“As you know in fashion, one day, you’re in, and the next day, you’re out,” Heidi Klum has ominously told the cast of Project Runway with every new episode.
The reality of being loved one day and hated the next extends far from fashion to nearly everything — we are, after all, a society collectively obsessed with trends and fascinated by the delicate art of staying relevant. And now it would appear as though feminism has joined the unfortunate graveyard of Uggs, landlines and Myspace — decidedly “out”. It simply isn’t “in” to be a feminist anymore, so why bother?
These days, well-intentioned suggestions of equality often follow in the footsteps of the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…”, as if feminism is a disease we want to ensure everyone we don’t have before proceeding. As if feminism and being a feminist is something to be embarrassed about.
Perhaps to some it is, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the privileges feminism has granted us, including our sexual and reproductive rights, which are slowly being taken away by conservative politics while our backs are turned and our mouths are denouncing the very movement that lets us speak so candidly. We have a situation.
“I’m not a feminist,” Lady Gaga declared in 2009. “I hail men, I love men.”
God forbid that loving ourselves ever get in the way of loving men.
I don’t know where the notion began that feminism and loving men are mutually exclusive, nor why the natural choice between choosing equality for yourself or “hailing men” would be the latter. Like many women, I have a boyfriend. Despite popular belief and his mysterious inability to replace empty toilet paper rolls, I do not hate him. I have no desire to exert power over him; I merely want to stand beside him instead of in his shadow where social, economic and political matters are concerned.
This will most likely never happen in my lifetime. I will most likely never walk through an unlit parking lot, or even down the street, with the same confidence in my safety that a man does. I will most likely never not remember what it feels like to be sexually harassed. I will most likely never not feel a unique burden to keep my body looking a certain way. I will most likely never be assured that the reason I am paid less than a co-worker or stop advancing in a career is not due to my sex. I will most likely never have the same stigma-free sexual escapades as a man. I will most likely never not be seen as “too emotional”, when what is really meant is that I am more visually emotional than a man, the “default” from which women as a whole deviate. Also, that movie was really sad and you weren’t there, so you don’t even know. Please.
Despite this, I still have opportunities and privileges that some women in other countries — some women in this country — will also most likely never have. This is why it is important that we recognize the need for universal equality and never stop fighting for it, never stop informing ourselves about what’s happening in the world, never stop learning and never stop teaching. Just because we are more equal than we have been in the past does not mean the battle is over and we can all go home to our overpriced studio apartments. Just because we are mostly comfortable in our day-to-day lives does not mean that everyone enjoys that luxury.
Even femininity in its simplest form is societally looked down upon in favor of its superior counterpart, the almighty masculinity. (Insert curtsey here.) Women today have the opportunity to choose between a more feminine skirt or more masculine pair of pants to wear, whereas men in skirts are widely shunned. While this might seem like a female privilege, it’s more of a testament to the universal acceptance of masculinity. It is more acceptable for women to seem masculine (but not too masculine, so watch your step, Hillary!) than men to seem feminine, because femininity at its core is simply not respected. It’s coveted, glamorized and sexualized — for the ultimate pleasure of men, of course — but not respected. There are very few worse blows to a man than to call him a “bitch”. There are very few worse blows to a man than to be thought of as feminine. There are very few worse things than to be likened to a woman — to be a woman. I know. How rude.
For some women, it seems different. Most of us like being women, whether we prefer pencil skirts or pantsuits, but the strife between wanting to embrace both femininity and feminism seems difficult at times. Questions like “I like wearing make-up, so am I really a feminist?”, “I’m really into fashion, so am I really a feminist?”, “I like to cook for my husband, so am I really a feminist?” or “I want to stay home with my children instead of work, so am I really a feminist?” pop up, and the answer is always yes. The interesting thing to note is that make-up, fashion, cooking and childcare are all traditionally female interests and activities. The reason they are often trivialized — not valued as highly as men’s work or men’s interests — is because, again, masculinity is the ultimate trump card.
Feminism is anything but the rejection of femininity. It is about embracing that femininity and demanding that the world embrace it the way they have embraced masculinity for most of our history. It is about ensuring that women always have both a choice and a voice. It is about not being devalued because we happen to be women.
It’s not a bad thing to be a female, to be feminine or to be a feminist. There are no buts. If as women we don’t believe that, then who will? And frankly, why should they?
Featured image via José Gómez Fresquet, “Lipstick” c. 1970.