Who says girly girls can’t be feminists too?

I love art that has whimsical beauty with an edge.

Joelie Croser’s latest solo exhibition, A Handbook for Girls, a collection of vintage-style illustrations of modern women in a time where they can bake cupcakes and kick ass too, perfectly captures this style. It also reminded me of a debate I had recently with a friend who believes that girly girls and Stepford Wives types are anti-feminist.

Now, I love the colours hot pink and purple and I’ve been known to get excited over the cute names of nail polish shades. But I’m also opinionated as hell and rarely back down in a debate – hardly typical girly girl material. So I definitely think a girl can be ultra feminine and a feminist too!

I think Joelie’s exhibition is an amazing argument for this point of view.

My favourite picture is of a woman who is equal parts demure and totally in charge of her sexuality. (Incidentally, this picture also helped inspire the title of this blog and is part of its banner image).

Swinging Girl With Spider 

Blue is a colour often associated with passivity and at first glance this girl appears all coy and cutesy, from the blue bow she has in her hair and at the back of her dress to her red apple cheeks. The fact that she is sitting in a swing further evokes a very Stepford Wife feeling. Yet there is more to her than coquettishness.

I adore that although she is holding down her dress with a modest hand flip, her dress is simultaneously flying up with va-va-voom that would do Marilyn Monroe proud to reveal sexy garters, and that she has a knowingness that can’t be written off just because she is clearly a girly girl.

But then her subtle sexiness raises the question of whether being a sex object makes a woman powerless. You could read that interpretation into the image, given that a spider is bearing down on her. Or is the spider a metaphor for her inner Black Widow, which will swallow any boy whole once she has had her fun? I vote for the latter! I think that being the object of someone’s desire is very powerful – just ask that naughty minx Katherine from The Vampire Diaries!

What Corsets Do To Your Organs

 A common argument about girly girls not being able to be feminists is the idea that girliness is purely designed to appeal to men, and thus the femininity of these girls is male driven and male dependent and totally lacking in equality.

The image above is a clever snapshot of the bodily harm women inflicted on themselves during period times by wearing corsets in order to meet ideals of beauty and femininity. I think corsets were less an example of girls’ anti-feminist streaks as they were a product of the patriarchy dominated sexual culture of the time – and this image shows how empowering a modern woman’s increasing choice in what she can wear truly is. In my eyes, whether modern women are choosing to clothe themselves in floaty, whimsical fabrics or burn their bras, they are being a feminist, because it is all a matter of choice.

 Nasturtiums Framed

These feminine legs amid a garden bed evoke in me a feeling like a person having their head in the clouds – but I would like to point out that this whimsical female dreamer is clearly shown to have her feet firmly planted on the ground! For me this illustrates that you can be a romantic and pragmatist at the same time.

 Hair Brained Idea

This final image actually makes me think of a vintage version of those cartoons or comics where a giant thought bubble appears next to a person’s head – only in this case the bubble is composed entirely of the woman’s hair! A gentle pink background suggests that the woman’s femininity is present but not the dominant aspect of her being; her hair symbolises to me continuously flowing intellect and stream of consciousness thoughts. So our girl is both feminine AND a clever, kick ass feminist with a mind of her own that never stops ticking!

So what do you think: can girly girls be feminists too?

About Cherie

My name is Cherie, and I’m an Australian Occupational Therapy Student who hopes to help people with any condition that inhibits their ability to participate in valued occupations, tasks, activities, as I believe they’re an essential part of identity, happiness and health. My favourite occupation is hiking, which enables me to move past through the forest literally and metaphorically! View all posts by Cherie

2 responses to “Who says girly girls can’t be feminists too?

  • kjewls

    Great first post! You are right! Joelie Croser’s artwork perfectly straddles the fine line between feminism and femininity — or, perhaps, more accurately, it harmonizes them.

    The notion of sexuality versus strength has become such a mainstay in popular culture as well. Popular television characters like Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Katherine Petrova (The Vampire Diaries), Caroline Forbes (The Vampire Diaries), and novel heroines like Rose Hathaway (Vampire Academy) and Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) are all women who kick ass, while, at the same time, finding empowerment through their own sexual desirability. (Tomboy Katniss, for her part, had a bit more trouble achieving this balance than the other women on the list. And yet, I believe her ultimate embrace of her own femininity, ultimately made her a more effective warrior, as well as a stronger leader.)

    I love seeing artwork, reading books, and watching television shows that marry these two principles. All of the women discussed here (including Joelie Croser, of course) are great role models for the modern-day woman — a woman who indeed kicks butt, on a daily basis, but also looks great doing it! 😉

    • myspideysenseistingling

      Thanks for the sweet comment! The reference to Miss Katherine Petrova was a tiny shout out to both you and Amy, so glad you caught it 🙂

      It is so true about the notion of sexuality versus strength becoming a mainstay in popular culture – I think it is a byproduct of women trying to navigate different meanings and understandings of femininity and feminism.

      Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games is a particularly interesting case in point. Staple scenes from all three of the books are the over-the-top makeovers in which tomboy Katniss is transformed into a glamourpuss so that she can attract the support of Capitol sponsors. In The Hungers Games trilogy of books, femininity is a survival tactic for Katniss, as more attractive tributes tend to get more sponsors and she needs to exploit this part of her persona. As unsavoury as the reasons behind her makeovers are, it is interesting that her femininity is shown to be a powerful tool. So even when she is at her girly girliest, Katniss is still kick ass!

      For the uninitiated, The Hunger Games trilogy is set in a dystopian world in the future where an authoritarian regime, the Capitol, reigns over 12 subjugated districts. In the past, a district had tried to overthrow the Capitol regime, so to reassert their authority the Capitol started forcing each district to send one boy and one girl in their teens as “tributes” to take part in an annual reality-TV competition, in which all these “contestants” must fight to the death in an outdoor stadium known as The Arena.

      The general population of the Capitol eat up what they see as the “festivities” of the Games, and throughout the Games can sponsor their favourite tributes with gifts like food and weapons to try to help them win. So the interviews the Capitol government forces tributes to participate in in the lead up to the Games are an important chance to attract Capitol sponsors (and makeovers necessary because good looking tributes tended to attract more sponsors).

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