The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Is Feminism Back in Vogue?

August 3, 2012

SURVEY: Ladies: Do you like having the option of wearing pants, do you enjoy taking time off after giving birth and do you like that people don’t freak out if you have to breast feed in public, is voting something you’re glad you can do- what about getting a university education, short hair, tampons, female doctors, bras that don’t torture, or working in fields like engineering?

Gentlemen: Is it nice to know that the women you may date will likely have an education, opinions, and that if you choose to get married you’re not going to be expected to be the sole family earner? Do you like not getting belittled for wanting to take on an active parenting role? 

Ladies and Gentlemen: Do you like the fact that premarital sex was an option, that birth control meant that your first experience of pre-marital sex didn’t make you a parent? Isn’t it nice that rape (against men and women) within and outside of marriage is a crime?

If you answered yes to any of these (of course there are many more non-heteronormative possibilities), you might be a feminist. Gasp!
According to some, feminism died in the early 1980s. You know, when we achieved equality…

Even fashion weirdo public intellectual? Donatella Versace declared that “feminism is dead in the world, it comes from another era.” She should know, she basically replaced her face over the last few years and works for an industry that established a 12 year old boy body as the norm for women. Similarly, a year ago, French blogger Leona Lo announced that French Feminism was dead in light of the apathetic (and even sympathetic) reaction of women to the DSK affair.

But Donatella and French women might just be behind the times- after years (maybe even decades) of feminists having a tough time attracting new recruits, we may be experiencing a feminist renaissance of sorts.

I’m pinpointing the shift to international media frenzy caused by law student Sandra Fluke’s testimony regarding birth control and health care in the US. Women and men rallied behind her message, Rush Limaugh was professionally castrated (temporarily) for his sexist remarks towards Fluke, and an widespread debate under the heading of ‘the war on women‘ ensued.

Meanwhile, there have been several social media trends indicating that feminism is shedding its bra burning, man-hatting, plaid shirt stigmas:

  1. Feminist Ryan Gosling has become almost iconic (and new Ryan Gosling memes still show up across the waves regularly). This phenomena isn’t simple trite eye-candy, it helps displace old ideas of feminism as uptight, boring, unsexy, and female-only.
  2. The huge success of Catilin Moran’s book How to Be a Woman, and her ability to reach a new demographic with her humor and common sense. Her claim “Congratulations You’re a Feminist” in a New York Times interview has become somewhat of a rally cry for the new feminist resurgence. When asked how she responds to young women who are skeptical of the feminism title she responded: “What? You don’t want to vote? Do you want to be owned by your husband? Do you want your money from your job to go into his bank account? If you were raped, do you still want that to be a crime? Congratulations: you are a feminist.”
  3. The influx in blogs and websites re-defining feminism as modern, empowering, and an obvious title for women AND men. Jennifer Hansen gave a (somewhat problematic) list of “6 Reasons You Should Want to Date a Feminist” for any men who might be afraid to date a woman who likes equality. A recent Jezebel post entitled “What No one Else Will Tell You About Feminism” basically comes to one conclusion: you are a feminist, so get over it.

Hopefully feminism will stop being treated like high waisted pants — in one week and out when linked to Jessica Simpson. We all need to remember that we live out feminist politics and we enjoy the fruits of feminist movements’ labor every day- regardless of whether we feel too wimpy to accept the title.

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Megan MacKenzie is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney in Australia. Her main research interests include feminist international relations, gender and the military, the combat exclusion for women, the aftermaths of war and post-conflict resolution, and transitional justice. Her book Beyond the Band of Brothers: the US Military and the Myth that Women Can't Fight comes out with Cambridge University Press in July 2015.