Close your eyes and picture a feminist, not necessarily a famous feminist. Conjure up a generic stock photo of a feminist. Have you pictured a lady? Did you immediately think of that lady you saw at the organic farmer’s market? Or did you picture Zooey Deschanel? In either case, you’re probably right, if also a little prone to stereotyping.
Can feminists be pretty? That’s a stupid question. Attractiveness has no bearing on the opinions of gender inequality and human rights. Beautiful people can believe that everyone should be treated fairly and plain people can believe that one gender is biologically superior to the other. Feminists are perceived as being less concerned with outward appearance. Which isn’t farfetched considering the fact that people committed to human rights might also be committed to environmental conservation and ethical treatment of animals. Once you start looking to limit your use of potentially harmful toxins, cosmetic enhancements tend to drift off the list of priorities.
So it’s weird to think that feminists might be a little vain. We live in a time when a small segment of people want to turn words like “feminist” and “liberal” and “intellectual” into pejoratives. They would have you believe that the Liberal Feminist is out to emasculate all the men, murder all the babies, and put the entire world under petticoat rule. The Liberal Feminist is loud and annoying but could be so pretty if she shaved her pits and put on some lipstick. Oh, Small Segment of People, how so very misguided you are and how very sad you make the Rest of Us. How much effort can one put into one’s personal hygiene and appearance to achieve gender equality? Do women really still need to butch it up in order to be taken seriously?
I thought that society was done trying to stigmatize feminists. Feminists aren’t all man haters. “Militant feminist” should not be a euphemism for “ugly chick who won’t shut up about her vagina.” I shouldn’t have to worry that by wearing a cute dress I’m somehow communicating to society that I don’t care about women’s rights. If a girl excels in math and science and her favourite colour is pink, must she sacrifice one over the other to fit some kind of stereotype? Must a boy do the same? A feminist, regardless of gender, should be able to wear make-up and dresses while pursuing gender equality. (We live in The Future. Why aren’t we all just wearing silver tunics and leggings now?) Has everyone forgotten the message of Legally Blonde?
The problem with making a statement about female empowerment through fashion is that dudes don’t really get it. Whether it’s Nancy Sinatra or Madonna or Beyoncé, when a female performer traipses around in skimpy clothing, she’s still being objectified. A lot of guys don’t care whether a woman is dolled up because it makes her feel good about herself or that she’s making a political statement about sex in the modern age. Flesh is flesh to the unsophisticated male, just as meat is meat to unsophisticated carnivores. They aren’t very concerned about whether the cows and pigs on their plate were treated ethically or come from local farms.
One of the survival tactics of modern life is to reward oneself with little treats. For all the physical burdens women endure—from gestation to childbirth to breaking in a pair of stillettos, we deserve the right to polish and powder ourselves. The regular internal distress can make a lady feel more like livestock, so it’s nice to indulge in delicate luxuries. The act of fingernail painting or baking or making impulse purchases doesn’t negate one’s belief in freedom and gender equality. A woman shouldn’t have to dress for a role that does not exist. Feminists can look like Bettie Page or Reese Witherspoon or Diane Keaton or Buffy Sainte-Marie or Ryan Gosling. Zooey Deschanel wants to “be a f-ing feminist and wear a f–king Peter Pan collar” and she’s probably doing more for women’s rights than your central casting hippie chick.