Are we really progressing as a society if we still expect women to conform to beauty and moral standards that serve as the backbone for a sexist and patriarchal society?
Feminism as a movement has always sought to break down the social establishments that have institutionalised gender roles and stereotypes forced upon on us by the patriarchal world in which we exist. Of these institutions, by far the most prominent is the one that stipulates a clear distinction between male and female space in the public arena. In its most primitive state, men are the hunters, leaders, protectors, inventors; which in modern society has translated into heading innovation and technology based industries, monopolising the political domain, and undoubtedly being at the forefront of business, medicine, and the backbone of most entertainment industries. Ultimately carving out a remaining gap for women to assume as caretakers and the upholders of society’s moral compass. Because no matter how much progress societies have made in terms of gender equality, men and women are invariably held to different moral and physical standards. In effect, what women hear is “be free but not too free; be educated but don’t be threatening; you can have a few flings here and there but don’t be a slut; of course, you’re equal but its only right to keep up your appearance…because no matter how ‘liberated’ you are, you still have a duty to look good, weigh under 60 kgs, have a few degrees under your belt, establish and maintain a successful career, find a man, start a family and hold down a household all while looking like there are more than 24 hours in a day”. As expected, this observation has drawn extensive criticism, specifically directed towards the beauty industry (and to a lesser extent our celebrity culture) for spearheading unrealistic expectations of women to have it all, while not really ‘enjoying’ it all. Are we really progressing as a society if we still expect women to conform to beauty and moral standards that serve as the backbone for a sexist and patriarchal society? Moreover, aren’t women that continue to indulge in such practices setting back the progress that feminism has made all these years?
he widespread view of the stereotypical feminist. Bra burning; angry; man-hating; always complaining; loud; bossy; butch and not yet in touch with her feminine side.
Well, quite simply no. Because why does feminism and femininity have to be mutually exclusive? Why is it so hard to visualise an intelligent and successful woman exploring her sexuality and feminine identity while still believing in the inherent equality of the sexes? Why can’t a woman choose to wear heels and makeup and still go into a board of directors’ meeting to discuss marketing strategies with potential investors? For one thing, it is because of the widespread view of the stereotypical feminist. Bra burning; angry; man-hating; always complaining; loud; bossy; butch and not yet in touch with her feminine side. But while this image is undoubtedly a way of invalidating the struggle of women with regard to gender equality, it also shows our reluctance to allow the individuality of women without compartmentalising them into sections based on the idea of existing outside the societal construct of male domination. Because once we start finding it hard to accept the ability of a woman to explore her sexuality and femininity without taking away from her mental and physical capabilities, then we also do men the disservice by expecting them to complete the circle, or be ‘the other’. In other words, men that seem to encroach on the ‘female’ public space are seen as confused or not ‘man enough’. We cannot allow the movement of gender equality to be invalidated because women have the gall to look a certain way or interact with the opposite sex in a manner that would make the Pope curse. Femininity and feminism are not mutually exclusive because although femininity as it stands has always been defined by men, it is possible for women to explore their feminine identity outside the arena of a man’s sexual high, while still expecting the same rights and respect as any man, or better yet, any individual.