Guilty pleasure, or feminist endeavour?
by Karunika Kardak
On a Monday morning, when your colleagues ask you what you did over the weekend, do you feel ashamed to tell them you saw the latest chick flick at
the cinema? Are you already imagining your male colleagues cringing at the truth: a Bridget Jones marathon with wine and chocolate?
Have no fear, postfeminism is here.
Postfeminism means that feminism is not just for classrooms and academia, but is also present in popular culture such as films, TV series, and pop music. For
example, TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer or groups such like the Spice Girls show that women can be powerful and feminine at the same time.
And this is the main idea of postfeminism: femininity and feminism are not two ends of a spectrum. Femininity is an aesthetic choice and does not define
a woman. You can explore your femininity and be a feminist at the same time, if you so choose.
The perfect epitome of postfeminism is Elle Woods, the fashion diva and law student from the film Legally Blonde. If you haven’t seen this 2001 film in a while, or if you’re too young to recall it, let me remind you.
Reese Witherspoon plays a young blonde who has the perfect life: a handsome and intelligent boyfriend who might propose to her soon, an adorable Chihuahua, a trio of best friends and a closet full of designer clothes. But her soon-to-be lawyer boyfriend dumps her because her pink clothes and fashion major are not ‘serious’ enough for his future in law. Indignant at his behaviour but also eager to get him back, she decides to follow her now ex-boyfriend to Harvard law school. But at Harvard Elle stands out completely: the stereotypical image of a female lawyer (short hair and dark clothes, usually trousers and a jacket) is comically contrasted with Elle’s pink skirts and blonde hair.
So why is Elle a feminist? She stands up for herself and does not let the ‘dumb blonde’ image define her: when her university advisor is incredulous that Elle wants to apply to Harvard, she confidently replies, ‘I have a 4.0!’ Elle’s feminism is not only personal but also political: she uses her legal knowledge to save her manicurist friend, Paulette, from an abusive ex-husband and rebels against sexual harassment in the workplace when her boss tries to feel her up. Last but not the least, by convicting a murderer on the basis of her knowledge of post-perm haircare, she proves that knowing about feminine upkeep can be of use in the courtroom as well.
On the other hand, postfeminism has received a lot of flak for being a watered down and commodified version of feminism. However, ultimately it cannot be denied that empowering roles such as Elle Woods do inspire young feminists. After all, there are very few women who would argue that Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda from Sex and the City are not feminists. So, the next time you turn on the telly and decide to watch a chick flick, it might not be a ‘guilty pleasure,’ but an innovative way of indulging in some postfeminist armchair activism.