Feminism and Kim Kardashian
This unlikely juxtaposition comes because I’m thinking about scrutiny of women’s bodies. Somebody used that phrase the other week and I was somewhat perplexed.
Not because I think women’s bodies aren’t scrutinized, but because it wasn’t in a context I would have expected. The person proclaimed that complimenting a woman on weight loss was offensive, especially from a feminist perspective. I could buy that people with body-image issues would be quick to jump to unfavourable conclusions (Was I so ugly before? Am I only worthy of love if I’m thin?), and that the distress that would cause would be reason enough to refrain. Also, weight loss might be caused by health issues people prefer to keep private, and that can lead to awkwardness, as well. All good reasons, but not necessarily in the realm of feminism – I can imagine that men might suffer from the same issues, especially the latter.
But the other day I saw the same phrase in the paper with respect to Kim Kardashian, so I guess it is a thing. I am not questioning the fact that women’s appearance is always under the microscope, especially women of power. While men have their own set of body issues, the scrutiny of women’s bodies seems to be an entity in its own right.
I’ve been trying to track down its origins. I haven’t quite succeeded yet, but I found this fascinating blog post, about the way society approaches tattooed women, and how it differs from the way it treats tattooed men. Never having had a tattoo, reading this blog post opened a door to a new world I had never considered. Go have a look.
I was a feminist in the eighties, when we spent serious time considering whether women approach science differently from men. I think there are real points there in the life and social sciences, but the time I spent arguing with people about whether physics research is gendered is something I’ll never get back .. oh well. Still, it was a time when I was forming my world view, and it was very good for me, as a child of privilege, to learn about the lives of other people, and that my concerns weren’t necessarily theirs (and vice versa). There is an incredible arrogance in the way middle-class white women have presumed to speak for all women, and while those “others” have become more visible, I think that is still a problem in feminism.
This is not to make light of the progress that has been made over the decades since that time. In fact, it’s been so impressive that I’ve been distressed to hear young women tell me that they aren’t feminists because there isn’t a need for it anymore. I don’t believe that for one minute, and I was pleased to read this article, which suggests that there is a feminist renaissance in the making, fueled to some extent by the kind of body-image bullying mentioned in the Free Press article I reference above. I’ve also had the good fortune to meet some thoughtful and brilliant young women, such as the makers of the Finding Our Hunger podcast, Kaila and Ito. And if nothing else, the fact that I was introduced to this blog was enough to make my day.
It gives me hope that feminism is in good hands. The problems are different – the pressure now is to be skinny, to be successful, to be the best at everything and to have everything. If our mothers chafed at the limitations of women’s lives, our daughters (and sons) are dealing with new challenges. The immediacy of social media, the permanence of images online, the incredible cruelty of anonymous commenters – it’s a different world, but I am confident they can take it on.
What do you think?