This question has been doing a gymnastics class in my mind lately, and finally lead to the conception of SheRa Mag – an in-development online girls magazine, formed by myself and a collective of girls that pledges to engage in female pop culture discourse with an intellectual rigour. Whilst preparing for the launch, I’ve come head to head with this feminine vs. feminism conundrum and become acutely aware of the perceived dichotomy between the two. It seemed that as far as blogging and online journalism platforms were concerned, content fell into two separate camps: an intellectual “feminist” publication would have the (unfair) isolating stigma of hairy underarms and macho rage, or a more “feminine”, “girly” publication would inhabit the rather vacuous world of beauty products and relationship advise.
But where was the platform for the inbetweeners? The girls like me: girly feminists. Ok, well admittedly there are a few online girls mags that have attempted to bridge the gap. Jezebel promises great things but unfortunately only sometimes carries substance beyond it’s gossip chatter. MammaMia, an Australian online women’s publication, demonstrates greater variety and tenacity.
The daughter of a feminist working mother who has a Master’s degree but who also indulges in pedicures and fashion fun, I too confidently challenge misogyny and treasure my copy of Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique like a bible, while all at once dashing into Sephora for my Chanel base or Yves Saint Laurent under-eye stick.
In fact, most of my girlfriends are what I would describe as independent and liberal minded women who can hold their own in a dinner table gender politics debate (and them some!) And yet almost all of them enjoy fashion, facials, boys and champagne.
Can I be a girly-girl and still be a feminist? Some hard core sects of feminism would argue that such girliness undermines feminism’s pursuit; that makeup or pretty clothes are either designed for the male gaze or merely a pathetic and destructive perpetuation of gender archetypes.
Granted, my bra-burning mother used to mourn the death of feminism when watching my girlfriends and I in our teenage years wait desperately by the phone for a boy to call back, or leaving the house like Spring kittens on heat. Now, a few (or more) years matured, I too get saddened by girls my age or younger who seem to define themselves by the man in their life or by their sexual currency or merely by the way they look.
Inhabiting only one side of the fence can indeed be regressive, if not destructive. I’m impressed with Natalie Portman’s take on feminism. When promoting Thor: The Dark World in 2013, she openly criticised Hollywood’s grasp of it. She asserted that feminism in film shouldn’t be about women possessing or demonstrating male or macho qualities. Rather, Portman contends that “just having a range of different ways women can be – whether it’s weak and strong, just being human and being real, and not just being some fantasy of a male writer – is more feminist than ‘she knows how to do kung fu’.”
Australian columnist and author, Elizabeth Farrelly has voiced such hardcore opposition to the “girly” “sewing circle” culture that she has been accused of being a misogynist. In a Sydney Morning Herald column she wrote: “Feminism always had a strategic choice; either to escape the sewing circle or to make it legitimate. I’m with the escape artists. Most of what passes for feminism these days, however, just legitimises girliness.”
While Farrelly would argue that we girly-girls need to man up, I would suggest that the state of girliness is real to a lot of women. And that freedom to express such girliness is an important part of feminism.
My friend and writing partner, AnnaLynne McCord, made a ballsy statement at the premier of her anti sex trafficking short film, I CHOOSE, by declaring: “I’m an anti sex slavery activist and yet I can be sexual. In fact, I can even say “I love sex!” And in a writing session last week, AnnaLynne challenged my hesitation to give one of our female characters a sexually promiscuous storyline. My reason was that the character was “too sophisticated”. Her response was: “You’re sophisticated and you’re sexual. YES SHE CAN.” In that moment I realized how easy it is to buy into gender stereotypes that serve only to limit our understanding of humanity.
I can be a vocal and active feminist AND be feminine.
Yes, above all, feminism is and has historically been a movement to achieve economic, political, social and cultural equality for women. Surely though, the ultimate goal of feminism is that all men and women are free to be and express who they are at all times.