorie-counting Bridget Jones their ideal role model. There is no doubt that there is a need for the feminist movement - feminism is necessary, it is just no longer fashionable.

21st Century women and men are recoiling from the feminist movement. Feminism, no longer a new concept, has become outdated and unfashionable. Worse, it is now associated with our parents' generation of the 60s and 70s. Generation X has given into the adolescent instinct to rebel against its parents - what better way to shock or annoy our parents than by rejecting the rights they fought for? The trend for rejecting feminism is also a result of the concept of the "New Lad". The New Lad replaced the New Man (a sensitive, caring, essentially feminine creation of the 1970s) early in the 1990s as the male role model. The New Lad was born out of the growing popularity of football, Men Behaving Badly and F.H.M. magazine, and is not sensitive, but sexist. The instant success of Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and High Fidelity encouraged men not to recognise their faults, but to revel in them. Women, also, were becoming sick of the New Man, whom they began to consider far too sensitive and weedy: Anna in the hugely popular television series, This Life, criticised Egg for being too much of a "SNAG" (Sensitive, New Age Guy). Women welcomed the stronger, less sensitive New Lad, but in doing so also welcomed misogyny, consequently rejecting the concepts of equal pay and equal rights. A third way in feminism is needed, a third way not associated with our parents or Germaine Greer, if only to make feminism "trendy" again, and regain the lost support of the masses.

The third way in feminism is a 21st Century feminism - a "Fluffy Feminism". This aims to overthrow certain ideals voiced by the radical feminists of the 60s and 70s. These feminists - women like Germaine Greer, Kate Millet and Eva Figes - put forward such controversial theories as "Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice" (Ti-Grace Atkinson), "All sex is rape" (Andrea Uworkin) and the frightening future envisaged by Shulahmith Firestone, where reproduction is solely carried out in laboratories. The most popular radical feminist manifesto was Germaine Greer's best-selling The Female Eunuch, published in 1970, containing material fundamentally opposed to 21st Century feminism. The sections most Fluffy Feminists would take issue with are those concerning female appearance, with its implied "dress code" for feminist women. Greer tells us that hair-removal is symptomatic of "women's distaste for their own bodies", that women should refuse "to wear undergarments which perpetrate the fantasy of pneumatic boobs" and free themselves from "the domination of foam and wire". She spends a chapter denouncing "the female stereotype": "The stereotype is . . . supplied with cosmetics, underwear, foundation, garments, stockings, . . . hairdressing, . . . jewels and fur." Then, "I'm sick of being a transvestite," and "I'm sick of weighting my hair with a dead mane." She bemoans "feminine women who submit to sex without desire".

What is fundamentally wrong with the arguments of radical feminists is that they expect women to suppress natural desires. Ti-Grace Atkinson, Andrea Dworkin and Shulahmith Firestone expected a feminist to give up all sexual relationships with men - to have sex with women and reproduce by test-tube. This is obviously ridiculous: lesbianism and test-tube babies are perfectly acceptable - for those who choose them, but the idea of forcing them on all women is ludicrous and immoral. Women are sexual beings, and most of them have a natural desire to have sex with men. To say that "All sex is rape" implies that women derive no enjoyment from sex with a man - simply untrue. Greer does not tell women to give up relationships with men, but does expect them to make themselves less attractive to men, by not shaving their legs or wearing bras. As women naturally want sexual relationships with men, Greer's supposed freeing of women from "the domination of foam and wire" is forcing them to go against their natural instincts.

There is a natural desire, in some women, to dress up, wear make-up and jewelry, and have long hair - to conform to the feminine stereotype. Many women - though by no means all - do harbour a desire to have long hair, and adorn themselves with jewellry. This desire is not wrong, nor is it exclusively female: Eddie lzzard and Ru Paul have not yet been berated for conforming to misogynist stereotypes of beauty. Greer moans that she is "sick of being a transvestite . . . sick of weighting my hair with a dead mane." Greer may be sick of it, but that does not mean all women are. 21st Century feminists would agree that "the feminine stereotype" should not be "the definition of the female sex", as Germaine Greer points out in The Female Eunuch. The third way in feminism does not encourage women to conform to "the feminine stereotype", it simply acknowledges that some women (and, indeed, some men) want to, and by trying to stop them we are restricting their freedom. Feminism should have no "dress code". As sexual beings, women naturally want to be attractive to men - in the same way as men want to be attractive to women. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, unless you subscribe to Atkinson's view that "lesbianism is the practice." By imposing this "code" on women, telling them what they are and are not allowed to wear, who they can and can't sleep with, radical feminists are suppressing natural instincts in women. It is no wonder they reject feminism altogether.

21st Century feminism celebrates the differences between men and women, where radical feminism denies them. It undermines the feminist cause to pretend these differences do not exist, when they so obviously do: men have larger muscles and larger brains; women tend to be more emotional and more creative, men more aggressive and more competitive; the desire to wear jewellery and make-up and have long hair is, while unisex, more prevalent in women that in men. What Fluffy Feminism argues is that while these differences certainly exist, they are, nevertheless, no excuse for the discrimination that occurs because of them: larger muscles are not in any way an advantage in most of the careers that women are still discriminated against in, and, anyway, women have larger brains in comparison to their bodies. The differences in attitude are generalisations: it would be as inaccurate to call every single woman emotional as it would be to call every man aggressive. The problem with radical feminism was that it tried to make women become men - become masculine in their appearance (with short hair, no bras, etc.), even have sexual relationships with women. They have a point: in order to get the equal treatment that we deserve, it might be easier for us to lengthen our skirts, take off our make-up, jewellery and high heels and turn ourselves into men. By doing so we would probably seem less threatening to the opposite sex - Jill Barad, a lone women in the essentially male world of executives, very perceptively said, "I think it can be a tough thing for a man to lose to a woman." The more masculine we appear, the less intimidating to men we are, and the easier it would be for us to dominate a man's world. But conforming to how men want us to be, rather than how we want to be, is inherently against any branch of the feminist movement. We have enough men. We don't need cheap imitations, we need women with qualities that are essentially female (for example, high achieving - girls still gain better GCSE and A Level results than boys, and creativity). Women are not incapable of doing the same jobs as men: smaller muscles, long hair and creativity will not hinder us in law or medical practices, where women are still discriminated against. But women are not men, nor would they want to be.

The best and most inspiring example of a Fluffy Feminist is Jill Barad, the former chief executive of Mattel. She took on the company as it was facing bankruptcy in 1983, and five years later its shares quadrupled in value. Now, three Barbies are sold every second, ninety-nine percent of American girls own at least one Barbie doll (the average girl owns eight), and Mrs. Barad is one of the most powerful women in America. Mrs. Barad is inspirational not just because of her success, but also because of her accompanying philosophy: "We never gave up on our femininity. We didn't become "little men". I don't care to be on an equal footing with men." She epitomised the feminine stereotype, said to be synonymous with Barbie. She is famed for her beauty queen hair styles, pink flannel suits, and stiletto heels for dancing during financial presentations. She arrives at Mattel wearing a purple miniskirt and cowboy boots, and has a collection of 52 Barbies.

During her reign as one of the most powerful women in America, she advanced the cause of feminism by changing the image of the once misogynist Barbie, inventing Doctor Barbie, Dentist Barbie and - of course - Executive Barbie. She is the perfect role-model for Fluffy Feminists - a woman taking on a male dominated world and succeeding. She proves to radical feminists that it is possible to be successful and, at the same time, conform to female stereotypes, and have relationships with men. The words of wisdom that she relates when lecturing audiences of schoolgirls are a lesson to us all. Showing them her mother's bumble bee pin she says. "She told me, 'Aerodynamically, bees shouldn't be able to fly,' but they do. And I can say that for you girls anything is possible."

The Third Way in feminism is then a sort of Fluffy Feminism - a feminist movement where women have the freedom to dress like Barbie if they want, remove what body hair they wish, grow their hair, and wear bras and short skirts. Fluffy Feminism reinstates "the feminine stereotype"; it does not force women to conform to this stereotype, but does not berate women who wish to. 21st Century feminism recognises differences between the sexes, but still acknowledges that women are of equal worth and deserve equal treatment with men. Feminism is not outdated: the minor details surrounding the radical feminists' arguments may be, but the belief that women and men are of equal worth should never go out of fashion. Feminism is no longer about hairy legs, lesbianism and test-tube babies, it is about the belief that women deserve the same opportunities and the same rights as men. It is the slogan for the new Barbie advertising campaign that best sums up how Fluffy Feminism views women's position in society: "Be anything."

Kate Murray-Browne (AAH)

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