By Staff Writer
Twenty-first century feminism is kinda like an oatmeal cookie; it looks pretty sweet, but when you bite into it, it’s still just hardened oatmeal.
Since the beginning of the feminist movement, women have been claiming that they do not need feminism. Less passive dissidents have even suggested that the movement is over and that women don’t need feminism anymore. It’s easy to think this way; in the US, more women are in business and political leadership positions than ever before, the wage gap is (slowly, painstakingly) beginning to close, gender discrimination is technically illegal, women can vote and own property, Not All Men, #NoMakeup, Emma Watson’s speech, birth control’s sheer difficulty (not impossibility!) to access, and Gloria Steinem’s feature alongside tote bags in the spring 2016 Land’s End catalogue. Could it get any better for women? I mean, it could. It really could. But some women don’t think so.
“TOP GIRLS?”, published by Angela McRobbie in 2007, explores the ways that post-feminism has constructed a “correct” and “incorrect” professional woman. She argues that the attitude that feminism is over, or no longer needed (known as post-feminism), is actually a signifier of gender re-entrenchment: the process of defying gender norms in a way that paradoxically reassert masculine dominance. When successful women take on masculine behaviors in the workplace, their performance of masculinity highlights their commitment to performing their gender and ironically harms women who can’t or won’t act out these same masculine behaviors.
So no, it’s not bad that you wear a power suit to work while another woman wears a dress. Your power suit, instead, highlights that you are a woman with a higher achievement capacity, creating a dangerous hierarchy of workplace-acceptable women.
An easier breakdown of this:
Dianne has short, cropped hair. She spends little time on care work, she delegates non-essential tasks, and does not talk about her personal life while in the office. She wears a power suit. Every. Day. She does not have any kids. Dianne is a feminist.
But meet Jane. Jane has long hair, and wears blouses. She does care work around the office, does not actively take credit for her work, and often asks “is there anything I can do to help you?”. She has two children, and their pictures are all over her desk. She had to take a day off once last year to stay home with one of them when they were sick. Jane is a feminist.
Both of these women are good workers, and could probably perform the same tasks to the same degree of adequacy. But, Dianne is regarded as having more capacity to achieve. In the competitive meritocracy of feminism, Jane just doesn’t measure up. Dianne’s ability to adopt masculine social and professional styles in the workplace is both a product of the feminist movement, and the success thereof a signal of postfeminism dawn. Women like Jane cannot succeed under current patriarchal structures that are perpetuated by successful post-feminist examples like Dianne.
“But I love blazers!”
I hear ya. But, the problem isn’t solved by eliminating this “top girl” who performs masculinity in the office. Instead, the fix is to regard femininity and the feminine as equal to masculinity and the masculine.
Feminism, in its most basic sense, means granting women political, social, and economic equality with men; and by definition, that means valuing femininity as much as masculinity. In order for women’s continued growth, we must catch ourselves when we judge other women for acting “too feminine” or valuing a woman with masculine behaviors more than an equally competent woman with feminine behaviors.
You don’t have to rock femininity, but you can’t knock it either; instead, use your new knowledge of gender re-entrenchment to specifically empower and speak up for individuals who perform femininity.