Femininity vs feminism: Why should I have to choose?

fem v fem

Musing on the duality of modern womanhood

BEAUTYcrew Beauty Editor / July 14 2021

As a feminist, something I have noticed for a while now is that there is a pervasive (and honestly disconcerting) message that has invaded the space of feminism. And it’s the idea that women who choose to present themselves as feminine are in some way derailing the ideals of the movement; catering to traditional standards of beauty that feed into the male gaze, and subsequently delegitimising any attempt to empower the female voice in the process.

I know this to be true from personal experience. Countless times have friends of mine (who claim to be feminists by the way) questioned my ability to love myself based on how much makeup I wear. This sentiment has been echoed throughout my life by family members, friends and even romantic interests who all tell me “I’m too attractive for that stuff anyway.” Like some incessant loop of One Direction’s misguided anthem, which touts the lyrics “you don’t know you’re beautiful’, this is apparently what’s going to inspire me to take myself more seriously and stop painting my face. 

To those people I say: I understand you have the best of intentions but regardless of what I look like, how I choose to express myself is none of your business, and I’d like for you to stop commenting on it. I do not (nor does any woman for that matter) need anyone else’s permission to feel a sense of self-acceptance or empowerment I’m an intelligent woman who is more than capable of making nuanced decisions when it comes to how I present myself in the world. All those well-meaning moments trying to assure me that I matter regardless of what I look like are redundant because I already know that. You are not informing me of some great unknown truth. Sorry buddy.

"I’m an intelligent woman who is more than capable of making nuanced decisions when it comes to how I present myself in the world."

The other thing about the argument that feminists can’t be taken seriously if they present in a traditionally feminine way which is also somewhat ironic is that it’s an inherently misogynistic sentiment. It is feminism with a patriarchal value system, and it buys into the idea that women fit into two categories: desirable and undesirable. Except within a feminist space, the overt feminine sexuality we are so used to seeing in traditional patriarchal media is no longer a valuable currency. In fact, if anything, presenting in a way that caters to the male gaze is seen as a lack of intellectualism, individualism and identity as a woman. 

The other truly terrifying thing about this notion is that it assumes that as a woman, in order to find my voice and empower myself, I must first decontextualise myself from the very world and culture that created and influenced me. Returning to a so-called ‘natural’ state unbridled by the shackles of the performative version of femininity I have become accustomed to in a society that continually prioritises sexualised, hyperfeminine depictions of women. But why is it that in order for a woman to find her moment of empowerment she must first alienate herself from everything she knows?

Now, I’m not saying it’s not important for a woman to discern her own sense of beauty and sexuality free from the male gaze, but asking her to completely subvert her learned ideas of womanhood is not only extreme, but kind of impossible. We are, after all, only products of our environment. The idea here is to use feminine identity as we know it as a kind of ruminary jumping off point, and the great thing about the version of femininity that aligns with the male gaze is that it is inherently dramatic and expressive. It is a pantomime performance that asks us to put on an impenetrable mask of makeup and inflammatory clothing choices in some strange bid to aesthetically express our identity as women.

Image credit: @chrissychlapecka

Image credit: @chrissychlapecka

The flamboyancy of femininity is a gift. Unlike our male counterparts who are expected to cater to rigid, uninspired depictions of masculinity, when it comes to femininity, the more glitter the better. Just think of feminist icons like Cher, Dolly Parton and Meghan Thee Stallion who all present themselves in a dramatically feminine and sexual way. 

Case and point, Dolly Parton famously styled her iconic look after ‘the town tramp’, saying, “I didn't know what she was, just this woman who was blonde and piled her hair up, wore high heels and tight skirts, and, boy, she was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen. Momma used to say, ‘Aw, she's just trash,’ and I thought, that's what I want to be when I grow up. Trash.”

Image credit: @dollyparton

Image credit: @dollyparton

But on the flipside, Parton’s also completely aware of the power this sexualised image holds, and she’s not afraid to exploit it either if it means it gets her a seat at the table: “I look like a woman but I think like a man. I've done business with men who think I'm as silly as I look. By the time they realise I'm not, I've got the money and gone.”

And Parton’s not the only one. In fact, a movement that has taken TikTok by storm and captured my heart on a personal level is BimboTok. Much like Dolly Parton, these self-identified bimbos are taking to the social media platform just as empowered as other feminists but with an aesthetic that draws inspiration from hyperfemininity. These gals, gays and theys are presenting their feminism in a fully-realised sexual fantasy that discards the idea that intellect and sexuality are mutually exclusive from one another, offering up instead an idea of duality. As BimboTok pioneer Chrissy Chlapecka surmises in one of her TikToks, “are you a leftist who likes to have your tits out?... then this is the place for you.”

She’s not the only Internet sensation using extremely feminine makeup looks to express themselves either. I'm also a massive stan of YouTuber Brittany Broski. The content creator (otherwise known as ‘kombucha girl’) recently shared a video with fans where she transformed herself into an ‘Essex girl’.

The Essex girl makeup (as seen on The Only Way Is Essex) is famously outlandish, favouring heavy fake tan, dramatic faux lashes and a whole lot of bronzer. But as she admits to her fans, that’s why Broski loves it. “I started watching TOWIE and I was like oh, so this is my destiny.” 

“When you wear a lot of makeup it’s not for the boys… it’s for me. I want to look gorgeous,” she explained in an exaggerated Essex accent while applying bronzer in a shade she describes as ‘burnt toast’.

“I think most of the hate for Essex girls comes from misogyny,” she said  in the video.. “I love makeup. I love wearing too much makeup. I love excessive makeup because the beauty of makeup is you get to transform into a different person.”

She also offered up a beautiful sentiment that really nailed the issue on the head for me: “We think of ‘Bimbo’ as such a negative term but bimbo is like leaning into the beauty that is femininity.”

The way I see it is that we will always admire the feminists who grow out their armpit hair, burn their bras and prefer to play with masculine and adrogynous ideas of beauty. But there’s something to be said about expanding your idea of feminism to include the makeup-wearing bimbos among us.

Main image credit: @womensmarchsydney, @thisishowilook

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Briar Clark got her start in the media industry in 2017, as an intern for Marie Claire and InStyle. Since then, her keen interest in fashion and beauty has landed her gigs as a Digital Content Producer and Beauty Editor with titles like Girlfriend, Refinery29, BEAUTYcrew and beautyheaven. She loves the way seemingly innocuous topics like skin care and style have the ability to put a smile on people’s faces or make them think about themselves a little differently. A big believer in self love and experimentation, Briar has made a point of becoming the Australian beauty industry’s unofficial guinea pig for unusual treatments and daring hair trends. When she’s not testing out the latest beauty launches, Briar is big on broadening her horizons, mostly in the form of food but she’s also partial to travelling to new destinations both near and far (and of course, allocating an extra bag to bring their best beauty offerings home with her).