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June 6, 2017 | by  | in Opinion |
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when i get belittled by men imma make it look sexy

This is an updated version of the opinion piece “Damned if you do. Damned if you Don’t.” that appeared in print (Issue 12) on June 05.

 

My best mentors and teachers have always been men. Why? Because I have great legs, great tits, and a huge smile that God gave to me. Because I want to make my first million before the age of thirty-five. So of course I am a female chauvinist pig. Do you think those male mentors wanted me telling them how to better their careers, marketing departments, increase demographics? Hell no. They just wanted to play in my secret garden. But I applied the Chanel war paint, pried the door open with Gucci heels, worked, struggled, and climbed the ladder. And I did it all in a short Prada suit.

— Carrie Gerlach, 2001

 

Hi, my name is Sasha, and I’m that aggressive feminist on Facebook you hate. I study politics and religion, and most of my university career has been spent focusing on social inequalities within — or perpetuated by — these two broad empirical fields. I’m opinionated and obstinate and unapologetic. I also have an excellent resting bitch face. My flatmate gets embarrassed when I roast his mates at parties for using slurs, and my recent column for Salient has been celebrated by the Political Arena Victoria as “garbage”, “sheer idiocy”, and “in need of level 1 English lesson for structure”. I’m your run-of-the-mill Social Justice Warrior.

Fundamentally, my stance is Choice Feminism 101: “women should be able to make any choice they want as part of their feministic expression.” In other words, with emphasis on the individual in line with liberal ideology, you do you boo. When it comes to self-expression — whether that manifests in donning a burqa or flaunting a Playboy bikini — autonomy in the public sphere equal to that of men is the end game. Women — and everyone excluded by the gender binary — deserve the same right that is afforded to men to explore and actualise the things that make them feel comfortable and empowered. In the words of Claire Synder-Hall:

Inclusive, pluralistic, and non-judgemental third-wave feminism respects the rights of women to decide for themselves how to negotiate the often contradictory desires for both gender equality and sexual pleasure… Third-wave feminism actually exhibits not a thoughtless endorsement of “choice,” but rather a deep respect for pluralism and self-determination.

Empowerment looks different on everyone — one woman’s nun’s habit is another woman’s thong. If you want to dress outlandishly to send a big “fuck you” to what’s considered conventionally attractive — that’s dope. If you want to become a Playboy Bunny because for you personally, the ends justify the means — go get it, girl. It’s all good. One more time: you do you, boo.

Ariel Levy — author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture — takes a slightly different stance, viewing performative sexuality as detrimental to the women’s liberation movement as a whole. Levy explores the emergence of the Female Chauvinist Pig: a woman who chooses to embrace her sexuality within a framework of performativity. She’s one of the boys; she has casual sex; she uses her body to climb the corporate ladder. She actively perpetuates the patriarchy. By way of embracing entities like Girls Gone Wild and Playboy, Female Chauvinist Pigs have commercialised sexuality, creating a social reality wherein “sexiness” now connotes not allure or arousal, but worthiness. According to Levy, false conceptions of liberation and empowerment have spawned a regressive progression of feminism wherein women are complicit in their own marginalisation.

Carol Hanisch’s The Personal Is Political supports an antithetical view, articulating an appreciation for women who exploit wider society’s rigid allegiance to traditional conceptions of femininity, and urging women to renounce blame for our perceived “failures” and feel vindicated in doing what we must to thrive in a world that caters first and foremost to men. Levy might be right — so-called raunch culture might be a discourse within which women consent to their own objectification — however personally I can’t help but align myself with Hanisch’s view, and respect women who manipulate their oppressors in an effort to capitalise on their own inevitable marginalisation.

Levy holds women responsible for inadvertently (or not) exacerbating their own objectification and the absolute condemnation of performative femininity appears myopic when the pervasive nature of the male gaze is considered. Levy, at the heart of it all, is criticising women engaging in raunch culture for catering so comprehensively, and of their own volition, to the male gaze. However, is actively refusing to participate in raunch culture not, in its own way, catering to — or at the very least, responding to — the male gaze?

Ultimately, despite being wildly divergent in intent, both acting to subvert the patriarchy (say, by wearing frumpy or concealing clothing), and acting to entertain the patriarchy (say, by wearing skimpy or revealing clothing), are inherently responding to the male gaze: both leave you at the mercy of criticism in alignment with patriarchal assumptions. The male gaze is omnipresent; there is no “more liberated” way. Albeit inadvertently, Levy’s central argument hermeneutically centres men in a dialogue intended to afford increased visibility to women.

Exploiting socially conditioned assumptions of women can be empowering. When life gives you lemons, capitalise on a sexist narrative that simultaneously degrades and monetises sexuality, or something like that. I have conventionally attractive, staunchly feminist friends that go to bars without money because they know men will buy them drinks. I’m tweeting “cancel men 2017” at 11:59, and browsing Seeking Arrangements at 12:00. I’m not above putting on the “emotional girl” act when I get pulled over by the police. If a grown ass man insists on paying for dinner I’ll happily accept — it’s not my fault he’s still subscribing to archaic social conceptions of women as weak and dependent.

Is it possible to subvert the patriarchy by ostensibly catering to it? Does the immediate material benefit that women gain from objectifying ourselves somehow negate the fact that we are still being objectified by men? Is the development of “sex-positive” feminism simply an evolution of self-policing bodies that are encouraged by our gendered social conditioning? I’d like to think that performative femininity is a viable alternative to patriarchal assimilation, but I just have no answers for you. The more I learn about epistemology and social power dynamics the more want to take a quick three month nap.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, just, let the motivation for however you perform your identity be because it makes you feel good, not because it makes some Chad in a fucking bucket hat feel good, k?

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