This week at the Bitchin’ Table, eszenyme and femistorian take on the issue of feminist critiques of pop culture, and try to find a little common ground that anyone can approach feminism from.
eszenyme: Hi Emily!
femistorian: Hey Marie! I’ve been meaning to tell you, I love your series, Totally Awesome Women! I think it’s great how you’re turning a feminist lens to pop culture, but I have to ask, what made you decide to write this series?
eszenyme: Well, I really like the idea of making the blog accessible to all types of readers, even readers without a background in feminist literature. A huge part of feminism for me is relating abstract ideas to concrete examples in pop culture. Most people know about the people I am covering but they may not look at their contributions to feminism. I think these women have a lot to offer feminism and I want their contributions to be acknowledged.
femistorian: That’s awesome! I also think it gives people who might not have an academic background a good way to access feminism. For example, my mom has NO idea who bell hooks is, but knows all about someone like Lady Gaga.
eszenyme: That’s exactly why I like writing about pop culture. Lady Gaga is a great example.
femistorian: Did you know that her song Bad Romance is actually a critique of the treatment of women in the music industry?
eszenyme: Yeah. Like I said in my post on her earlier this semester, I really didn’t want to like Lady Gaga. I quickly brushed off her music because I thought she was just like Ke$ha or any other pop star that seemingly exploits him/herself for a career. But, after researching her music and her activism, I was shocked to find out that she really has dedicated her life to fighting for equality.
femistorian: Absolutely! I think her music is actually very empowering (think Born this Way) while also recognizing the reality that people do fall in love and get wrapped up in it and sometimes make mistakes because of this. But that’s the side that anyone can relate to. I mean, her first big single was about getting black-out drunk at a party and dancing. That got her a fanbase, but from there she has really used her star power to send a message of equality and acceptance that I think more feminists should embrace.
eszenyme: I think she is a great example of the many different types of feminism. Take Sex and the City, for example. Many feminists are quick to judge this show for various reasons like “It’s really just about shoes and purses,” “Carrie still gets married to Big in the end,” or the most irritating criticism, “only one character is non-normative and she has sex all the time….” I think it’s more than that. Each of the four characters, to me, is an example of a type of feminist. On the extreme side, Samantha chooses to not get married and enjoys having lots of relationships. She is also super career-oriented. Miranda is also on that side of the spectrum. Sure, she ended up with Steve, but that courtship was far from normative. Carrie and Charlotte represent more moderate types of feminists. They still end up in normative-ish relationships but they make their own choices. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a stay at home mom if that’s what you want (Charlotte). What do you think?
femistorian: Oh I completely agree. Certainly the show has problematic elements (white-washing for one example) but I think it sent women a strong message about friendship and sisterhood, and the importance of self-reliance. If you think about it, each character doesn’t get their happy ending until they learn to stand on their own feet (Charlotte doesn’t meet Harry until she divorces Trey, Carrie and Big don’t work things out until she’s healed and is okay being alone, etc.). I also love that Miranda’s character gives recognition that while having it all (marriage, children, and a powerful job) can be difficult, it’s really very rewarding and if that’s not a feminist message than I don’t know what is. Which is another thing I think can be frustrating for people trying to grasp feminism from a pop culture lens, why does something have to be explicitly labeled feminist to be considered feminist?
eszenyme: I agree! I think seeing something as feminist in many ways comes from personal interpretation. Like you said before, even with SATC, problems exist within the show, but real feminism happens when you acknowledge those problems and look for positive elements to take away also.
femistorian: You know what the reminds me of? The Spice Girls. In addition to being my favorite 90’s pop group, they also helped introduce me to feminism, with a different label. Their slogans about “Girl Power!” and songs celebrating friendship (Wannabe) definitely showed me that being a girl was totally awesome. But a lot of feminists argue that they were detrimental to the movement because of sexualization and their rejection of the word feminism. However, I think it is extremely important to consider that (as unfortunate as it is) you have to be somewhat sexual to be successful in the music industry. And if they hadn’t been so wildly popular, most of us would probably have had a childhood sans Girl Power.
eszenyme: I grew up with the Spice Girls too and, although they weren’t my favorite, I understand the importance of “Girl Power.” When I hear criticisms of the Spice Girls, I feel conflicted. Although I think major criticisms are somewhat accurate in describing the overall effect Girl Power had on young girls generally (most young girls probably didn’t sit back and critically reflect on the lyrics or sexualized nature of the group), I think the Spice Girls do have something to offer to feminism. Who is to say they’re not feminist? (Well, lots of people). But I think that’s somewhat nit picky and contrary to the point of feminism. To me, I don’t really think it matters whether or not there is a universal decision on whether or not the Spice Girls are awesome for feminism. I think the important thing is that it got us thinking about feminism.
femistorian: Agreed! And I think that’s something we as feminists should keep in mind when we’re critiquing pop culture figures. Even though the message isn’t explicitly feminist doesn’t mean it can’t get people thinking and talking about issues of equality and empowerment.
eszenyme: I agree. I think being a feminist naturally makes me feel angry at pop culture sometimes. Sometimes, I think it’s good to put the bitching aside and try to find the best common ground. At least then we can have a more positive outlook on the future of feminism.