Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Failing the feminism test?

Now, I consider myself a feminist inasmuch as I believe that men and women deserve equal rights, respect and legal protection (not to mention paypackets for doing the same job).

But I still want to look good from time to time. One day, I'd like to lose a few pounds, get a hairstyle that actually works and learn to dress to suit my shape. Being an ugly duck teenager didn't really do me any favours. I'd quite like to be a swan now, please.

But am I undermining my feminist values in the pursuit of a more conventionally attractive me?

Well, browsing through the daily papers this morning, I came across this....

'You can be beautiful and still be a feminist'

Here's an extract:

Jill Berry, president of the Girls' School Association, which represents nearly 200 independent schools, told its annual conference in Harrogate: "Girls can be highly intelligent and interested in being seen to be attractive – the two aren't mutually exclusive. Caring about physical appearance and fashion and wanting to feel good about how you look doesn't have to be a betrayal of some feminist ideal. I love new shoes but it doesn't make me shallow. Girls can have fun and be taken seriously at the same time."

My first response was, "Well, duh!". But this does highlight an important issue for me. In my experience, female friends will espouse exactly the same views that I feel define me as a feminist, but preface them with 'I'm not a feminist but...', as if being a feminist is THE most unattractive trait possible in a woman. How can we challenge that myth of hairy, unwashed, (manly?) feminism without being accused of selling-out? (I realise there are many male feminists too, and that they're probably perfectly happy to be manly...this is really about the female face of feminism).

I am not solely defined by my looks, nor should anyone be. But I do have a body of which I am not entirely ashamed. A body I would like to improve, for fitness as well as appearance. The way I physically appear is one way I present myself to the world and, feminist or not, I want that world to view me favourably. This is partly from insecurity, no doubt, and the desire to 'measure up' to societal norms.

But there can be a more positive side to this - about owning my physical presence as much as my spiritual and intellectual presence. About being comfortable in my own skin and honouring what God's given me by looking after it.

This shouldn't be an excuse for self-obsessive preening, for damaging and unachievable goal-setting, for judging people solely on appearance. And no one should EVER be made to feel that they are not good enough because of the way they look. Thin should not be king. Self respect, confidence and an ease with who and what you are is the goal.

Ummm.... did I just fail my GCSE in feminism?



Anonymous said...

Of course it is possible to be a feminist and to want to look good...but an important part of feminism IMO is to question beauty standards - why X is considered looking good and Y isn't. I mean, why is hairiness considered disgusting on women? Why are muscles on women often regarded as unattractive? Why are women expected to cover their faces in make-up but men aren't?

Where 'I'm not a feminist but' people are concerned, to be honest I'm not particularly interested in encouraging anyone to describe themselves as a feminist if they will only do so when convinced that there are no hairy, ugly women in the movement!

I hope you are having a great Christmas btw, and you are a swan by anyone's standards.

Alice M L

Anna D said...

Thanks Alice! Had a great, but lazy (and slightly poorly) christmas. Looking forward to catching up in the new year xxx