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My monster heels are empowering! Until I break my neck

June 10, 2014

You’ve heard it before. Probably in a pub.

“Lady Gaga / Rihanna / Beaonce / Miley Cyrus / Whothefuckever is reclaiming women’s sexuality. It’s empowering.”

I’m not going to bother getting into the tired old debate about whether or not using women’s sexuality to entertain is a reclaim of it, or if it’s a flagrant excuse to continue pandering to the whims of marketability and male pleasure. I will say that we should be aware that the woman who uses her sexuality as “power” is not a new concept; it has existed for donkey’s years in fiction, in the form of the femme fatal. Look how well that works out for her. Some power, when it ends in your death. (The uncomfortable moral of that story being: “Don’t fuck with men, you’ll be sorry.”)

I have a broader problem with the term “empowering.” It’s not a term we ever use for men, for the simple reason that we never assume that men are without power enough to need some contrivance in order to restore their power. Hence my problem with “empowerment” of women; it’s like we have assumed women come from a position of weakness and must work their way up.

I say we have it backwards. It is not that women must work to become powerful from a natural standpoint of weakness, but rather than whatever leadership traits and assertiveness that are inherent in individual women are squashed by our society. Women would not need “empowering” had they not been systematically disempowered their entire lives.

“That’s all very well Drain, and I agree and everything, in an ideal world we would stop that and one day we will, but for now, if women want to achieve, they have to go out and get it for themselves. Just like men do.”

Yes, but when men do it it’s called rising to the challenge, not empowerment. And they have to do it to a much lesser extent; rising to the challenge is a mindset, temporary and employed when necessary. Being empowered, at least for female celebrities, is a lifestyle. You must never falter or be contradictory even though it is human nature and inevitable, because if your constant projection of control is lost then you return to our default view of women as powerless.

Empowerment is not a state of mind that leads to long-term success. It is too fragile, too easily undone. So, if we are relying on women to get empowered in order to change our society for the better, we will be waiting a long time; no such hastily-concocted, trend-dependent notion represented by such a wide range of behaviours over such a wide range of individuals could ever hope to combat centuries of assumptions about women.

It’s a problem both inside and outside of feminism, the concept that women must claim what they want. The onus is always on women, regardless of the fact that in order to instigate change you must first be in a position of power, a privilege not automatically attributed to women and harder to earn.

It is the argument against “positive discrimination” again: “These people shouldn’t be given any help. They should go out and get what they want for themselves. I did.” Never mind the floods of people who can attest to being sidelined and turned away based on prejudice. We don’t listen to them, because what we see doesn’t tally with what they see, so we assume they must be wrong and that if they continue to be certain when they are wrong, they must be biased – ignoring the fact that the only possible motivation for claiming that there is widespread prejudice is if the effect of it can be seen. The real mystery behind this is people who struggled because of the prejudice themselves but mysteriously forget all about it when they reach the top position, or else think it’s character building. I say, no one should have to build that kind of a character.


From → Gender Politics

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