Lorelei is an Arts Student at the University of Queensland, she is actively involved in the Womens Collective and was instrumental in its creation. She is a collector of cardigans and a lover of bunnies. In German mythology, Lorelei is a rock on the Rhine river.
For the average young feminist, being disappointed with the depiction of women in mainstream media is hardly novel. Western pop culture is and always has been a big old jerk where representation of ladies is concerned. In recent times though, it feels like we are slowly but surely catching glimpses of progress; every so often the F-bomb gets some airplay and feminism takes one teensy step forward from its reputation as a cult for girls with no bras and hairy legs (which is called ‘Saturday night’ in my house). Women everywhere are watching with relief as high-profile personalities, from Tina Fey to Julia Gillard to the woman who invented Feminist Ryan Gosling, bring the concept of feminism to the public sphere.
One role model in particular will, I predict, leave a lasting legacy to the feminist movement. She has taught us that being a Single Lady is something to dance about, that Honeys can make the Moneys and that in fact we Run the World. I am of course referring to Beyoncé. Beyoncé is kind of the face of the modern feminist: incredibly talented, incredibly successful, peddling a solid message of female empowerment. The icing on the cake is that she’s been named People’s Most Beautiful Woman 2012, her hair is perfect and her body is a wonderland. And she’s married and a mother so you also know that even though she’s wearing a leather leotard, she’s not, you know, loose. Morally. Or vaginally.
It’s kind of like she’s feminism, but heaps more palatable. She’s…well…she’s Girl Power. I know, I know. Girl Power was something the Spice Girls invented in that unfortunate period we sometimes refer to as “the 90s” if we’re being forced to remember it ever happened. Girl Power was pink and sparkly and adorned with 70s floral motifs and friendship bracelets. Girl Power looked like this:
Fistpump!! Billowing hair!! Skinny girls silhouetted against a cherry-coloured supernova!! Are we feeling empowered yet?
Well, just as we all exited the 90s and blossomed into adulthood, so did Girl Power. And now it looks like this:
That’s Bey-Bey in a recent GQ interview where she really outed her feminist sensibilities with quotes like “Equality is a myth” and “[Men] define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.” See? It’s feminism! Just topless in a men’s magazine doing fistpumps and having great hair! Are we feeling empowered yet?
I should mention here that the point of this piece isn’t ten minutes of gratuitous Beyoncé bashing. I still think she’s fabulous and it’s nowhere close to my place to judge any woman for what she does between the pages of a gentlemen’s magazine. The point of this somewhat tangential collection of thoughts was instead to vent my deep frustration at the tone of mainstream female empowerment in the second decade of the 21st century, which is always sexy and rarely has its clothes on. I know you all know what I’m talking about. I’m sick of the ad industry, the entertainment industry, the media industry and the fashion industry giving us ‘power’ via sexualisation. Beyoncé topped multiple “hottest chick eva” lists last year but no one called her the voice of 2012. No one bought GQ to read her interview. Her growing reputation as the spokesperson for today’s independent young women is supplemented and made acceptable by her other status as a sex symbol. If her GQ piece is a metaphor for the movement, I’m hanging out for the day we can read her quotes without also having to look at her breasts.
Sisters, our power, our talents, our strengths and our achievements bear no correlation to our bodies and what we do or don’t do with them. Our image does not need to be juxtaposed with a bunch of dudes (see below) just to demonstrate our agency. We don’t have to be sexually appealing or fit conventional standards of attractiveness to be an aspirational figure. And now more than ever, with feminism gaining traction in the mainstream, is the time to remember and emphasize these truths.
Girl power was fun when we were all eight but that was a whole other century ago.
2013, show me what ya got.
University of Queensland