There’s a thread of an eerily similar theme running through all the highly publicized liberal feminist messages and associated campaigns which are just, basically, very cringing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly that theme was, but I’ve realised that it’s simply that they’re not radical – they don’t and won’t change any societal frameworks, and that’s the elephant in the room everyone is grinning past. Whether it’s the sexual revolution encouraging her to ‘just fuck him Sandra!’ or “Smile – you’re beautiful!” written on post-its on a mirror, I see forced smiles and glazed eyes and if you listen hard enough you can hear… “are you feelin it now Mr Krabs??!”.
I did chuckle watching Janet Street Porter marry herself as the ultimate act of self-love. But Janet Street Porter is a 70 year old woman who, I think it’s fair to say, has reached the point of not fearing nor giving a shit what people around her think about her and say to her. I realised that “self-love” and “self-care” are things that I’d actually only seen in the context of younger women, ’empowering’ themselves and loving their bodies etc. That’s when I feel myself cringe at it. Teenagers, along with myself and my friends in our twenties, are encouraged to selfie-selfie-selfie, and it would be a bare faced lie to say that we don’t feel like we have to look perfect in them. Make-up, lighting, angles, facial expressions, all flashing through our heads hurriedly behind a face pretending to be as casual and care-free as a child trying to figure out what this camera even does. None of this neuroticism is addressed in the ‘love yourself’ message pressed onto the acts of taking selfies, applying make-up and dressing up. My point is, I think our young girls are still going to be waiting until they’re 70 to truly be at peace with themselves, the way things aren’t going.
When we feel the cringeyness inherent in the constant reminders that we’re totally gorgeous from complete strangers or televisions which can’t see us, it’s our warning of the insidious nature of the beauty industry, with its use of the ‘love yourself’ message for capitalist gains. The beauty industry is the hand that gives and the hand which takes away. It is a staple fact of feminism that beauty-based advertising uses images of women which are given impossible photoshopped bodies, often in a state of being degraded and violated. This has led to girls having no self esteem and hating their bodies to the extent of struggling with depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Overall, thinking that they’re ugly and therefore unworthy of enjoying themselves, standing up for themselves or pursuing want they want from life. The flow of this type of imagery is not slowing. With advances in software and touching up technology images are only being altered more so and more convincingly. Now that screens and their scummy adverts are everywhere in our lives, we’re exposed to these images more than ever as well. On top of that, more boys are watching higher volumes of more explicit porn from earlier ages. The respect for women’s bodies is just not there. There may have been a shift in how women are meant to view taking and viewing pictures of themselves, but the crux of the matter is that there has been no such analogous shift in how men view these images of women. Was it really the women’s attitudes to the photos which was the problem?
We sorely need to remember the golden rule of thumb to test to see whether something is actually radical, and can therefore be called ‘feminist’ – does it make men annoyed and uncomfortable? If I’m feeling chatty I’d define it as something which is conducive to (which would be an objective measurement) the psychological, economic and social liberation of females, but whether it gets men’s backs up will do. It’s a big red flag that liberal feminism is rubbing alongside contentedly with men – it’s because they are aware, subconsciously or not, that none of it is going to change a thing. You really think a man is intimidated by, and encouraged to reflect on his attitudes towards women, by a woman’s unashamed joy in her perfect pair of heels? By topless women marching down New York with ‘free the nipple’ written on them? He’s seen tits like that before somewhere… where was it? Oh yeah, violent porn. That’s what’s forming attitudes, not this. The same men have been particularly expressive of the fact they constitute a market for revealing photos of young attractive women like Emma Watson. The fulfillment of this market is apparently not only a feminist choice but (even more depressingly) an act of ‘taking ownership of her sexuality’. But, crucially, the respect is not there, as is evidenced by the constant cyber attacks of famous women’s private photos. Why I can’t mark my place as not an enemy of these actions, but as a protester specifically of calling them feminist, without being put down as a sexist prude, is infuriating and demonstrates that no-one can be bothered to read more nuanced opinions on these matters between ‘don’t slut shame her’ and ‘good women keep their tits covered’. We also have the wonders of the ‘queer’ community focusing its time, attention and resources on causes such as legitimizing, in the eyes of law, marriage between ‘they’ and ‘they’ – between two individuals who identify as non-binary. Saddling feminism with these concerns is another way it gets watered down as something less and less intimidating to men.
Please let’s stop pretending that women feel pumped up to liberate ourselves as a class and men feel newly aware and ashamed of the extent of patriarchal oppression in response to these activities. My cringe-receptor can’t take much more. I would prefer to suffer through the uncomfortable truths that actually, women do have a harder time being funny because the entire world tells them that they’ve got to focus on being beautiful sidekicks to men instead. This actually forces us to look at an issue and start to solve it. When my friends are with women only and slightly inebriated, they’re ten times funnier than any guy doing stand up about how naggy his wife is, so there’s a problem on the society-level, and I’m not quite sure that reminding women that THEY ARE FUNNY, like other good news such as TEA IS AT SIX, is going to cut it. Maybe women don’t like computer games, roleplaying games and sci-fi fandoms because for them it means sitting through a lot of boring sexism with no relatable female characters, and the genres should be changed for these reasons and not because actually, women do like these things and how dare you suggest otherwise, ya sexist. When it comes to sex we’ve got to ask, why are all these young women taking a particular style of revealing photos? Was this really our own creation when the beauty industry is run by men and has been for decades? Is make-up really that ’empowering’ if women still struggle with leaving the house without it? Are our selfies that empowering of us when we take hundreds and edit them all? I’m not against capturing the moment and taking a bit pleasure for ourselves in our own good looks, but I’m just not fun enough to shut out and ignore the patriarchal influences that have seeped deep, man.
Things that do make men really, really angry, are things like getting accomplished women recognized on English banknotes. Women unashamedly breastfeeding, the actual non-male-gaze-related function of breasts. Women having the confidence to reject conventional beauty expectations and wear what they want. Being a successful and talented black woman. Women demanding that we address domestic violence against women. Women having reproductive control over their bodies. In creating tangible change for women’s situations in the form of laws and safety, and giving young women different role models and self-perceptions, these things go to the roots of the issues affecting women and force men to confront the effects of their socialisation. Unsurprisingly, no-one thinks to cringe at these causes. They are novel and confrontational, if they weren’t they couldn’t possibly be change.
I don’t huff and puff and roll my eyes at women performing femininity. It’s when it’s hailed as the feminism that’s both fun and hard-hitting that I have a problem. It’s no coincidence that the activities being hailed as ’empowering’ and ‘self-love’ are the ones already profiled as feminine things. Not butch women, not ugly businesswomen, not the message that actually appearance should not be something so pivotal to our sense of self because it’s a tool currently being used to keep us stressed out and spending money. At the end of a long hard day absorbing patriarchal messages that put me down, liberal feminism pops up and tells me to remember to also love myself, as if I didn’t already have enough to deal with.