Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Poisoned Apple

I've never really been one for '-isms', considering them mostly to be strait jackets to broader thinking, but one that I might have considered subscribing to in its heyday is feminism. The raw, angry politicised approach that blossomed in the 70s achieved much in terms of equality of pay and rights and it seemed for a while that things were set fair for steadily continuous improvement over the coming decades. True, there were spectacularly silly aberrations, the refusal to use the words 'women' because it contained the word 'men', or 'history' for a similarly ridiculous reason, the deliberately strident, irritable and unappealing tendency to see any man as 'the enemy' because they happened to be male, a prickly hostility and lack of humour that betrayed lack of confidence.......just silliness, really, that undermined a lot of good work and was seized upon gleefully by anti-feminists. Still, it all seemed to even out in the end, the millennium turned and things were pretty looking good.
Then something happened. Women wobbled and took their eye of the feminism 'ball', and many seemed to metamorphose or become re-absorbed by the cult of femininity. I believe that the tide turned with an overconfidence in the power of irony.
The domestic goddess emerged: women who had the nous and intelligence to know better, re-invented themselves as 'ironic' retro-bakers, apparently happy to surrender themselves to floral-aproned afternoons, coated in butter icing and producing 'wicked' chocolate fudge cakes and madeleines for the gasping, swooning delectation of their audience. With a knowing wink, of course.

The pneumatic slut appeared: clad in insufficient cloth to keep a hamster decent, waxed, tanned, hair straightened and extended, they teeter in 'killer heels' from wine bar to wine bar getting more and more incoherently vociferous, groping and propositiong men in a horrendously insulting (and frankly, dangerous) copy of what they imagine to be 'laddish' behaviour, swearing and vomiting, because...well, 'we're up for a laugh aren't we, and why not?' With a knowing wink.

The gym bunny appeared: not a million miles from the pneumatic slut, equally waxed and tanned, but also toned and trim and teetotal, worshipping their bodies as temples, eyeing up the calories, carbs and salt, religiously devoted to three days of cardio, three days of weights and stretching. They can be seen in health-club changing rooms all over England, unsmilingly moisturising their taut exfoliated limbs. No knowing wink there though, it's a very serious business (and actually, not much irony either).

No doubt if questioned all would nod vigorously at the notion that they are indeed - oh yes! - liberated ladies: the fascinated obsession with their looks and the renewed fetishisation of the attributes of femininity is because they love to make 'indulgent treats', they enjoy casual sex 'as much as men do' (honest!), they want to 'take care' of themselves. The hyper-feminine behaviour that has emerged over the past decade is viewed from within certain female ranks as both ironic and self-originating. It's funny because, well, we're not really like that are we? Are we?
But strip away the unsustainable and invisible (because it isn't obvious to the observer) veneer of 'irony' and you are left with good old, fifties-style female caricatures. Cooking mummy; harlot woman; the ice goddess. Ooo-er missus! Look at her lovely buns!

Just consider for a moment the familiar images lined up on womens' magazine shelves for the appraisal of the impressionable; Nigella Lawson, Katie Price, Victoria Beckham to name a few. The clothing styles in a lot of shops; Kath Kidston, shoes that would make Chinese foot-binding an easy option, Playboy clothing for the pre-pubescent. The women that succumb to the images flashed at them by marketers have compounded and willingly tied themselves to the crass stereotyping that used to hold sway before feminism got its act together, women reduced to an existence as comforter, facilitator, sex-accessory and ornament.
For God's sake, what messages are being passed on to young girls on the brink of womanhood today?
That today it's cool to be a mahoganied, depillated, vamped-up cooker of buns, a mindless zombie subjugated to the kitchen, boudoir and the treadmill? Women, no longer using their energy to think and act, but to prink prettily, mesmerised by shiny things and subborned by time-consuming vanity; domestic bower-birds laying out their wares for consumption; silly geese, entranced and paralysed by their own self-imagined reflection in the mirror. Vacuity. This is what they should aspire to?
Ominously, this indeed seems to be presented as a viable proposition. By who? Other women? [Come on girls, we all love shoes and chardonnay and lippy don't we? Wink, wink.]
Or by men, oblivious to the ironic overlay, saying 'See? This is what women are really like after all......What we thought they were in the first place'.

How can girls behave in an intelligently female way when all they see around them are parodies of womanhood, as rooted in reality as the pantomime dame? Where are the good role models, women who have rejected stereotyping - the thinkers, the reformers, the activists, the fighters, the writers, the academics, the politicians, the astute, the editors, the pioneering, the brave? Their presence must be made more apparent!
It's difficult to bring up girls as people when all they see around them are hyper-feminised, hyper-sexualised golem, brought to life and sustained by the fickle breath of celebrity.

No comments: