Emily VanLeuvan-Reflections on Readings for July 30, 2014
I found Elizabeth Groeneveld’s article “Be a Feminist or Just Dress Like One: BUST, Fashion and Feminism as Lifestyle” to be very thought provoking, as it really allowed me consider the way feminism is represented in today’s society. I have found that more recently, I have heard my male students make derogatory comments about feminism. I once overheard a male student talking about another English teacher. Using a derogatory tone, he said, “Mrs. X hates all of the boys in our class, she’s such a feminist”. I can’t remember any of my male friends in high school even mentioning the word feminism, so I definitely think that certain stereotypes about feminists have been foregrounded by the Internet and the media recently. It seems that people are more than ready to view feminists as “…either androgynous, power-suit-wearing working women or, alternately, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie ‘granola’ lesbians who, according to popular discourse, feel they occupy a higher moral ground” (Groeneveld 181). I would like to think that our society is making progress toward achieving gender equality, yet why are many people so eager to embrace these stereotypes?
I think that Groeneveld brings up several good points about the “lifestyle feminism” that is depicted in BUST magazine. By depicting the feminist movement through fashion, the authors of the feature are also presenting feminism in a way that is, as Groeneveld describes, “friendly and accessible” (189). Women (or men) who might feel alienated or intimidated by a more aggressive feminist platform might be relate to the BUST piece, and thus the article might allow feminism to become more comprehensible to people who are unfamiliar with the movement. However, I also agree with many of Groevenveld’s criticisms. The title and theme of the BUST article promotes the notion that fashion and clothes can define a feminist, while perhaps this philosophy is the root of many feminist stereotypes. Additionally, the line “Be a Feminist or Just Dress Like One” devalues feminism. By providing the reader with the option to either “be a feminist” or “just dress like one”, the suggestion is made that there is inauthenticity to the movement; it is not important to actually be a feminist when one can “just dress like one”. Groeneveld presents a paradox where feminism is depicted as “unthreatening” (188) by BUST magazine and other forms of media, yet in doing so “minimizes some of its ‘uglier’-yet important-dimensions: anger, criticality, and dissent” (188). In effect, this strategy “…also limits the possibilities for critiques of systemic and institutionalized forms of discrimination” (189). So where does the feminist movement go from here? How can the stigma associated with feminism be lifted, yet how can the movement also progress?
Erynn Masi de Casanova’s article “Women’s Magazines in Ecuador: Re-reading ‘la Chica Cosmo’” provided some eye-opening insight into ways in which magazines that cater to women promote a very one-dimensional, “white” view of beauty. I was surprised to read that many of the U.S and European advertisements in magazines that are sold in Latin America are not altered. Given this practice, it makes sense that “…a universalized, generic, and (almost always) white ideal of beauty” (92) is promoted. I recently watched the movie Selena again, and I found myself trying to place de Cassanova’s comments in this article in relationship with the film. Jennifer Lopez certainly represents the “generic Latina type” (98), and her curvy body is certainly a “universal signifier” (98) through which she relates to her Latina culture. At first I though it was wonderful that the filmmakers did not try to “Americanize” Selena by casting an actress who represented a “white” ideal of beauty. However, Jennifer Lopez is a wealthy celebrity who is embraced by Hollywood and American pop culture. Would people be so accepting of her portrayal of Selena if she didn’t possess autonomy as a celebrity? Does Jennifer Lopez’s appeal lie in her ability to be viewed as “exotic”?
Erynn Masi de Casanova's piece about Ecuador is incredibly engaging. In fact, there are many ideas in this article that are quite interesting. For example, Casanova writes, "Racist messages appear in both transnational and national publications. Many advertising campaigns for U.S. or European products are not changed prior to distribution in Latin America, conveying a universalized, generic, and (almost always) white ideal of beauty" (92). When I read this quote, I was immediately reminded of a presentation and discussion that occurred in my African American literature class last semester. A student delivered a presentation on white beauty norms and ideals in African American culture. Within advertisements and other media products, the African American women usually succumbed to white beauty norms. Many models' hair is straightened and their skin has been digitally altered to appear lighter than they actually are. As I remembered this discussion, I was then reminded of a vignette entitled "The Hairpiece" from George C. Wolfe's satirical play, The Colored Museum. In this vignette, a black woman is confronted by two personified wigs. Wig 1 advocates for beautiful, straight, silky hair while Wig 2 advocates for a large, “picked-out” Afro. The argument presented by Wig 2 is symbolic of authentic African American beauty whereas Wig 1 represents white beauty norms. Essentially, it is up to the woman to decide whether she wants to don this hairpiece or not. Together, this makes me question white beauty norms and ideals. What is better about white beauty? A number of the prettiest, most attractive people I know don't conform to nor represent white beauty norms and ideals, but rather express and celebrate their individuality.
Now, in Elizabeth Groenveld's 'Be a feminist or just dress like one': BUST, fashion and feminism as lifestyle, she writes, "That is, with its 'be a feminist or just dress like one' cover line, BUST's editorial slant seems to shift towards an 'either/or' discursive mode through which the magazine invites the reader to pick and choose which aspects of the magazine she wishes to embrace; this may involve ignoring or rejecting the periodical's feminist elements entirely" (187). This is actually a rather interesting approach. I have an enormous problem with the material that is published in women's magazines, specifically in regards to female portrayal, thus, I find this approach a little bit more appealing than most others. However, the question still remains - why do women have to be depicted in particular ways? Why can't women be represented simply by the persons they are and not their bodies or appearance?
Lastly, Miriam Cooke's Multiple Critique: Islamic Feminist Rhetorical Strategy is full of very interesting ideas. For example, her notion of the veil and the ways in which it is perceived is quite intriguing. Cooke explains that for an "outsider," the veil can be perceived as a representation of oppression and/or marginalization. On the contrary, Muslim women who choose to veil, find the veil empowering, as it symbolizes their religious devotion. He further states that the veil is riddled with contradictions. It both "imprisons and liberates." Women can either choose to veil or not, however, those who choose not to are forced to wear it anyway. The choice varies depending upon each individual woman. The issue with this is that the concept of the veil is presented as a choice to these women. My contestation lies within the idea that it is a "choice." These women don't have a choice. They can either be proud and embrace it or silently reject it while still adhering to the rules. Either way, there is no choice involved when it is a societal requirement.
Jodie Nelson Musings on Readings for July 30, 2014 (Burqas, Birkenstocks, and Bleach)
Identifying a common thread between the assigned readings: Miriam Cooke’s “Multiple Critique: Islamic Feminist Rhetorical Strategies,” Elizabeth Groeneveld’s, “Be a feminist or just dress like one’: BUST, fashion and feminism as lifestyle,” and Erynn Masi de Casanova’s, “Women’s Magazines in Ecuador: Re-reading “la Chic Cosmo,” was somewhat an arduous task. Nonetheless, this reader honed in on the common concepts, or topoi, of ‘identity construction’ and ‘multiple belongings.
Miriam Cooke’s “Multiple Critique: Islamic Feminist Rhetorical Strategies,” addresses the duality of Islamic feminists, “inviting us to consider what it means to have a double commitment” which “celebrates multiple belongings.” Although existence and membership within these contradictory, not to be confused with ‘oxymoronic’ values systems requires the creation of a new identity, which celebrates that which the individual has deemed worthy of maintaining, or necessary for survival in an otherwise contentious situation. As Cooke posits, to be an Islamic feminist one must choose, for survival, to “work within the systems that are trying to marginalize them.” Although ‘trying’ does not seem appropriate considering the historical ascription of women’s roles in Islamic conditions, marginalizing is and has been occurring. Cooke’s examination of the role the veil plays in the ‘contestations’ of Islamic feminism, as a rhetorical strategy, suggests the veil itself is symbolic of the Islamic feminists’ dual membership as they occupy the “space between identities,” and perhaps as she quotes Paul Gilroy, they are engaged in “a provocative and even oppositional act of political insubordination.” Wearing the veil “for the outsider, is an emblem of Muslim women’s oppression and marginalization” but as Cooke posits, “Wearing the veil can be empowering,” both “imprisoning and liberating.” The multiple belongings of being Islamic and a feminist is achieved by opting to wear the veil, allowing Islamic feminists to construct their own identities, diminishing the risk of being labeled politically insubordinates.( I am not addressing the incendiary Islamic beliefs about women and women’s bodies, for now.)
An initial reading of Elizabeth Groeneveld’s, “Be a feminist or just dress like one’: BUST, fashion and feminism as lifestyle,” may result in the conclusion that BUST is being BUSTED by Groeneveld, as the magazine’s fashion issue presents a “particular narrative,” which is reduced to quips and quotes, resulting in “a story about gender difference.” Rather than elucidating the complex natures of the fashion and magazine industries or journalistic strategies, ultimately, the issue “reinforces rather than challenges ‘backlash views’ of feminism.” Further investigation reveals that the BUST fashion issue offers a perspective for as Paige Rockwell terms, “women still on the fence about feminism” offering these undecided or uncommitted potential feminists a plausible position of ‘multiple belongings’ aiding in the ‘identity construction’ which includes considering one’s self as feminist and feminine. Groeneveld suggests, “BUST’s use of the feminist fashion spread may be read as a way of making feminism ‘accessible to a particular demographic group.” This may have been the intention of the BUST magazine’s creators, as editor, Debbie Stoller is quoted, “We know that in the life of today’s modern gal, there’s room for crafting and sex and music and fashion and politics…an interest in one doesn’t preclude an interest in the others.” Despite Stolller’s incendiary, “…reading BUST can help you feel good about being a girl,” it appears BUST is offering an alternative for multiple belongings to those who may want to be a feminist and not just ‘dress like one.’
Erynn Masi de Casanova’s, “Women’s Magazines in Ecuador: Re-reading “la Chic Cosmo,” is a condemnation of the exploitation of Ecuadorian middle-class women’s desires to “imitate foreign trendsetters,” and to “emulate her upper-class counterparts, and the ‘bleaching’ of images of beauty in Latin American consumer communities, resulting in the “hegemony of whiteness in beauty ideals” as Rahier and Twine are quoted. Beyond the condemnation are the topoi of the multiple belongings and identity construction of the transcontinental capitalist class, TCC, as aided and abette
The article “‘Be a feminist or just dress like one’: BUST, fashion and feminism as lifestyle,” bothered me. It seems to me that this magazine is saying the only really important aspect of feminism is fashion; which could not be further from the truth. While I understand previous restrictions on women’s form of dress, times have changed in this regard and for the most part, I feel that women dress how they feel most comfortable. I feel in reference to the 1968 Miss America beauty pageant, the bra burning, even though the bras were not actually burned, was a bit extreme. Personally, I am more comfortable in a bra! However, I do agree with the aspect that beauty pageants have gotten out of control in regards to the messages these women are sending to children, young adults and even males as to what classifies a person as beautiful and healthy. The fact that this past 2014’s Miss America beauty pageant contestant from Indiana caused a debate on what constitutes “normal,” she is a size 4, is outrageous. The average American size is a size 10-12. It is a horrible example to be setting for young girls that a size 4 is “normal,” below is skinny and above is overweight. What we should be stressing is the importance of being healthy—as Miss Indiana did (even though a size 4 I do not believe is “normal”). This also relates to the article “Women’s Magazines in Ecuador: Re-reading ‘la Chica Cosmo’” where there is a call for “more ‘representative’ or ‘accurate’ depictions of women” (89). We are sending out false messages to young girls who already have enough mixed hormones going through their bodies; they do not need to see idolized versions of what they “should be” as to instead, being happy with who they are. Jennifer Lawrence, although I also consider her to be skinny, starts to break the barrier from all other celebrities who explain eating healthy and exercising to maintaining their figure. Jennifer Lawrence explains that when she wants pizza, she eats pizza and doesn’t feel bad about it. It’s not all about restrictive diets and excessive exercise that is important, it’s just about eating in moderation. More real role models (especially on the covers of magazines and social media) are needed than ones that are nearly impossible to become and should not be the goal of becoming.
Something else in the article by Elizabeth Groeneveld that bothered me was on the fashion spread where quotations offered versions of feminism. One quote by Camille Paglia said: “Woman is the dominant sex. Men have to do all sorts of stuff to prove they are worthy of woman’ attention” (184). This is not feminism, in fact, it is reversing the roles saying women are the superior gender. Feminism is a fight for equality, not for dominance. While I understand that there is a negative connotation surrounding the word “feminism,” and that this magazine is trying to reach young girls who may not necessarily identify with feminism (186), the politics and social injustices faced are more important, to me at least, than fashion.
In “Multiple Critique: Islamic Feminist Rhetorical Strategies,” I learned a lot about the difference between Muslims and Islamists and also the fact that women’s religion in terms of Islam is different from men’s. The biggest idea I found in this article is surrounding the importance of establishing networks. In order for Islamic feminists to make their voices heard, they need to come together with other groups of women. When the article discusses joining with Western feminists alliances, the big misconception that I have always had was that Islam limits women as people and that this is what they are fighting for; a change against their religion. However, this is not the truth. This relates back to the difference between men and women’s view on Islam. For women they view Islam “as a broad ethos and ethical code and as a way of understanding and reflecting on the meaning of one’s life and of human life more generally…central to women: ‘Mercy, justice, peace, compassion, humanity, fairness, kindness, truthfulness, charity’” (95). Men view Islam as “official, arcane, mostly medieval Islam” (95). The big problem for Islamic feminists joining Western feminists is the fact that Western feminists see Islam as the oppressive force and are trying to save women from the religion, which is not the saving that Islamic feminists want. Western women “reject contemporary Islam as a misogynist, extremist religion” (106) whereas Islamic feminists see their religion as “the individual faith system that eschews violence as it seeks to manage both internal and external conflict” (106). These women do not want saving from their religion, but they
Fashion and feminism have always had a complicated relationship. We all need to wear clothes (with the exception of nudists – and that in itself makes quite a statement), but clothes represent much more than merely garments, especially for women. The readings we focused on today all pose the question of how the choices women make in regard to fashion, or the choices made for them, are influenced by both media and various movements.
In “Multiple Critique: Islamic Feminist Rhetorical Strategies,” Miriam Cooke begins by citing the most important feature of contemporary Muslim feminism as the way that “[Muslim feminists] reject the proposition that they cannot be both free and equal with men and good Muslims at the same time” (91). One aspect of Cooke’s analysis that I found interesting was her discussion of the veil and the meaning it holds both for Muslim women and for those viewing the culture from the outside. To many westerners, the veil is a symbol of women’s oppression, but Cooke argues that it can mean much more. The choice to wear a veil is an important one. If a woman makes her own choice to wear a veil, it could symbolize her desire to mark herself as religious. Wearing the veil, which symbolizes piety, could also facilitate a woman’s ability to attend school or work and still be viewed as an honorable woman.
Elizabeth Groeneveld critiques the BUST magazine on fashionable feminists. The issue, which focuses on fashion, “casts feminism in a positive light as fashionable and desirable, a position clearly contrary to most mainstream media representations of feminist movements. However, the publication also risks inscribing feminism solely in terms of personal style” (179). According to Groeneveld, it is problematic to cast feminism a “style” separate from the movement’s ideals. Debbie Stroller, in her editorial column, explains that it makes sense to have a fashion issue because the “culture of clothing has been central to women’s lives for centuries.” However, looking at feminism as fashion can neglect the most important facet of feminism. Angela Davis, for instance, found it “humiliating and humbling” to find that decades after her political imprisonment and years of work toward equality she was to be “remembered as a hair-do” (184). I think the idea behind the issue is that BUST readers already know the ideals behind feminism but might be interested in thinking about fashion as feminist. I think the point was to showcase fashion is a way that is not inherently anti-feminist (as it is often presented in mainstream media). Fashion is important, or at least interesting to, many women, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea to give women a way to look at fashion as presented by and for feminists. When I looked up the magazine online, I noticed many articles on a variety of topics, from pay equality to the decision to have children to Jane Austen inspired feminist comics. Feminists have many interests other than feminism. I think it’s important to present women’s everyday interests and look at those interests through the lens of feminism. We may not always agree, but I think it’s the conversation that’s important. To not address fashion would be a failure to think critically about a really prevalent aspect of women’s lives.
Erynn Masi de Cassanova’s examination of women’s magazines in Ecuador was also interesting. Most of these magazines present an ideal that is unattainable to most of the women in Ecuador. Here fashion becomes indicative of class and a means to separate women based on privileged status. In this sense, fashion is no longer a choice because it is not available to most women. This is why I think it’s important for feminist publications to feature fashion. Even if they’re not as widely available as most commercial publications, at least it could offer an alternative that is somewhat less commercialized or exclusive.
This blog is designed for us to share responses to readings and to engage in conversations about Cultural Rhetorics.