Women are (still) commodities, beauty (still) skins deep and push-up bras are (still) required

dailymaverick

The pilot of Amazon’s late-’60s feminist office drama Good Girls Revolt ends with a group of women gleefully telling their male colleagues that they’ve been to the kind of women’s meeting where women investigate their vaginas with their compact mirrors. This revolutionary act is a signal for us to know that they are (soi-disant) feminists.

The pilot, based on Lynn Povich’s The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, is desperate to pick up where Mad Men left off, but doesn’t.

The new movie “Suffragette,” is a handsome and noble work. Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, it is a reminder that women used to be men’s property.

We are experiencing the Dawn of Feminism (or the Dawn of Third-Wave White Feminism, more accurately), or so says the herd of independent minds.

A few weeks ago, my young moderns alerted me to a Twitter spat between Taylor Swift and Nicky Minaj – as in Nicky has been ‘throwing shade’ at T Swift.

Jill Filipovic, a journalist and lawyer in New York pounced.

“You know feminism is a cultural force when it’s the subject of celebrity Twitter feuds.”

I dutifully read the to-ing and fro-ing of the asinine tweets.

It seems that Nicki Minaj was frustrated about the “lack of recognition she received at MTV’s Video Music Awards, and how black women so often influence the music industry, but don’t receive awards or acknowledgment.”

This speaks to racism, not feminism, as I understand it. Minaj, whose “Anaconda” video was one of this year’s most-watched videos tweeted “If I was a different ‘kind’ of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well.”

As it was, she had been nominated for three awards (Best Female, Best Hip-Hop, and Best Collaborative video), so would an additional two awards be a step towards more representation or just more Nicki Minaj?

“If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.”

Nicki Minaj has won 82 awards. That is more than The Beatles (16), Bob Dylan (12), David Bowie (14), Pink Floyd (5); it is three times more than Amy Winehouse (25).

How many awards are necessary to feel properly rewarded? 

And is this exchange really about feminism? Or is racism and a little fat-shaming elbowing in?

Minaj is worth 60 million dollars. Can she really claim victim status?

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Last year Swift credited her friendship with Girls creator/actress Lena Dunham – who appears in the “Bad Blood” video – as a kingpin named Lucky Fiori – as a catalyst for her sudden openness to discuss “these issues” i.e. feminism.

“She (Swift) runs her own company. She’s creating music that connects to other women instead of creating a sexual persona for the male gaze and no one is in control of her,” Dunham told Rolling Stone in 2014. “If that’s not feminism, what is?”

She isn’t creating a sexual personae for the male gaze?

Really? Both Minaj and Swift market themselves as sexual livestock.

The feminist-minded media is full of rebukes to Swift — she’s everything that’s wrong with white feminism, she’s a faux feminist. In the comments, and on Twitter, many also question Minaj as a feminist role model — she’s too sexual, her video was all about objectifying women.

Feminism is more than just supporting your girlfriends or churning out charming catchphrases about girl power; it’s a political movement, with political aims. Certainly, the feminism of someone like Swift may be genuine, but that doesn’t mean it runs particularly deep.

The increased relevance of feminism in popular culture is a good thing. Even among some of the most fortunate and famous women in the world, “womanhood” is a different experience when you’re a woman of colour, or a woman who deviates from a straight, white, American norm.

That Swift calls herself a feminist, and uses her very large platform to spread the gospel of female friendship is great. That Minaj uses her platform to emphasize her own power is equally marvellous. Although Swift is a self-identified feminist, and although Minaj doesn’t use the f-word herself, she’s also an exemplar of a kind of Strong Woman ethos that is having a moment in popular culture

For the rest of us, maybe the lesson is that, with a handful of exceptions, musicians and other celebrities shouldn’t be feminist role models. Minaj and Swift could be even more powerful supporters, if they put more of their immense wealth toward the foundations and non-profits that support women and girls.

The Swift-Minaj Twitter exchange is a pretty good example of why we should not turn celebrities into feminist icons. Mainly because they don’t really know what feminism is about. Neither Minaj nor Swift seems to realise that their personas are manufactured, and they themselves are commodities, as blatantly objectified women as any Playboy centrefold.

Both encourage misogyny because they aphorise beauty, and promote is as “merely” feminine, unserious and specious. Swift and Minaj create themselves as women to be worshiped, because they are beautiful. They are, then, condescended for their preoccupation with making or keeping themselves beautiful.

Susan Sontag wrote that “The essence of beauty is that it is theatrical. It is for being looked at and admired; and the word is as likely to suggest the beauty industry (beauty magazines, beauty parlours, beauty products)–the theatre of feminine frivolity–as the beauties of art and of nature.”

How else to explain the association of beauty; in other words, women, with mindlessness?

Minaj’s jiggling bottom, Swift’s Bladerunneresque back flips – both are intent on tormenting and subjugating the viewer, and raising the fantasy of possession. Not really feminist, is it? This bears as much relationship to feminism as fast food bears to haute cuisine

Women, dear readers, continue to be manufactured and marketed as commodities. The standard of beauty to which women are expected to aspire continues to be everything that is not feminist.

Feminism traditionally has had two strands: As a media phenomenon, and as an academic discipline. The vast realm of reality that lies between remains unaffected by either.

Only women suffer discrimination on the grounds of their sex (as distinct from their sexual orientation), and not only from members of the opposite sex. Sexism is another name for misogyny, which are distrust, hatred and contempt of women. And it’s not just men who feel these feelings, and act on them. Women persecute other women, humiliate them and discriminate against them. The American Civil Liberties Union has found “rampant discrimination” against female movie directors, and has focused its latest investigation mainly on that sector of the industry.

In 2014, only 7% of the directors of the 250 top-grossing Hollywood-produced films were women. In forty years women have had a 24 cent raise. In the 1970’s women were making 51 cents to every dollar made by a man. Now it is 75 cents.

When Lady Gaga was asked if she was a feminist she declared

“I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer and bars and muscle cars.”

Beer and bars and muscle cars have nothing to do with political and social and economic equality.

As Jen, a blogger and fashionista friend pointed out: “Look, I understand that some people don’t like labels, but when Bjork, Demi Moore, Susan Sarandon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sandra Day O’Connor and Madonna, for god’s sake, won’t call themselves feminists something is wrong. All of these women are fantastic examples of feminism, and the thing is, if these women would admit to it, maybe some of the myths about feminists would be dispelled.”

A woman dispelling the myths is actress -singer and director, Rose McGowan. The Scream siren sees Tinseltown as “a microcosm and a reflection of the world at large.” She equates the power of the screen to a form of foreign policy propaganda. “It is America’s No. 1 export. America does a lot of damage with the typical tropes, and how women are perceived on film.”

I did not like being sold as a misunderstood commodity, as McGowan recently said. McGowan was fired by her agent after sharing a sexist casting note for an Adam Sandler movie on Twitter:

Wardrobe Note: Black (or dark) form fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push up bras encouraged).

The agent may accuse McGowan of committing professional suicide. However it is exactly her unrelenting crusade that makes McGowan a role model. She is challenging boundaries, and breaking into the notoriously male-dominated sphere of directing. Her short film debut, “Dawn” was lauded at Sundance. Her recent music video “RM486”, is creepy, mesmerising, powerful and authentically feminist.

“It’s obviously an entry to talk about women’s rights. RU486 is a famously controversial drug, but it’s not about that specifically. Eight or nine months ago they voted down equal pay for women, now they’re trying to defund Planned Parenthood. There is actually a war going on against women, and it doesn’t sit right with me, and it shouldn’t sit right with you or anybody.”

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The feminist revolution never came. We are in no way a post-feminist society. Sexual equality has not been achieved, and sexual liberation has not even been glimpsed. Feminism is political. It’s more than a “You Go Girl” cheer. And while the celebrity cheerleaders are important and can, hopefully, bring more people to the feminist game, the feminist movement itself is one place where they shouldn’t be the stars.

It would seem that in some quarters women (still) should be seen, and not heard. Women’s’ voices grate on male ears, unless they are screaming out in orgasm or agreeing to sex with a gross, yet rich and powerful male.

This column was originally published by the Daily Maverick on 5 November, 2015