Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Blogger Talk: Feminism In Life, Politics & On The Internet

I know it has been a while since I wrote a 'serious' post on this blog (read: not about clothes or food) but as I know you guys do enjoy reading and debating them (and I do enjoy writing them) I thought I'd float a few opinions, stories and ideas around feminism in general, on the internet and in real life, and how it effects us in the blogging community. Those of you who stick around for photos of overloaded brunch plates, pictures of Southern Californian beaches and recipes for chocolate brownies, I promise I will be back to regular scheduling on Friday with a recipe involving peaches and lots of vanilla ice cream.
Photo by Nicole Anderson, Los Angeles March 2013. Style bloggers get a lot of stick for enjoying dressing up in bright clothes and full makeup. I used to hate having my photo taken, but I remember when I first received these photos from Nicole, where I was made up for a shoot; they really made me feel good about myself and I was doing it for me and no one else. How is that anti-feminist? 

Okay, be honest. Hands up who of you have been in a social situation with people who are not familiar with style blogging and you've tried to play down what your blog is about and your online life because you don't want to be judged for writing about clothes, lipstick, fashion and for posting pictures of your daily outfits on the internet? I'm pretty sure at one time or another we've all done it. There is the age old argument of if you can still be a feminist if you dress up in high heels and lipstick every day, and care all too much about clothes and beauty products (enough to build, write and edit and entire website devoted to them). People say that you can't be putting makeup on for 'you', and that you are doing it for other people (mainly men). But honestly, what is un-feminist about dressing up and wanting to look good, say, on a date with a guy if it is what you want? It would be anti-feminist if it were not your choice to put on makeup, heels and everything else, but what is un-feminist if it is your choice? Let us look at it from the other extreme, would you feel good about yourself if you had to go out on a date in the clothes you wear to kick around the house in, because by doing otherwise you could be seen as someone who did not care about woman's rights? 

Honestly, most views and ideas of 'feminism' out there really annoy me, and I think make up the main reason why I refuse to label myself as a feminist. To much of it seems to be about what should be done differently for women from what is done for men in order to make them 'equal', and about what you should and should not say in the same respect, than men and women actually being treated as if they are actually equal. It was the death of Margaret Thatcher that really cemented my personal brand of 'feminism' in my mind. In the aftermath of her death, aside from all the debate about her political 'legacy' lots of commentators felt the need (as she was the first female British Prime Minister) to discuss her 'feminist' legacy too. Lots of people found her inspiring, and many others said she should have tried to do more for women in her position as the first woman in such a high public office. I don't think you have to agree or disagree with her policies to see her as a feminist icon. I personally agree  with Thatcher's brand of feminism. There are people who say she did nothing for women because while she was Prime Minister she did not do anything that could be singled out as specifically for women like governments after her did. She went after the difficult 'non female' briefs like finance and defence. She made it that being a woman did not matter; she was not able to do the highest job in our country because she was a woman, but because she was elected to the position and by being pretty much the same Prime Minister she would have been if she were a man. In this she did more for women than if she had made a big special case out of woman's issues in her premiership. It is a bit like how I feel about Affirmative Action; by actively trying to raise a group that are seen as not being equal, you are actually creating more inequality. 

When I'm living in London the parts of my social life that are not blog related or with fellow bloggers that you don't see on the blog happen in Westminster. All my friends who don't work in the creative industries and I did not go to school with work in Westminster, either for government departments, initiatives, think tanks or MP's. You can read this post I wrote way back in 2011 why you don't see, and why you won't ever see any of the 'Westminster' side of my life on my blog, but that does not mean I don't have to deal with how I am seen by others in social situations with politicos. Before I fell head first into food writing, because while technically enrolled in university  I've never been a 'real' student, I was essentially a fashion and beauty journalist, and I think some of the reactions I've had when I've admitted what I do to people, or when one of my companions has outed me are tied into feminism. Particularly poignent memories include turning up late to a drinks hosted by a cabinet minister after representing Judging Covers at the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards. Being a bit more dressed up than I usually would be for such an event everyone who knew me and quite a few who did not asked me where I had been, and I could tell from the moment I admitted it no one who had only just met me took me seriously. Again, I was in a popular Westminster pub and when I was introduced by a mutual friend to the Chairman of a think tank who, when he heard I was a woman who wrote about something fashion, and not politics related simply refused to concede I may actually have the capacity to understand what I was arguing in a minor policy debate. I'm not saying everyone in Westminster is like this or reacts like this; I'm just holding it up as an example because it is the only environment outside of the creative industries where I am more than just a passing visitor. But it is a problem; I honestly want to smash my head against a wall every time I read a piece in the newspaper drawing attention to Theresa May's shoe collection or debating if Louise Mensch had had a facelift over the parliamentary recess. But, as I said in politics it does work both ways and I don't want to give a one sided example; depending on what newspaper you read you might think that my (male) MP got elected not because of his policies, but because of his 'rugged public school good looks'. Moving onto the topic of the former Tory MP, unlike the rest of my acquaintances who were more interested in the resulting by-election, I had my own personal disappointment that she was no longer a MP. Regardless of if I said it out loud or not, it was nice to know there was someone who did not come from the typical Westminster background had been highly successful in an area that so many people don't take seriously (Louise Mensch and the chick lit author Louise Bagshawe are the same person) and who was capable of being taken seriously in British politics.

Interestingly enough, it was actually a post on Louise's blog Unfashionista called 'Reality Based Feminism' which actually inspired this more 'thoughtful' blog post than usual. Here are a few excerpts from the post I think you should read if you don't want to sit down and read the whole thing which really illustrate why we need to have a total overhaul of how people approach the idea of feminism in order to make it sensible again:

"“Check your privilege”, for example, is a profoundly stupid trope that states that only those with personal experience of something should comment, or that if a person is making an argument, they should immediately give way if their view is contradicted by somebody with a different life story. It is hard to imagine a more dishonest intellectual position than “check your privilege”, yet daily I see intelligent women who should know better embracing it."
"Jonanamary took issue with an early unfashionista blog over on Jux in which I said in passing that “vertical stripes don’t make you look thinner, jogging on the treadmill for half an hour five times a week makes you look thinner.” Why would I want to look thinner? This was fattist. Why should anybody want to have a healthy body weight? How dare I say that fashion models aren’t “normal women”. What about those women who are just naturally the size of spaghetti sticks? Anyway, what are normal curves? This is cis-ist to transsexual women who don’t have wombs… At this point, I had drifted off into Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where Stan and Judith are debating whether they should stick up for Stan’s “right to have babies” even though he can’t have babies. And that is what the modern feminist movement has become. Full of intersectionality, debates about middle-class privilege, hand-wringing over a good education (this is again “privilege” and not well deserved success), and otherwise intelligent women backing out of debates and sitting around frenziedly checking their privilege."

As I know most of you have not been following me online since 2008, you probably won't know in the Summer of that year I filmed a documentary with Channel 4 for their Battlefront project running a campaign for positive body image in the fashion industry. While there are some people who also ran campaigns for the project are still involved with their causes (there were 20 of us, involved in everything from to trying to get rid of free newspapers on public transportation to help the environment to trying to scrap university tuition fees), I think I am the only one who does not really want to talk about my campaign anymore. Partly, because I can acknowledge that one of the reasons I have a pretty thick skin both online and in the real world is out of all the campaigners with less controversial campaigns I was the 15 year old getting hate mail from people she'd never even met. Mainly though, because yes, the fashion industry really did, and in some parts still does have issues with the size and weight of models and their attitudes to body image, I now know it is an issue where there is no way everyone is ever going to come to a consensus  and it is impossible to approch with any common sense without upsetting too many people. I refuse to approach anything in a manner that is not common sense centric. The above paragraph pulled from Louise's post perfectly illustrates this; both the size zero and modern feminism movements are not ever going to get anywhere unless people are willing to forget what people have told them they have no right to comment on, and just discuss things sensibly.

I'd love to hear all of your thoughts on the topic, but I'd just like to take a moment to draw your attention to this blogs Comment Policy; I encourage good debate, as long as everyone plays nice and stays respectful towards each other even if you don't necessarily agree with their point of view. Also, a little feedback on the subject of these longer blog posts would be nice; do you guys still enjoy seeing something a bit meatier like this on the blog once in a while, or should I just stick to all the lighter stuff?


  1. For the love of god please break up your paragraphs. It's impossible to read this right.

  2. Firstly, thanks for sharing this, it's a great post! It definitely gave me a lot to think about!

    don't have experience of it from a fashion point of view, but when I
    used to write game reviews I was once introduced to a group of my friends university classmates as "that girl
    who writes video game reviews". It was like someone turned on the "Judgement Thermostat" to a hundred;
    they didn't think I could hold a conversation with them, let alone know
    what they were even talking about, which was particularly frustrating!

    As is with any kind of blogging I do think there is a lot of stigma, just like in your case above, and probably so due to a lack of understanding, we're quick to judge things we're not really that clued up on!

  3. Great article - I do like reading longer, thoughtful posts and you touched on a lot of points that I agree with or that I could discuss at great length. This comment could have been a lot longer!

    You describe not being taken seriously at political events when your creative background emerges, and I completely get it! I work in science policy, and have to make sure that I always introduce myself as "Dr" (which I am) otherwise I run the risk of being massively patronised by the people I'm trying to talk to. I've had to cultivate a 'bad cop' persona for work in order to make sure that people take me seriously; making snap judgements based on my business card rather than on my shoes. Because honestly, while I make (minor) concessions to dressing more conservatively, I don't really tone it down that much for work - orange jumper to a Home Office meeting, check. Luckily my bad cop character always has a snappy comeback ready if someone feels the need to comment!

  4. This is awesome. I'm a poly sci major, who happens to go to a women's college, so this is a topic that gets tied into most of our classes. A lot of the people I go to school with, including myself, classify ourselves as 'difference feminists' and like to celebrate the differences between men and women (because lets be real: some are pretty obvious). I think there is a fine line between embracing your feminine side (fashion/beauty blogging) and being a feminist . . . at least it appears that way to the outside world.

    Personally, I love talking about this stuff . . . but I do that all the time for class! And I think it's really interesting to hear your point of view from the UK. I'm an American Politics focus, and while I've taken classes in Comparative and International Politics, they were more survey courses, rather than talking about specific topics such as this. I really appreciate it!

    PS: Have you seen the documentary Miss Representation? It's a good'un. :D

  5. Great post, Rachel. It's ridiculous how some people still are of the mindset that wearing make-up means you're either feminist or anti-feminist. I wear it for myself, and my boyfriend doesn't even notice if I wear it or not, so I could not bother, but I choose to, because we have the freedom to choose. Some people need to get their views out of the 1950's misogynistic closet! x