Many of Feminisms biggest names have come from writing and academia. Feminism has allowed women to choose what they find empowering, but, we now may, in fact, question how far this ‘choice’ feminism goes for any woman in society.
Beautification and sexual behaviours have been considered feminist and individual choices since the 1960s, but new feminist postmodern thinking provides us with the belief that perhaps these empowering processes aren’t as freeing as we once believed. The use of makeup and the beliefs behind it have become very topical and controversial since feminist scholars have found it degrading and something which serves towards the ideals of men. However, in recent years, as the predominant wearers of makeup, women have begun to find makeup empowering and something which serves personal creativity. Plastic surgery and amendments to the body have also started to be seen as a feminist choice in which a woman can do as she pleases with her body.
As a criticism of choice feminism, I see that even whilst makeup and plastic surgery are individual choices, this individual choice has become less personal. Things which we find empowering as women can still be oppressive and enablers of patriarchy. Whilst finding makeup freeing and creative, the capitalist system to which it belongs is misogynistic and despite my individual beliefs, the institution of makeup and beautification is one that serves towards the male gaze and in which ‘beauty’ becomes a power factor and it becomes a womanly characteristic providing a direct service to patriarchy. As radical as this seems, Susan Sontag reflects how beauty encourages ‘narcissism, reinforces dependence and immaturity’, entering women into a complex of that to be beautiful we must depend on what others think of us, not just objectively through our appearance, but through our personality too.
Sex and sexuality are too seen as a feminist choice. Women choose who to have relations with, and the actions we have engaged in are not to define us or our personality. As empowering and socially freeing as this has become along with regards to virginity as a social construct emerging throughout the years, sexual actions and behaviour are still to some radical feminist beliefs highly political. Behaving sexually and dressing sexually inherently reinforces patriarchy and the male gaze, these freeing behaviours often come packaged with slut shaming and catcalling; no matter if it is a feminist individual choice. However, whilst behaving asexually (as a feminist choice), there are stigma’s in place to make women reconsider e.g. suggesting that women are prudes and they should be ashamed of this. Behaving asexually further becomes fetishized among men as women looking ‘young’ and ‘pure’.
We also see from an intersectional perspective that it can reinforce racism and sexism. Black women, along with Asian women experience patriarchy in a much different way to how white women experiencing it. Whilst ethnically diverse women have too accepted their own sexuality and dress how they choose to, they have become increasingly sexualised and fetishized by men- more so than the white woman in recent decades, therefore no matter how far they pursue clothing or beauty as a feminist choice, they are still likely to be imprisoned by societal images of their sexuality, and relationships particularly with men. By behaving and engaging in beauty practices, women live up to the male values of women performing and pursuing femininity the ‘correct’ way. Some practices have become completely sexualised e.g. behaving sexually or non-sexually, either of these pursues ideas of compulsory femininity
By Tammara Lesko
Facebook: Tammara Lesko