Real Women and Unreal Feminists

Published on March 30th, 2011 in: Back Off Man I'm A Feminist, Editorial, Issues |

A recent article in The Daily Mail called 20-year-old ethereally androgynous fashion model Andrej Pejic, “fashion’s ultimate insult to women.” The Daily Mail is not heralded for its “unique” approach to journalism, but ignorance—particularly with regard to gender issues—must always be exposed and called out for exactly what it is.

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Writer Amanda Platell blames the fashion industry for the “defeminsation” of women, stating early on that, “[r]eal women started to love their curves long before Christina Hendricks wowed the world in Mad Men with hers. And by all accounts men love them, too.” Even a brief unpacking of such bold statements would take far too long, so I’ll hit the high notes: Who or what are “real women” exactly? And why is it so important that men love curves?

Her rant continues to ostracize and offend as she comes rather close to not only stereotyping all fashion designers as gay men, but pedophiles, too. Oh, and she’s not particularly fond of “Soho drag queens,” either.

Then she delivers the most damning proof of her own prejudices, when she discounts Pejic as a “fake,” remarking, “He’s at home in a woman’s skin.” So I guess we can add trans* people to the list of those she hates as she spews invective about misogynists run rampant.

Perhaps I am the ignorant one since I was unaware that only women who looked like Christina Hendricks from Mad Men were “real.” By her standards, women who don’t have Hendricks’ (alleged) measurements of 39-30-39 are apparently not real women. I guess those who are naturally more slender or maybe even larger than Hendricks’ reported size 14 aren’t women, either.

Consider the case of athlete Caster Semenya, who won the World Championship 800-meter race in 2009. She was tricked into gender tests, suspended from competition, and worst of all, subjected to a gross invasion of privacy and worldwide tabloid speculation. All because she was thought “Too Fast To Be A Woman” (which is the title of a 2010 documentary on her story, in fact).

Yes, she’s a marvelous athlete; yes, she’s muscular; and yes, obviously she knows she has a deep voice. But she cautions, being a lady “doesn’t mean you wear skirts and dresses.” Endocrinologist Dr. Gerard Conway adds his voice to the debate, discussing the finer points of measuring testosterone levels, but admitting there is “probably no such thing” as a 100% male or female person despite the fact that sport seems to be a black and white arena. Even he, however, feels that the issues people have with gender are at the root of the problem.

Sport scientist Tim Hoakes agrees. “Gender is what you perceive yourself to be and that’s it . . . you cannot scientifically determine gender.” He notes that no one wanted to perform a gender test on Usain Bolt, so why should Semenya be treated any differently? For her part, she says, “The way you were born is the way you were born. There’s nothing I can do to change it.”

And why should she want to? After all, as Hoakes points out, women are sick of men telling them what they should look like and whether or not they are real women. There were those who criticized Caster’s decision to get a makeover for South Africa’s You Magazine, but that was her choice. Christina Hendricks seems frustrated with all the focus on her body instead of her acting. Even Pejic, who gracefully and wittily avoids questions about gender and sexuality in nearly every interview, states emphatically, “I really think people should stop trying to categorize me because of their need for labels.”

Patriarchal dictates, however, do not let Amanda Platell off the hook. Feminism, though frequently castigated and misunderstood—even among women and professed feminists—is not a one size fits all thing. Rather than determining who is or is not a “real” feminist, it’s more important to make sure that feminism is inclusive, rather than exclusive. Miss Platell, if you say you’re a feminist, I promise I will believe you.

—Less Lee Moore, Managing Editor

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