Confession: I’m a Feminine Feminist

Our contributor Chloë Browne, who’s pursuing an Honors Major in Gender and Sexuality Studies at at Swarthmore College, has a confession to make:

A few weeks ago I was at a bar with some friends when a guy started chatting me up. He asked me what my major was, and when I told him I was a Gender and Sexuality Studies nerd, he immediately balked, calling over his shoulder as he walked away, “False advertising much?!”

What he meant was, “You don’t look like a hardcore feminist.” Which begs the question, What does a hardcore feminist look like? Considering how often I get this same reaction from people (albeit with a slightly less douchey delivery), it would seem there’s one mold out there and I unequivocally don’t fit into it.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep and reverent regard for nearly everything traditionally associated with glitzy consumerist American girliness. On a family vacation when I was four, a cousin introduced me to the wondrous world of Barbie, immediately and effectively undermining years of my mother’s hard work to keep me unaware of their tanned, toned, augmented, and beautified existence. There she was in all her plasticized glory, gorgeous and sexy and taboo (thanks, Mom) and I was hooked. From that moment on, high heels, makeup, and general glamorizing became a source of hours of entertainment, and though the accoutrements have increased dramatically in size in the years between my adorning Barbie and my adorning myself, my fascination has remained something of a constant.

For just as long, though, I’ve had a deep sensitivity to issues of sexism and the gendered aspects of living in today’s world. What began as an early commitment to girl power (not of the Spice Girls variety, though — mom did succeed on that front) soon morphed into a precocious feminism. My Barbie didn’t take shit from Ken and I didn’t take shit from classmates.

My vocal stances on gender equality in and out of the classroom often baffled my more traditional, conservative, Southern peers. My speaking out on gendered themes in Tuck Everlasting while tottering around in the pale pink kitten-heeled flip flops that were (bafflingly) all the rage among my 8th grade class had my classmates calling me a lipstick lesbian long before I understood the phrase or frosted my lips with anything more than Bonnebell glitter gloss.

Similar issues persist in my day-to-day life now. People hear that I’m a rugby-playing Gender and Sexuality Studies major and pretty quickly draw up a set of assumptions about who I am, what I look like, and who I sleep with. Others see me walking around in a flouncy dress, heels, and a ponytail and immediately think: nice, traditional, knows-her-place girly girl. The incongruity that people assume exists between how I look and how I think has me constantly defending my choices, my appearance, and my politics not only to my fellow gen-sex students and the occasional bar fly, but to myself as well.

I’ve been forced to really think about what feminism, femininity, and gender mean to me. Feminism is about choice, the valuing of and striving towards a world in which women are free and able to make well-informed choices about all aspects of their lives. Respecting and valuing the choices women — and men — make about their own bodies and appearances is integral to that definition, no matter how much lip gloss is involved. After all, femininity has nothing to do with some essential way women are, it’s just a tidy category name to put on those things typically considered girly. And gender, rather than being two static and narrowly defined polar opposites, is a fluid continuum, with individuals — both male and female, gay, straight, bisexual or transgendered — finding their own unique place on it. As such, the choices we make about how we externally express our gender identity can be neither inherently feminist nor inherently non- feminist. Rather, the expression of, comfort with, and celebration of our own diverse identities is the political act.

And, I have to admit, I love the little glimmer of surprise I can detect in people’s eyes when they first put my interests and my physicality together. The novelty factor they seem to attribute to me really excites me. I love that just being myself can be a little shocking, a little subversive. And it turns me on that I get to decide when that flicker of recognition — or shock, or arousal — happens.

Don’t get me wrong. My feminism is not just some affect adopted for novelty factor. It’s not a coquettish gimmick a la Coyote Ugly. And my particular presentation/belief juxtaposition is not a politically motivated mind game. But I do think there’s an important social comment latent in the unfortunate “aha!” moment of those around me. No matter how many pop-culture phenomena, how many websites, heck, how many t-shirts argue differently, many people — both within and outside of the feminist movement — have a pretty rigid idea of what exactly a feminist looks like. And disrupting that, if only for a fleeting and sometimes douchey moment of exchange, has, to me, an inherent value: not only personally demonstrating that feminism lives and breathes vibrantly in all parts of our society, but also firmly proving that there’s no one right way to be a feminist…that there’s no one right to be, period.

Here’s the thing. I believe strongly in the old-school, sisterhood-making feminist mantra: the personal is political. The personal pleasure that I take from feeling like sex on a stick (an autonomous, equality-seeking stick) when I slip on a pair of killer pumps is to me a political stance. On some level, I’m looking to cause a double take.  I feel good, I feel sexy, I feel desirable, I feel powerful, and I feel I have every right to feel that way. I love high heels and cosmetics and Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Belle de Jour is a total grown up Barbie) and treat my boyfriend with the occasional after-work surprise, both culinary and carnal.  These traditional trappings of femininity are, to me, personally empowering. They make me feel like myself.

But what I really value is the fact that feminism has allowed me to enjoy these things critically; I am fully aware that until very recently such things functioned oppressively (and, according to some people, still do), but I believe women now have the opportunity to choose to enjoy them — and that makes all the difference.

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16 Comments on "Confession: I’m a Feminine Feminist"

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3 years 11 months ago

I’m so happy to have found this to read because I too have encountered strange glances and hostile behaviour not only in the feminist community but also outside of it because I have strong believes and also adore my high heels and make-up all the while sleeping with women and not men.

5 years 1 month ago

Yay! for feminine feminists and encouraging women to support each other. Whether it’s to be a stay at home mom or the Mom who brings home the bacon while dad takes care of the kids. I was raised by a man hating “feminazi” and never in a million years thought I’d be a stay at home mom. It’s great to have that choice.

5 years 2 months ago

I’m a Sociology, with a specialism in Gender Studies, undergraduate student. I’m also a loud, opinionated feminist with dyed blonde hair, 50 pairs of heels and a love of fake tan. Whilst I’m incredibly aware of the societal norms in which i adhire to dressing and presenting myself in this way, i enjoy it and i choose to. I earn the money to buy the clothes, shoes and make up and i enjoy the way i look and feel whilst wearing them.
I find it increddibly ironic that people seem to suggest that feminist’s ‘should’ look a certain way. because as far as i’m aware, feminism has tried to fight against women having to do anything just because they ‘should’ under the patriachal system and rule.
And i understand that some feminists argue that the look i’m supporting is as a byproduct of consumtion and the beauty industry dictating how i should look. However I’m able to be aware of this consumption and influence of the beauty industry and use it to the extent i want.
As a strong women and feminist, I decide what i wear, I decide what I look like when i look like it and who gets to see it. Even if I’m blonde, tanned and tall in the process.

5 years 3 months ago

“In the sixties, girls rebelled against their mothers at a very young age using a tool titled Barbie. Many women argue that Barbie sets unreal expectations of what a female body should look like. These women say that Barbie ruins self-esteem and encourages ditzy behavior. Although it may be true that Barbie’s proportions are unrealistic, Barbie has done more to support daring and liberating behavior then she has done to support air-headedness. All toys before Barbie encouraged mothering. During this time, a five-year-old child took care of a baby doll, and delighted in owning fake ovens and ironing boards. These toys were proper. One day a child tired of mothering role-play and made paper dolls. The child’s father showed the paper dolls to a toy company, and a year later Barbie was born. Despite popular belief, Barbie was not a male scheme to create a sultrier generation. A team of four young women created Barbie’s wardrobe, makeup, and hair. The team leader, Charlotte Johnson, was in charge of Barbie’s production in Japan, a very large job for a woman in the sixties. It is important to note that Barbie’s original job title was ‘teenage fashion model.’ This is important because Barbie let girls know that being a working woman was not to be frowned upon. The little girl who created the paper dolls that Barbie was modeled after, said “Barbie is fashion forward and strong… just as I imagined her to be.” This sentence shows that fashion can be tied to strength. Some feminists claim that Barbie encouraged only one image and one specific personality. These feminists may underestimate imaginative play. Girls made their own persona for Barbie. Instead of ironing clothing and feeding a baby, girls gave Barbie a personality and a voice. By 1964, Barbie was modeled as an astronaut, teacher, swimmer, and a businesswoman. Women who had these jobs were very progressive for their time. In the 51 years since Barbie’s creation, Barbie has never had a child or a husband. Barbie encourages strength and intelligence, not motherhood and obedience. Barbie’s strength may be the reason why demographics showed that mothers hated Barbie, while kids loved her. Ruth Handler was advised that Barbie “might be a way for children to revolt against their mothers, and the previous tight standards women were made to follow.” This statement shows that Barbie was a way of going against proper, and embracing playful defiance of women’s past obedient roles. ”

p.s ken is a boyfriend, not a husband.

5 years 3 months ago

I’m going into my junior year in high school and I actually just wrote my term paper on fashion and feminism. My thesis was that “fashion is often a form of rebellion and individuality, not oppression.” (Lady Gaga, Diana Vreeland ect.) My 25 year old male teacher believed my thesis was “too provocative.” Although I received an A, he wrote argumentative comments through out the paper and his overall comment about the paper was “To each his own. I guess.”
It makes me sad that certain people cannot except that feminism can paint their nails, wear perfume, rock pumps and cute skirts, and wear makeup. None of these girlish actions have anything to do with equal rights between men and women. I want equal pay, I want equal education, I want equal medical care, I don’t want to be forced into a head dress(I’m of muslim decent), I don’t want to be stoned for wearing something “wrong.” I want divorce rights. I want to be able to work in whatever job I desire to work in. Yes, we do have many of these rights in America, but around the world women are still struggling to gain these rights. I believe in fighting for this, and I believe I can fight for this in my red heels and my mascara. I’m so happy to hear that others feel similarly on this issue as I do.