Wednesday, September 6, 2017
The relationship of feminism to the beauty industry and women's magazines, in other words, has a complex history.
Still, as I listened to Elaine Welteroth, the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, speak to the Sydney Writers' Festival in June this year, it occurred to me that today's popular feminism would be unrecognisable to many of the Miss America protesters half a century ago.
For Welteroth, an African-American former beauty editor at Teen Vogue, women's magazines and beauty products are feminism now.
"Beauty and style are just really great platforms to open up important conversations," she said.
Welteroth has been widely celebrated for commissioning stories ranging from Trump gaslighting America and abortion rights to cultural appropriation at the Coachella music festival and the difficulties of being intersex. ***
In my PhD research, I've looked at the origin of the phrase "the personal is political". Gloria Steinem once said crediting someone for coming up with it would be as absurd as assigning credit to someone for inventing the term "World War II".
Still, its first use in a publication is commonly cited as being the headline of an article by the member of New York Radical Women I mentioned earlier, Carol Hanisch, in the 1970 collection of essays Notes from the Second Year.
Hanisch's article was a defence of second-wave feminism's consciousness-raising. Meeting in small groups, women told stories about their lives to understand how their personal problems were actually political ones. And they planned collective action.
Women in the left and the civil rights movement felt that while they protested inequalities between black and white, and the imperialist war in Vietnam, there were glaring injustices in their personal lives.
Women took the bulk of responsibility for housework and childcare, did the "shitwork" (Hanisch's word) in protest movements, were judged on their appearances, and took all the responsibility for contraception and abortion.
Second-wave feminists wanted sexual emancipation and the right to work alongside men, but they didn't want to do everything.
They discussed all kinds of solutions, from communal living to state-provided free childcare, to a total revolution in the consumerist capitalist system. * * *
But now websites like Mamamia are increasingly asking how women can transform and adapt themselves to fit into a competitive, individualistic world. The emphasis is mostly on individual achievement and adaption to the status quo — rather than on changing the status quo.