Feminism, Empowerment, and Rewriting the Subjective Script of “Sexy”

Lately, this question occurred to me: If mainstream media portrays a limited and narrow view of what is considered attractive, sexy, “hot”…then how do women begin rewriting their own accounts of what is subjectively experienced as sexy? When the repeated messages tell women that tight, short skirts, revealing tops, high heels, and fake tans are sexy, how do we learn to experience that feeling for ourselves, defined in our own experiences, aside from that stereotype? Can I claim my womanhood and feel secure enough in my femininity to go without shaving my legs, just in the same way that a straight man can wear a pink shirt and display platonic physical affection towards male friends while feeling secure in his masculinity? Maybe eventually, these longings will evolve into confidence in our individuality and preferences rather than merely existing as strong but unstable inclinations to counter current cultural gender norms.
These questions begin to parallel to me what it means to be a feminist in that it has a lot less to do with thinking, acting, appearing, and developing in the ways that are expected of me, even by other feminists! Even feminism runs the risk of forming a status quo of what is expected of women, particularly those who choose to identify themselves as feminists. Can a feminist be politically conservative? Pro-life? Religious? A stay-at-home mom? Will Feminism permit her that? If feminism advocates for equality in all spheres of society, then this should encompass the respect for choice to believe in and be what is personally important.
Ultimately: Feminism should be about empowerment- empowerment for women to be the people they want to be whether it’s norm-breaking or not, whether it coincides with mainstream feminism or not. I believe that is what it means to be a feminist. Women should be able to embrace whatever it is that makes them feel attractive, powerful, and valuable, regardless of what current societal standards are. Women should be empowered to self-actualize, as is congruent with Rogerian theory, and feminism should not only present improved ways for women to exist, but also support women who use value systems that in and of themselves are adaptive and healthy, even if they run counter to mainstream feminist beliefs. So, hypothetically, if I want to shave my head, jump-start my own business, let my husband take the lead, wear sky-high heels, be a housewife, tout a gun or a Bible, or dominate the political arena, I should be able to so without a sharp retort of “that’s not ladylike,” “that’s not sexy” “that’s cheap” “that’s not what a woman looks like” or even “she’s not a real feminist.”
At some point, one must recognize the truth of, “With great power comes great responsibility.” When we empower ourselves, we must also embrace the responsibility it entails. I suspect that this notion of responsibility is inextricably linked to the essence of feminism, whether recognized as such or not. While this responsibility is often devoted to oneself to, women can also perceive that responsibility being due to other women, the greater community, and to future generations.

Written by Nina Silander


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