you got real big brains, but I’m looking at your…

March 6, 2007

This is why I like to live in feminist blogland.

Jill at Feministe has a great post up about pop culture’s watered-down and totally distorted understanding of feminism. Apparently the Pussycat Dolls are the next wave of feminism. What’s this? Another case of female empowerment, ah yes. Nice ass, by the way.

Third-wave feminists have enough trouble trying to explain that “sex-positive” doesn’t always mean “totally ok with all pornography and traditional female subjugation.” The backlash is in full swing, and part of it involves using feminism to suit your own, non-feminist aims: Selling sexist shit as “empowerful,” fear-mongering about Femi-Nazis, arguing that feminism created the mainstreaming of pornography, or deciding that a woman is a real feminist if she embraces every requirement of traditional femininity.

This is the nuance I was going for in that femininity post. This also explains why Intentional Feminist Femininity (the femme thing, you know what I’m talking about) is one of the hardest things to explain to a non- or pre-feminist or to a *gasp* second-wave egalitarian feminist. Because femininity is still so steeped in patriarchy and because pop culture got the ridiculous idea somewhere (from many brands of egalitarian feminism, perhaps?) that choice trumps all. As if free choice is somehow exempt from the rest of our lives as women and came into existence completely independent of this patriarchal culture.

This discussion is a vicious cycle, natch, and if you know me at all you know I’m no nihilist. I understand that my own relationship with femininity is love-hate – I know that it has some pretty dreadful roots and is fairy steeped in all things patriarchal. I also know that I don’t believe that “free choice” actually exists anywhere in our lives. I dare you to name a decision in our lives that isn’t somehow affected by our gender (a key one to mention here), community and family standards, financial situation, race, sexual orientation, what high school you went to, etc. Jill continues on this point.

Younger women may have more choices today than ever before, but we still don’t have a full array. Younger women are presented with an image of male-defined “sexiness” as the best way for them to be attractive, fun and desirable. Dancing on the bar or flashing their breasts secures them the positive attention that they probably wouldn’t get from being the smartest girl in class. It’s the new way to prove that you’re “fun” and “independent” if you’re “doing it for me.” And while men are fully permitted to be both sexual and serious, and otherwise possessive of complex identities, women who seek male attention are pushed into the sexbot role.

We can understand “free choice” to be the messiah of feminism, in that we work towards this theoretical utopia with the understanding that we will likely not experience it in our lifetimes. Which, to me, isn’t so much depressing as it is realistic and should rid us of the “weight of the world on our shoulders” thing that feminists often experience. At this point in time, men still have many more choices about who they are and what their lives can and should mean. In other words, the Pussycat Dolls are welcome to call it sexy and fun and girl power, whatever. Just don’t call it feminism. Please.

P.S. The title of this post if from the Pussycat Doll’s Beep (a song about feminist empowerment if I ever knew one. Ha.)


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