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Friday, June 24, 2011

High heels and feminism: thinking about Feminist Guilt on World Femininity Day

Femininity and feminism have long been seen as arch enemies; after all wasn’t bra burning and chucking away heels and lipsticks the whole point of feminism?

(c) Flickr user Stephen Mitchell
Though a staunch believer in feminism, I have had my moments of weakness and subsequent guilt. I have had so many conflicting opinions about my own ‘femininity’ and my belief in feminism that it’s hard to count them. And I am not one of those ‘post-feminist’ ones otherwise it would have been easy to rationalise my behaviour as ‘having it all’.

When I put myself through the torture of wearing high heels, I curse myself for indulging in something that doesn’t make sense at all and for betraying feminism and yet, I do it. I wear hoops and earrings and pretty dresses and yes, I do look quite ‘feminine’. It’s a matter of feeling that this is something I shouldn’t do but wanting to do it, and it’s the want that wins. It’s what I call the ‘feminist guilt’ and I’ve felt the pangs plenty of times.

Thinking about it, the guilt comes from the irrationality associated with femininity. It’s hard to disagree with the femininity equals irrationality equation when you try figuring out why on earth would anybody want to wear immobilising heels, try to manage long hair or wear dresses that make it difficult to sit down. There is one reason that one could come up with and that is to find a mate. But then isn’t feminism against every woman’s eternal and ultimate quest to find a man? Isn’t it about realising that there’s more to a woman’s life than getting married, cooking and having children? It indeed is.

But my feelings towards my expression of femininity have not been entirely negative. For starters, I believe through an expression of my femininity and my very loud self-proclamation of being a feminist, I contribute towards at least putting a dent in the men-hating, bra-burning, lesbian, killjoys stereotypes of feminists, which, to be honest, don’t really contribute towards increasing affiliation with feminism.

Secondly, I have started to have doubts about how rational and practical masculinity is. Sure, it’s more practical to keep your hair short, wear flat shoes and put on comfortable clothes but how rational is it to spend hours watching football and drinking beer? Surely no more rational than spending a whole afternoon watching the royal wedding.

And yet, us rationalists haven’t been criticising masses who would congregate for Olympics in the same way as we rebuked people who were desperate to catch a sight of the royal bride. Is that just because sports are masculine and weddings feminine? If sports foster diplomatic relationships, it can well be argued that the royal wedding helped the British economy.

There is no conflicting opinion in my mind about the social labelling of certain traits as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’. But I do doubt whether rejecting femininity is the best way forward for feminism.

It might take a long time to eliminate the idea of classifying traits into masculine and feminine but we can start by not seeing masculinity and femininity in contrast and affording them more fluidity that they have right now.

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