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).
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!
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.
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.
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?