So a common concern among the feminist community is that some of us, when trying to denounce sexism, end up practicing it by simply denouncing things that are traditionally feminine (for example, wearing dresses, or being sensitive.) I think this is a valid point in a lot of cases. While I don’t believe in gendering character traits, I believe we should embrace what are usually considered feminine (nurturing, empathetic, peaceful) along with strength, independence, and intelligence. However, there are a couple of “traditionally feminine” things that I never spare in my feminist criticisms:
1.) Over-emphasis on fashion/shopping/make-up as a sub-culture for females.
There is nothing wrong with grooming and taking care of one’s appearance. Both women and men do it. However, you will never see a film or TV show featuring a male character who worships his hair-gel or shoe collection. However, there are countless chick flicks, TV shows, and of course, advertisements, targeted at women that center on fashion, clothes, and looks-based products. We have two levels of this. First, we have a bunch of films and shows for female audiences whose main themes are fashion: Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Legally Blonde, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Pretty Woman, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Clueless, Mean Girls, 27 Dresses, 13 Going on 30, She’s All That, Bride Wars…*stops for breath.* Then, we have the rest of media made for women where most of the female characters (not necessarily the protagonist) – without a doubt – love shopping, and are hyper-aware of their fashion-brand and beauty product choices (any Disney Channel/Nickelodeon sitcom, HBO sitcom, ABC drama, anything starring the latest teen celeb, Julia Roberts, etc.)
Let me get the obvious justifications out of the way:
(i) What’s witda hate?! A lil’ bi’o’ fashion never hurt anyone!
and (ii) But there ARE women who actively and voluntarily take part in this sub-culture. Movie industries are just catering to the existing culture.
To which I answer (to myself):
(i) A LIL’ fashion never hurt anyone, but Hollywood blows it out of proportion. Obviously, there are pragmatic reasons for this, coughcough*productplacement*coughcough*advertisementrevenues*cough. But what are its implications? We are sending the message to girls (especially young girls) that they should care way too much about superficial, shallow, and materialistic things like their engagement ring, purse, or lipstick brand. One cruel aspect of our mainstream culture is that on one hand, we aggressively market fashion and beauty products to women, and then turn around and mock them for being shallow, shoe-obsessed bimbos. If people really wanted to see young women evolve to care about substantial things, then they would market themes like character-development, compassion, social-consciousness, healthy relationships, ambition, hard-work, intelligence, and the like. But instead, we get a slew of reality TV crap and films like Bad Teacher (a film about a gold-digging drugged up idiot) over and over again! I can assure you that little girls will not be learning anything worthwhile (from their T.V.)
This should definitely go without saying, but for a lot of women, there is much, much more to life than clothes and hats. Yes, seriously. Making the majority of female characters in entertainment media all about fashion and materialism is astronomically offensive, and insulting.
and (ii) Yes, shopping-obsessed, materialistic women exist in real-life. However, the proportion of the real-life females they represent do not even amount to the proportion of shopping-obsessed, materialistic female characters in mainstream media – which is almost ALL of them! I personally do not know a single woman who is obsessed to the point of worship with Gucci brand shoes/purses. Even for the girls I know who ARE fashion-conscious, they are still not as obsessed as their counterparts are portrayed in media, and they are still concerned with issues other than fashion. On top of that, we also have to consider how many women become fashion-conscious as a result of the influence of the media they consume. Like I mentioned, if we really want girls to develop values other than materialism, then we need to move past this dominant theme in movies and television shows.
*Note: I primarily focus on movies and television in my discussion, but I also spit on the women’s/fashion-magazine industry, i.e. Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Glamour, etc.
**Yet another note: I respect fashion/fashion design as a creative/artistic pursuit. However, this is not the way they are usually portrayed in the films mentioned above. Most of the time, it is just about the woman being overly-conscious of her appearance and spending a reckless amount of money.
2.) Romantic comedies/chick-flicks
First of all, I will get a caveat out of the way: there ARE some (SOME) chick-flicks that feature empowering female role models. Or at least have some elements of them. Also, no I am not a cold-hearted, bitter robot who hates romance. I love romance! But here is the thing about romantic comedies:
A typical romantic comedy features romance between a heterosexual couple (aka, between a man and a woman.) This means the central characters in a romcom are a WOMAN AND a MAN. I want to paraphrase a quote from the documentary “Miss Representation” that says it best: Movies for male audiences revolve around men; and movies for female audiences also tend to revolve around men. This statement perfectly explains why there is a problem with the fact that romantic comedies are synonymous with ‘women’s entertainment’ and ‘chick flicks’. In addition, I feel that romcoms promote romance in the worst, most superficial way possible – but that is for an entirely separate blogpost.
When I was younger, I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of the films aimed at kids. I got to enjoy films like Matilda, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Mulan, and the Harry Potter films – all of which have inspiring female characters. The fun in watching movies ended when I entered high school, and I had to transition to more “mature” films such as Pretty Woman and Sex and the City. There ended all the adventures, magic, and action and mystery I got to enjoy with my childhood fictional friends. In came the excessive self-consciousness with looks and unpleasant romantic drama. I say, it is about time we reintroduce other themes into ‘women’s entertainment’. Romance is a big part of life, but it definitely isn’t the only part of life. And it is definitely more than kissing in the rain, sappy dialogue, and flowers and diamonds.