The New Faces of Feminism

The New Faces of FeminismYesterday I put up a post and deleted it a little while later. I feel like I am being pulled in two directions as I look at where feminism appears to be headed, understanding that the new “faces of feminism” might reach some young women, but I also found myself wondering if they’re going to alienate or shut out others.

I read a post from a young woman on the Women’s Media Center site and found myself trying to do two completely different things. I was trying to address the problems I saw in what Adora Svitak believes feminism needs in her article, New Girl(s) Looking for the Allure in Feminism, then, found myself switching back and forth trying to justify why some of what she shared can certainly be a part of feminism.

The process didn’t bring me to a conclusion that felt right for me, so I decided to try again.

Ms. Svitak, a high school student, who calls herself a stereotypical feminist (and it’s a little hard to understand exactly what she means by that given a comment about stereotypes later in the article), says she was influenced by many feminist women, initially describing them as being from the “pantsuit generation,” which, by her choice of words, we assume is not a good thing, but then goes on to say women like Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem are “veritable mother goddesses.”

She says she was inspired by a quote from a documentary on “urgent issues of literal ‘misrepresentation’ of women and girls in the media, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’” but then goes on to say that feminists need to find ways to make themselves as “alluring as Kim Kardashian….” Okay, she did include Lady Gaga, but I couldn’t really get past the reference to Kim. But how urgent is it? Sexualized “misrepresentations” of women in the media have been going on since Betty Boop. And why would someone who is a feminist choose Kim Kardashian as an example?

She also mentions Tavi Gevinson, who she describes as making the journey from fashion to feminism.

I know I’m not the only one who believes that most of what goes on in fashion is the antithesis of feminism. And most of us have heard, “Oooh! Your skirt is soooo cute!” Fashion makes some people feel like “something less than” because 1) we’re not the trend-setter and 2) we couldn’t afford anything like it or the one s/he will wear the next day. I understand that Tavi is doing things that are funky and she’s having fun with it, but there are lots of women who have no interest in fashion, whatsoever.

I happen to be one of them. My surroundings, my clothes and my shoes are irrelevant. They are things that keep me warm and get me from place to place. I don’t care to spend my time looking at pieces of fabric for any longer than needed. I find looking at women with fancy or weird clothes a waste of time. But I also understand it’s a craft and a form of expression that’s enjoyable for some women, and perhaps these women have felt that feminism has not included them.

But then Ms. Svitak shares her “glee” at hearing another young woman, Zooey Deschanel, using “fuck” every other word. The reason Zooey is expressing this level of anger? Her right to wear a “Peter Pan collar even though she is a feminist.”

And even though Ms. Svitak says, “Movements that are effectively catalyzing change and attracting feminist involvement from the young generation feature young, hip, college- and high school-age role models,” (my emphasis). But only one of the women she mentions is in that age group. Zooey is not a high-school student or a hip, college-age student. Neither is Jessica Valenti or Soraya Chemaly. These are leaps of twenty years or so, after she states that teenagers need to have role models “close to them in age.”

But the main point of the article is about style. Ms. Svitak says young women are being trained to seek style. So, it’s not really fashion. It’s something a little different. Her suggestion that feminism needs to “bring sexy back” and young women screaming profanities are just superficial dressings.

That’s okay, we’re told, we just have to view “style” as something women/feminists now have to accept. This as the new normal. Just roll with it. Feminists now need to be smart, stylish women.

This is where I see the problem. Who makes the rules? Who decides what’s “stylish?” It’s no longer about issues. It’s about everyone chasing a new style trend or trying to do something that makes them “the one” and others rushing to follow. Then, when a new style comes along, “they’re old.” And just how fast do styles usually come and go?

I understand the need to try to stand out from the crowd, but I crossed a threshold in my last relationship where I realized that it doesn’t do any good to be that angry, to scream at people who are not going to change if they don’t see a reason for it. Technology is great, but that creates issues for women that may have important ideas, but don’t have the ability to create “flashy graphics” or know how to get them into the soundbites of commercialism.

I think feminism needs to examine the issues more deeply and I think that can be done in a way that will connect with young women. I also understand, there is probably a need for both approaches, but I’m just hoping the loud, stylish one doesn’t overwhelm the other. I shared in Seeking Kindness & Questioning Everything that I feel like I need to maintain my independence and Ms. Svitak’s article helped me define my feelings a little better. I’ll just have to hope that the ideas I’ve knit together from some inspiration, experience and good, old-fashioned hard work will do the job for me and that no one pays too much attention to my shoes.

2 Responses to The New Faces of Feminism

  1. Hey there Ceejae,

    I believe you met me at the PNWA summer writer’s conference last year. I stumbled across a link to your blog on WomenWhoCritique.com just now and came over to read what you’re blogging about.

    As I read this post, I kept asking myself, “Who were my female role models when I was growing up?” My number one role model was my grandmother, who was quite elderly.

    I feel like my own children are far more strongly influenced by women who appear on television. Most of these women resist the natural aging process by one means or another. And I hear my children mocking age like it’s a bad thing. I wish there were more positive role models for girls who were in their 60s and over because with age comes wisdom.

    It was my grandmother’s wisdom that I admired so much.

    How wise are people on television these days? Not so wise, I think. They don’t even know how to feel confident about their own grey hair and crows’ feet.

  2. Chelly,

    Nice to hear from you! My role model for my life was also an older woman, my great aunt. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’m reacting to this young woman.

    But if she was inspired by older women why does she feel compelled to discount all of the women “over forty” through her term, “pantsuit generation?” Because that’s what she thinks is expected.

    And that’s where a lot of our problems come from. Sadly, I think our culture benefits from keeping people disconnected. I appreciate the supportive comments. I will give it some more thought.

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