Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why I No Longer Call Myself a Feminst: Part Two

The War on Peter-Pan-Collar Feminists

I was still calling myself a feminist earlier this year when February's issue of Glamour, featuring Zooey Deschanel, came out. I don't typically buy beauty magazines, but I had read quite a few internet commentaries on Deschanel's interview so I decided I had to read the whole thing for myself. Plus, I'm not gonna lie, I love Zooey. I love her style, I love her quirks, I love her dorkiness and I don't see why the fact that she's pretty should somehow invalidate her dork factor. 

In the issue, Zooey responds to feminist critics of her 'adorkability' by saying, "I'm just being myself. there is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can't be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f--king feminist and wear a f--king Peter Pan collar. So f--king what?"

My style is very similar to Zooey's (yeah, I'm pretending we're on a first name basis), but I've never thought of it as 'girly' as in 'little girl'. 'Girly' as in 'feminine', sure, but for me it's really more about my love for vintage styles. Yes, there was a time when grown women wore colourful dresses with full skirts. And yes, those women mostly didn't work; they just idled away their time doing frivolous things like raising children. I get that feminists back then had to fight to be taken seriously, and a big part of it was in the way they dressed. Since women stopped dressing the way they did in the fifties, floral dresses have come to be associated with little girls but that doesn't mean they are inherently juvenile. Now, if I worked in an office of course I would dress differently for work (just as men are expected to), but I don't work in an office, so I'll wear whatever I want. 

According to Irin Carmon of Jezebel, however, I only dress like this because I'm "in it for the peen"; I'm afraid of reminding a guy of a teacher or his mother, so instead I'm "going for the pubeless, twee, Anime-eyed version of whatever dream girl [I] assume they want or need."

Only I thought it was common knowledge that women more commonly dress to impress other women than men. I know my husband doesn't really have a clue what dresses would be considered little girly or fifties housewifish, and while my primary reason for wearing them is that I love them, a secondary benefit is all of the women who tell me how cute they are. My favourite part of Carmon's post has to be where she assumes that women who like pretty things have never read a book written before they were born. Nice feminism there.

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon, while ultimately concluding that feminism "wears a tiara if it wants to", believes that "it's fair to say that we live in a culture in which adult women are encouraged to be sweet, safe and childlike", but from my perspective I would never have thought that at all. As someone who probably is sweet, safe and maybe occasionally childlike just by nature, I definitely feel that there is more pressure to be sexy, assertive, and possessive of more stereotypically masculine traits. Is it not possible that everyone, male and female alike, feels the pressures to be that which they are not? Critics are always louder than cheerleaders, even if only in our own heads. So if Williams thinks that people want her to be sweeter, and I think that people want me to be sexier, isn't the most logical conclusion that everyone is different and wants people to be different things? The best of us, of course, don't expect others to be a certain way at all, but those who do aren't all looking for the same thing.

The feminist critiques of Zooey came amid complaints of famous women denouncing feminism: Katy Perry, Marissa Mayer, Taylor Swift (but they don't really want her anyway), and with those complaints come the inevitable, "you really should look up the definition of feminist" remarks. (Hi Katy Perry! At its most simple definition, all feminism means is that you think that women should be equal to men, okay? Cool, thanks, byyyyye!)

So someone who doesn't want to be called a feminist is told that they really are whether they think so or not, while someone who proudly proclaims her feminism is critiqued for not doing feminism right. This would suggest that the definition of feminism is far more complicated than many feminists would have us believe, and it should be.

Historically, feminism has always been a movement. From the suffragettes to the bra-burners to the reproductive rights activists, at any time in history there are specific focuses of feminism. I didn't decide to abandon the feminist label because I thought I wasn't allowed to be a feminist and wear pretty dresses, but I was definitely starting to question what feminism really means at this point in history. 

For a while, at least, I was happy to be a feminist in a f--king peter-pan collar.

To be continued...

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