Saturday, August 20, 2005

Feminism and the pinup girl

The language of liberalism is everywhere. Just consider this article from yesterday’s Age newspaper. It’s about the results of a British survey which showed that most young women want to be celebrity strippers or lap dancers rather than doctors, teachers or nurses.

How did the feminist writer of the article respond to this disconcerting news? She justified it in terms of liberal theory.

The liberal theory goes as follows. We are made human by the fact that, unlike animals, we can choose to be who we are and what we do, according to our own individual will and reason.

This means that liberals want us to preserve our ability to choose for ourselves without restrictions. Therefore liberals want individuals to remain “autonomous”, “independent” and “self-determining”.

Furthermore, it’s important for liberals that a social “equality of will” is maintained. Otherwise some people gain in their essential humanity at the expense of others. Men have had more economic and political power than women, which (according to liberals) is not a reflection of men following their masculine nature in the interests of their community, but is an illegitimate grab for power at the expense of an oppressed womanhood.

So, for liberals, female “empowerment” is also a buzzword.

Back to the article. How does a feminist writer accept the fact that young women want more than anything else to be celebrity pinup girls? She writes,

For most women who model or want to model for men’s magazines ... there is little contradiction between being an empowered, “independent woman” and posing in one’s underwear ...."

[celebrity females] are known and admired for their smarts and self-determination ... [pinup girls] aren’t clueless women with no other option than to pose in their knickers; they’re women who experience genuine power and accomplishment in their daily lives ...

the language they use to justify their decision to pose is a language of empowerment ... If feminism is about choice, they say, is it not their prerogative to choose to make some relatively easy money from looking pretty and adopting a sexy pose ... Then there’s the picture spread as sexual liberation...

A modern feminist looks at Abi Titmuss and Jordan and approves. These women are making their own choices, gaining economic and cultural power, determining their own lives .... and this is what matters for a liberal. These are the terms of a liberal morality.

Yet, the consequences of accepting this approach to morality are grotesque. It means approving of Paris Hilton or Jordan as the modern feminine ideal.

We can do better than this, but first we have to jettison the hold over us of the liberal orthodoxy, so that we can once again concern ourselves with what is objectively good rather than limiting our field of view to what is self-determined.

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