Feminine But Not Feminist...

Feminine but not feminist
Amrita Shah

Indian Express
Copyright(C) 2000 The Indian Express Online Media Ltd., Source: World Reporter (TM)

The other day a successful actress was chatting with the host of one of Star World's afternoon talk shows. Here's how she described a close friend: "She's a feminist and I
know they're not supposed to be but she really is funny."

At a proposed women's web site the promoters tell me: "We want to reach out to women but," and they pause to make sure I get the distinction, "we are not radical! We are not

These are just a couple of the many instances I have come across in recent times. Instances of defensiveness, apology and downright antipathy towards the term feminism and all that it implies. The reaction comes from various places, including from those who have been sympathetic or even part of the women's movement. A women's activist,someone who was at the forefront of various agitations in the eighties, for instance, maintains categorically that she now dislikes "the word `empowerment' and all the other jargons of the movement."

The trend, of course, isn't new. American polls in the earlier part of the last decade discovered that though support for feminist ideals was widespread, a majority of women hesitated to associate themselves with the movement.  As Karlyn Keene, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute observed, more than three quarters of American women supported efforts to "strengthen and changewomen's status in society," yet only a minority, a third at most, identified themselves as feminists. Why is this happening? Wendy Kaminer in a detailed article in The Atlantic

Monthly some years ago claimed that while on the one hand identifying feminism with femininity brought women limited returns, in the popular mind feminism came to represent a rejection of femininity. As this hypothesis implies the reasons for the growing rejection of feminism as a means of self-definition are complex and need serious reflection. It is not my intention to attempt an intensive exploration here of the past. What I am suggesting is that perhaps the phenomenon has arisen in part due to the emergence of a new consciousness. And what do I base my proposition on? The answer is the delicate but not insubstantial evidence of music videos.

If you doubt me then surf the channels and check out what the popular divas are singing about. Start with Whitney Houston. Remember Whitney Houston in Saving All My Love For You -- the young girl waiting patiently as the object of her affections flitted in and out of sight? Watch her now, sleek and regally confident as she tells her cheating boyfriend : "It's not right but it's okay, I'm gonna get by anyway... Pack your bags up and leave." Or there's Shania Twain stuck in the middle of the desert and still passing up one enticing man after another with a dismissive "That don't impress me much."

Don't these women have any fun? Of course they do. In Feelin so Good pin up goddess Jennifer Lopez seems to be having a wild night on the town with her girlfriends. Girlfriends are big. All past allegations of women not being able to get along with women can be safely dumped out of the window. Whether it's Sheryl Crow sharing the stage with Melissa Etheridge or the army silently backing Houston, it is support all the way. In one of her recent hits, a pack of friends take Mariah Carey to the movies and stand up for her when they find her boyfriend making out with another woman. In He Wasn't Man Enough Toni Braxton helps a friend check out her man's fidelity levels. The story might seem the same. Bad man. Poor woman. But the attitude isn't. These women are as feminine as they can be but their femininity does not make them less aware of their rights.

In some ways one can say they have internalised the ideals of feminism. Yet their manner of assertion reveals a departure from the traits that wrongly or rightly have come to be
associated with feminism such a confrontation and a dour lack of humour. These women do not rage, they do not whine. When things don't work out they shrug their shoulders and leave. They refuse to crib and they refuse to be exploited. But most important, they accept that they have to take responsibility for themselves. When Twain refuses all assistance she has to trudge through the searing landscape on foot, weighted down with baggage and alone -- a fate she accepts cheerfully enough. It is a phenomenon that could make men understandably insecure and I have heard several complain of being rendered redundant by the growing self-sufficiency of women. This, of course, is far from the truth or at least the overwhelming popularity of love songs would suggest so. And maybe it would make men feel better if they knew that women were poking fun at male vanities (Madonna's belching, trouser dropping act in her version of American Pie for example) rather than at the gender itself. Or perhaps there's cold comfort in that. When your lot has been reduced to a plethora of pre-pubescent boy bands singing sappy love songs it is time to start complaining. Big time.



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