Feminism: It's all about me! Time Magazine 1998
What a comedown for the movement. If women were able to make their case in the '60s and '70s, it was largely because, as the slogan went, they turned the personal into the political. They used their daily experience as the basis for a critique, often a scholarly one, of larger institutions and social arrangements. From Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex to Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique to Kate Millett's Sexual Politics--a doctoral dissertation that became a national best seller--feminists made big, unambiguous demands of the world. They sought absolute equal rights and opportunities for women, a constitutional amendment to make it so, a chance to be compensated equally and to share the task of raising a family. But if feminism of the '60s and '70s was steeped in research and obsessed with social change, feminism today is wed to the culture of celebrity and self-obsession.
...much of feminism has devolved into the silly. And it has powerful support for this: a popular culture insistent on offering images of grown single women as frazzled, self-absorbed girls. Ally McBeal is the most popular female character on television. The show, for the few who may have missed it, focuses on a ditsy 28-year-old Ivy League Boston litigator who never seems in need of the body-concealing clothing that Northeastern weather often requires. Ally spends much of her time fantasizing about her ex-boyfriend, who is married and in the next office, and manages to work references to her mangled love life into nearly every summation she delivers. She has fits in supermarkets because there are too few cans of Pringles. She answers the question "Why are your problems so much bigger than everyone else's?" with the earnest response "Because they're mine." When Ally gets any work done, how she keeps her job, why she thinks it's O.K. to ask her secretary why she didn't give her a birthday present--these are all mysteries. Ally probably wouldn't seem so offensive as an addition to the cast of Seinfeld, but because this is a one-hour drama filled with pseudo-Melissa Etheridge music and emotional pretense, we are meant to take her problems more seriously than George Costanza's. "Ally McBeal is a mess. She's like a little animal," notes Nancy Friday, a sex-positive feminist if ever there was one. "You want to put her on a leash." And what does Ally's creator David Kelley have to say about Ally as a feminist? "She's not a hard, strident feminist out of the '60s and '70s. She's all for women's rights, but she doesn't want to lead the charge at her own emotional expense." Ally, though, is in charge of nothing, least of all her emotional life.
As if one Ally McBeal character were not enough, America is discovering another, the heroine of an enormously hyped novel called Bridget Jones's Diary, by British author Helen Fielding. The book, a best seller in England for months, is a sometimes funny but ultimately monotonous chronicle of a year in the life of an unmarried thirtysomething London editor whose thoughts never veer far from dating, the cocktail hour and her invariably failed attempts at calorie cutting. A typical Bridget reflection: "Cannot face thought of going to work. Only thing that makes it tolerable is thought of seeing Daniel again, but even this is inadvisable since am fat, have spot on chin, and desire only to sit on cushion eating chocolate and watching Xmas specials." Few women alive haven't dwelled on relationships or their appearance, but most manage to concern themselves with other things too. The problem with Bridget and Ally is that they are presented as archetypes of single womanhood even though they are little more than composites of frivolous neuroses.
While we were shopping, Guardian 2002:
It is, perhaps, not surprising that a myth of equality has developed in recent years - an assumption that everything has been won. New Labour flaunts its female-friendly credentials while women everywhere enjoy the fruits of feminism's efforts: they do brilliantly at school and university, get on the board, are paid the minimum wage or more, feel good about sex and contraception and abortion, are aware that they don't have to take violence or sexism or abuse from men. Furthermore, we now talk of liberation in all sorts of ways: we "take care" of ourselves with ever more indulgent products; we give ourselves "me time", whether it's shopping or pampering; we take responsibility for our flaws with cosmetic surgery; we embrace pornography and stripping as liberation.
But perhaps we need to look at how liberating these "freedoms" really are. While many British women have been sitting back, convinced that enough has been won, have we been taken in by a huge con trick? Has feminism been hijacked by people with something to sell?...
Destiny's Child's 2000 chart song Independent Women might sound like kick-ass liberation ("The shoes on my feet, I've bought it/ The clothes I'm wearing, I bought it/ The house I live in, I bought it/ The car I'm driving, I bought it"), but really, it's women's lib by credit card. Shopping itself has been fetishised into women's greatest pleasure, and the most empowering thing you can do for yourself is to go to a beauty therapist. A woman recently quoted in a television report about New York nail bars said, "New Yorkers have more respect for themselves than women in London: they spend time making sure they have their nails right and so on." She had been sold the story that manicures were not about dodgy cuticles, but self-respect. As L'Oreal would say, it's "because you're worth it". I must respect myself; after all, I wash my hair with Fructis.
Similar justifications lie behind the rise in cosmetic surgery (up 50% in the past five years in Britain): that it makes women feel better about themselves, complete, free from their flaws. While women flock to surgeons to have gruesome operations with often calamitous consequences, while cosy Boots the chemist offers injections of poison to paralyse expression muscles in the face, the surgery spin meisters sell it as a quasi-feminist act to take control of your body. "If implants make a woman feel better about herself, why not?" wrote Jan Breslauer in Playboy.[sic]
When feminism went nuts. The Times (London) 2009
These are truly boomtime girls, part of that first generation to beat boys at A level, outnumber them at university and often out-earn them in the workplace. A decade of national prosperity won them that feminist ideal: economic equality. But, as Professor Michael Sandel argued in his recent Reith Lectures, we have allowed expanding markets to define our moral limits. Certainly with lap-dancing clubs, as with 24-hour drinking and liberalised gambling laws, the question for new Labour was never whether these were desirable to us as a society, only do people want them, is there demand? If the answer is yes, they must be good. And those who oppose them must, by definition, be anti-populist fun-suckers.
And during the boom years, the language of women’s liberation was ransacked by companies trying to flog us stuff. Suddenly feminism wasn’t about rights or social advances, but shopping. Self-worth now came in a shampoo bottle — “Because you’re worth it”.
Liberation was brunch and designer bags as in Sex and the City. As Maureen Dowd, the US columnist, put it: “Feminism has been replaced by narcissism.”
The most unlikely things are now classed as “empowering”: buying shoes, taking a pole-dancing class, having a boob job, sending a snap of your breasts to Nuts magazine, entering one of the beauty contests newly revived across British campuses. That these are the kind of dumb-ass submissive practices long performed for male view, is, it seems, coincidental. Feminism 2009 means acting out male masturbation fantasies — because you want to.
Feminism is mindless hedonism. The Telegraph 2010
But there is a serious problem with the mindless hedonism that grew out of Girl Power and learnt its morals from Sex and the City, a problem which Natasha Walter examines in her new book, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism.
Walter, for those not up to speed on the feminist canon – and who is, these days? – wrote The New Feminism, published in 1998, which delighted in the progress that had been made towards an equal society. ''Here's feminism as phoenix, as blazing torch lighting the way to a new century,'' wrote Michele Roberts in a breathlessly enthusiastic review. Now all that optimism has turned to dust. Living Dolls analyses the increasing sexualisation of feminity and the extent to which young women are led to believe that their bodies are their only passport to success.
Far from relations between the sexes flourishing emotionally and physically, against a backdrop of mutual respect, understanding and equality, a generation of young girls is interpreting liberation as the right to behave like top-shelf models. These women, interviewed by Walter, are also committed to no-strings sex, celebrating one-night stands as notches on their designer handbags. For them, STDs are almost a badge of honour, eating disorders commonplace and men who talk of love and commitment are sneered at for "going soppy".
... "It's my choice," is now an argument-clincher for any kind of louche behaviour.
Ouch. Was this what their mothers fought for? Of course not. Freedom, combined with economic independence, may have proved a poisoned chalice, one that has made women more unhappy than ever before. Is it all feminism's fault, some are asking – among them Martin Amis, whose new novel, The Pregnant Widow, is based around the wretched story of his late sister Sally, who was unable to control her own drinking and promiscuity. To him, she was a victim of liberation.
A few years ago feminism was dismissed as boring and earnest, something espoused by women in dungarees, that sartorial symbol of a movement that felt the need to hide women's femininity, not celebrate it. These days, the very word feminism has become so besmirched that is is now referred to as the f-word. But, with the turn of the new decade, a slew of books is attempting to recast, or revive, the almost-deceased debate about women's place in society, among them Ellie Levenson's The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism and Kat Banyard's The Equality Illusion. These books will be lucky to find any kind of readership, when even intelligent young women choose Katie Price as their role model.
Price is unashamed of surgically enhancing her body in order to make herself more sexually and commercially desirable; she epitomises everything Walter bemoans. Price hasn't got a good degree, or a stable marriage, but she has made a pile of money out of her grotesquely exaggerated charms. This, it seems, is where feminism has led us: down a cul-de-sac lined with lap-dancing clubs and the right to pole dance.
("Because you're worth it" - the pros really do know what they are doing.)
Now Zizzneyism seeks, as part of it's Yerosupremacist praxis, to present these white solipsist, clichéd venemous, reactionary assaults on women and feminism as radical leftist "critique of consumerism" and despicably "upbeat feminism" just as it seeks to sell white solipsist, venomous, reactionary assaults on poc, anti-racism and anti-imperalism as radical leftist "critique of liberalism" or "liberal multiculturalism". Because these absurdities are vulnerable to accuracy of reportage and historiography, those genres of intellectual product are attacked as degraded positivism, egoist obsession with "the body", particularism, risible post-colonial post-modernism, and Hegel's idea of the "primitive" (African fetishist) stage of the human prior to Islam. What is promoted in their place is a kind of "theorising" that consists of looking arduously pensive, like Jane Fonda and Richard Nixon, as if lifting mountains with one's mind (so weighty are the thoughts and ideas being produced behind that brow), and then intoning. banalities. and. mass. culture. references. very. slowly.