Here it is! This is Part 2 of 2 on challenging our conceptions of feminism and femininity. Part 1 may be found here.
In Part 1, we discussed how femininity and feminism are not antithetical to one another, as inspired by this Feministing post. Here, I want to discuss the image and presentation of femininity, and how it influences our perceptions.
One of the tumblrs that I follow is La Douleur Exquise by Miss Wallflower that is basically a celebration of all things feminine. Every day dozens of pictures are uploaded that reflect the general theme, emphasizing fashion photography, bon bons, woodland creatures, books, tea and inspirational quotes. I am acutely aware of its flaws. The majority of women featured are white and waif-like. It emphasizes traditional gender roles and promotes women’s sexuality and aesthetic appeal as their primary quality. But for its artistic merit, it also forces me to confront these images, and question how their meaning is received today.
My feminist theory professor was also really into art, so receiving the presentation and questioning the meaning of these images goes hand in hand with cultural feminism for me. For example, here are a few photographs that piqued my interest:
Here, she’s kissing him. Subject-Verb-Object (props to any who get the reference to Catherine MacKinnon). I like this picture because it doesn’t necessarily convey traditional power dynamics. It’s true that he’s still in a suit, and she’s still in a dress, but to me this image speaks to a more balanced relationship than traditional feminine dependence.
This is in a typical artsy fashion spread style with the addition of a woodland creature (I find the ‘insert woodland creature’ trend to be hilarious). She looks angry, but I can’t tell if it’s because they made her wear the stupid dress or if she had a fight with the deer. OR perhaps she’s pissed about the Stupak amendment threatening her reproductive rights.
This image brought a number of questions to mind. Why is she almost naked? Is it really necessary for her to be naked? Does she want to be naked? Why shouldn’t she be naked? The appropriation of women’s bodies sometimes leads to a certain disconnect with the body as not one’s own. When it is naked, it is usually for someone else’s consumption. So what does it really mean for a woman to be naked in an image? Or more importantly, how do we communicate with and through our bodies in everyday life?
There are a number of book and reading themed images. I like this one from the movie Matilda. On the one hand, reading can be interpreted as feminine through its apparent passiveness as an activity. For me, reading is revolutionary. It empowers our imaginations and challenges our assumptions. It opens us to new worlds, adventures and possibilities. It brought me to feminism.
Finally, here is one of the few women of colour who are featured. Frida Kahlo was an incredible female artist in the 20th century who communicated her experience through the medium of her art. She’s featured more than once in Miss Wallflower’s tumblr, as are other female artists. I think this really speaks to the importance of female self-expression, as well as non-traditional standards of ‘beauty’.
There are thousands and thousands of images. I encourage you to check them out yourself, and ask your own questions about how they convey their meaning to you. In the end, I would argue that it is not femininity itself, but our perceptions of femininity that shape how we feel about it. Do we choose to see its strength or passivity? Expression or repression?
Most importantly, how can we shape the modern interpretation into something we’re comfortable with?