Thursday, July 10, 2003

The attack of the superior feminist

I read an article the other day in the San Francisco Chronicle that made my blood boil. Not as much as reading how "men are more victimized by mail-order brides than the brides themselves are," but still, I was more than a little peeved. It all started when I read Joan Ryan's column, The attack of the girly-girls.

I HAVE BEEN WORRIED lately about the possibility that today's young women are not taking themselves seriously enough. I base this on extensive, first-hand examinations of People magazine and more than a few episodes of "Entertainment Tonight."
Well, that's always a good source of information on real society there, I tell ya.
My generation of feminists knew how to be taken seriously. Personally, I wore suits that, absent the low, round-toed pumps, put some people in mind of Richard Nixon's little brother, which was precisely the look I was going for. I was not real keen on giving folks at the office any reason to speculate that I had been born, totally by a fluke of nature, with an X chromosome.

But today's young women? They want to be, I am horrified to report, girly- girls. It is not that they want to be Barbie exactly. They just want her clothes and cute accessories, and maybe her Malibu beach house.
First, are we really supposed to take this seriously when she is comparing feminists from the 70s to movie stars in the 00s? Wouldn't a much fairer comparison be movie stars to movie stars and feminists to feminists? I mean, sure, there are many feminists around who choose to dress more "girly" -- but that's a far cry from the women in People and on Entertainment Tonight. And, for the record, I don't know what sort of isolated island she was living on in the 70s, but not all feminists (let alone women -- and movie stars) dressed as she described.

Now, one might argue that she's not talking about today's "feminists" -- but rather just today's "young women." But if that's truely the case, why bother using the line, "My generation of feminists..."?
Reese Witherspoon is the head cheerleader of the modern Barbie movement. In "Legally Blonde 2," her character, Elle Woods, is Jackie Kennedy in a cotton- candy cloud. She is a Harvard law school grad, but she is pink, pink, pink, changing outfits more than 40 times in less than two hours. She has matching shoes, purses and pillbox hats -- even white gloves. She carries her little dog in a $275 Tylie Malibu bag.

"Down With Love," the send-up of the old Doris Day- Rock Hudson movies, goes even further, dressing Renee Zellwegger in the shiniest, poufiest, most extravagant clothes this side of Carrie Bradshaw's New York closet.

In movies geared to young women, clothes and accessories have become characters themselves, the female equivalent of the cars, weaponry and special effects that attract young men to the theater. Even when women are super- heroes, as in "Charlie's Angels," they are still girly-girls. Each angel had approximately 50 outfits (collectively using, I'm guessing, about three yards of fabric).
And this is what she's basing her opinion of today's feminists on? Should we then base our opinions of 70s feminists on Charlie's Angels (the TV show). Or how about Chrissy (or any of the other blondes) on Three's Company. Or Blaire on Facts of Life? What about the "Bond Girls"?
OK, the girly-girl women kick everybody's butts and always get what they want in the end. But what kind of cockamamie message are they sending? That strong, confident women who are not intimidated by anyone or anything can choose to look however they like -- even feminine and sexy -- while going about their business? There is something seriously wrong with putting such thoughts in the minds of impressionable young girls, and believe me, as soon as I figure out what it is, I am going to fire off a letter to the movie production companies.
You know, I'm sure not a huge fan of the way a lot of women dress in movies, on TV, or even in the music industry, either. But I sure don't think there's anything wrong with a woman who chooses to dress "girly" or even "sexy" so long as she is strong and confident and not completely succumbing to the passive-femme stereotypical ideal of "women." And is pushing women to subscribe to a certain kind of look -- in her case, like "Nixon" -- any better simply because it's not "feminine"?
Some say that what my generation called freedom was, in many ways, just another narrow image of what women were supposed to look like. Maybe they're right.
Ya think?

Girls today are so much more confident and worldly than we ever were. So when a 13-year-old girl was talking to me the other day about dying to visit a particular museum in Dallas, I was beginning to feel less worried about her generation. Buoyed by her intellectual curiosity, I asked what interested her about this museum.

"Oh," she gushed, "it has an exact replica of Coco Chanel's bedroom!"
Well, there ya go -- the future of feminism is dead because of what this one 13-year-old girl said.

Now, as I said, I'm not saying that the movies provide great ideals for feminists to live up to (although, at least Elle Woods is a successful Harvard Law graduate, and not some slasher bait from the 70's). And I'm not saying that women should dress feminine. I'm simply saying that wearing a flip skirt with flowers on it is not the signal of the end of feminism.

But this brings up another issue for me -- a lot bigger issue, in my opinion. In fact, it's so big of an issue for me that I'm writing my masters thesis on it. You see, this sort of article is precisely why there is so much devisiveness between many 2nd and 3rd wavers. Here you have a 2nd waver loudly proclaiming how much better things were in her day, how they did everything right, and how the next generation is messing everything up. But, to make matters worse, she seems to have some sort of selective memory of "her day" and a selective perception of what today's young feminists are doing (and wearing). I'm not going to claim that 3rd wavers never play into the devisive games, but often, it is this sort of thing that sets the 3rd wavers off. We're sick of being dismissed, being told that we're wrong based on some selective memory of what used to be, not to mention the fact that we're sick of being castigated based on faulty comparisons like this.

UPDATE: Elouise over at weezBlog expanded a bit on my post, and had some really great things to say.

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