Megan Fox @ Jennifer's Body screening / Michael Vlasaty / Wikimedia Commons
I’ve been a part of various feminist Facebook groups for a while now – since at least 2012. So, it’s interesting reflecting on how things have evolved.
Of course, eight years of internet feminism is nothing compared to decades of work on the frontlines, but it’s still enough time to chart a movement’s myriad transformations. Plus, with the advent of the internet, things appear to be changing faster than they ever have.
Back in 2012, it was all about the #girlboss.
It was also, simultaneously, about defying gendered beauty standards.
The groups I was a member of did NOT consider Beyoncé a feminist icon. Nor Lady Gaga. Certainly not Megan Fox.
Granted, this was slightly before Beyoncé became overtly political, in the way she is now. She was yet to stand in front of a giant neon “FEMINIST", yet to release her magnum opus Lemonade. But hindsight indicates that Beyoncé was on a feminist trajectory since the beginning. She was, and is, an exacting performer – always demanding the best of herself and her collaborators. Her songs (and Destiny’s Child’s songs) were about surviving, asking her lover to say her name (an act which has since become a political rallying cry), examining gender and realising her self-worth (literally, is there a better feminist mantra than telling a spurned lover ‘I bet it sucks to be you right now’?).
But the groups I was part of circa 2012 couldn’t see past her outfits. The feminists I knew in back then (perhaps you’d call them white feminists) considered her a bad role model. Why does she have to wear a bustier while she throws a guy to the curb? Must girls wear skimpy outfits while they run the world? Why can’t she exert her power with hair on her legs?
As always, the argument came back to the ancient and, frankly, boring notion that femininity, and an interest in traditionally feminine pursuits (makeup, heels, clothing, lingerie), is shameful.
Of course, this point would be debated, and folks would point out that feminism is about choice. But then another post would go up, asking how we all felt about women who waxed their vulvas. Isn’t it a shame that they do that they’d ask. And so the cycle continued.
The common denominator in these debates would be that ‘feminine’ women were stripped of their agency. Megan Fox, Lana Del Rey, Beyoncé, Rihanna – they didn’t know they were being used by the patriarchal industrial complex. It wasn’t them who chose to uphold these beauty (and sexual) standards. It was the musty old men in the room, pulling the strings.
This was on full display when Sinéad O'Connor (who I love, by the way) penned an open letter to Bangerz era Miley. “I am extremely concerned for you,” she wrote “that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way 'cool' to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is, in fact, the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether it’s the music business or yourself doing the pimping.”
Of course, Miley’s Bangerz era comes with its own set of problems (particularly around race), but the idea that a group of men in business suits came up with the idea of twerking on Robin Thicke with a foam finger or nakedly riding a wrecking ball is farcical. Those ideas, I’m fairly confident, are Miley, Miley, Miley – and I doubt a man in a business suit could have talked her out of it.
The notion of agency came up again in a Jameela Jamil Instagram post where she criticised, as she is wont to do, Kim Kardashian. “Kim,” she writes “has had decades of body image issues and obsession. This has been HEAVILY perpetuated by how much the media scrutinized her and her sisters over their appearances. She isn’t actively trying to harm you. She’s just so harmed and deluded into thinking this is what SHE needs to look like to be special and beautiful and she’s spilling it out onto her following. Is this wrong? YES. But I’m not sure she realizes that she’s doing to others what her idols did to her, in making her think a tiny waist is the key to femininity and sex appeal.”
Or she’s a 39-year-old woman doing what she likes.
Truly, I’ve rarely seen anything more insulting than telling a woman in a corset she’s “so harmed and deluded”.
To me, that isn’t feminism. It’s patriarchy in the name of feminism. It’s cover yourself up. It’s your body is shameful.
There’s a nuanced conversation to be had about beauty standards and the complex that promotes them. But shaming individual women for expressing themselves isn’t the solution and achieves less than nothing. Especially when that shame comes with a side of you’re dumb.
All of these issues require a healthy dose of nuance. With social-media-feminism, that’s usually the one thing that’s lacking.Support Villainesse