no really, what does a feminist look like?

I was going to write how much I as an observant Jewish woman like this first article.

The hijab has liberated me from society’s expectations of women

Wearing the hijab doesn’t have to be about religious dedication. For me, it is political, feminist and empowering…

But in a society where a woman’s value seems focused on her sexual charms, some wear it explicitly as a feminist statement asserting an alternative mode of female empowerment. Politics, not religion, is the motivator here. I am one of these women…

I do not believe that the hair in itself is that important; this is not about protection from men’s lusts. It is me telling the world that my femininity is not available for public consumption. I am taking control of it, and I don’t want to be part of a system that reduces and demeans women. Behind this exterior I am a person – and it is this person for which I want to be known.

Great article, right? I also feel that we should at this point of history be able to be met as people of the female persuasion. And maybe this is a step in the right direction. We women of all faiths can band together, proud as peahens, displaying a certain amount of plumage that says “take us seriously.”

But then I saw this and I got upset.

Boycott of Israel dooms U. of Texas Mideast anthology

June 3, 2012NEW YORK (JTA) — A planned anthology of Middle Eastern women’s writing will not be completed because of an academic boycott of Israeli authors’ work.The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin had planned to publish an anthology of writing by Middle Eastern women in honor of Elizabeth Fernea, a professor emerita at the university who died in 2008, and who focused on women’s issues in the Middle East.

But, according to Inside Higher Ed, one of the anthology’s 29 authors said that she would withdraw her work from the anthology unless it excluded the work of two Israeli writers who also were asked to contribute to the anthology.

When the publishers refused to exclude the Israelis, a total of 13 authors withdrew their work from the book — which would have left the book without any Arab contributors. This led the center to cancel the book’s publication.

“My view is that it is not proper to single out individual contributors for other contributors to veto,” Kamran Scot Aghaie, director of the center, told Inside Higher Ed. “As an academic institution, we cannot censor people for the country they are from.”

Well, good for her.  Aren’t there other much more important values at stake? Aren’t they just being pawns?
And then this one stated the problem very succinctly–

Is There a Conflict Between Brave and Pretty?

By 

| Posted Wednesday, May 30, 2012, at 12:51 PM ET

Merida, from Brave.

Merida, from Brave
Photograph by Pixar–© 2012 Disney/Pixar.

Katie Baker at Jezebel is unhappy with the initial round of merchandising appearing on the shelves at Target for Pixar’s new movie Brave. The box in question sells the main character Merida’s costume with a picture of a little girl shooting a bow and arrow with text saying, “Look pretty and be brave, too.” While acknowledging that it’s not a big deal, Katie says, “But it’s definitely worth pointing this out as a pretty good example of how marketers are unwilling—or perhaps just unsure how—to market to girls (and women) without promising them they’ll look great.”

The whole thing does bother me, however, because so much of the criticism of the Disney princess phenomenon circles around this concern that girls are interested in being pretty, when that strikes me as the least worrisome aspect of all this. I mean, I’m interested in being pretty—and in sparkly stuff and bright colors—and I don’t really think that makes me less of a kick-ass feminist. My larger concern is that “pretty” is used to sell girls a larger and more dangerous version of femininity, one that’s passive and weak. Look, for instance, at the pictures used to sell Disney princess costumes. The girls are never in action poses, but usually in poses that denote the demure, the passive, the weak, and the submissive. If you’re lucky, they’re just neutral poses of a girl standing upright and looking at the camera, but it’s usually more about the curtsey or the turned-in toe or the bashful downward glance. My concern is they’re taking a child’s natural tendency to be attracted to the shiny and beautiful, and using it to sell girls on the idea that to be shiny and beautiful means to be weak and passive. (For boys, that attraction is swiftly turned to shame, and then when they get a little older, they’re told to be sexually attracted to the very things that they were expected to shun as children.)

It seems to me that this “Brave” merchandising is trying something a little better, taking a girl’s interest in pretty things and telling them that there’s no conflict between beauty and being an assertive, brave person. Considering that even grown women fear identifying as feminists because they think doing so means they have to give up their lipstick, I don’t have a problem with starting young with the message that there’s actually no conflict. Or, to put it more simply, previous Disney princess nonsense seems like it’s geared towards raising young women who think you have to diet yourself into misery and wear towering high heels to be reasonably attractive, but the Brave merchandising looks like it’s better equipped to for developing women who enjoy having some muscle tone and buy shoes that manage to be cute while not mutilating your feet. Which strikes me as a reasonable and feminist goal to have.

We better figure out what we’re actually telling these girls, don’t you think?

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2 responses

  1. I have mixed feelings about the film, “Brave,” but I guess I will just have to see it. I liked “The Secret World of Arriety” by Hayao Miyazaki though, as it showed a strong young girl trying to juggle what her family expects of her and teaches her, and what she actually is learning in real life.

    • Thanks for writing! I was looking forward to seeing “Brave”, even without my grandchildren…I didn’t see the Miyazaki, but maybe I’ll take a look! Sometimes it becomes more obvious what’s going on by what the arts reflect back to us.

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