thoughts on lipstick feminism and reclaiming sexuality

Makeover Feminism in a tube.
Beginning with the term. “Lipstick” feminism? I mean, really?
Look, I wear lipstick. Red lipstick, if that gives any hint to what kind of person I am. I just don’t want my lipstick to define me. I want… to define my lipstick. Let’s start over. As belittling as I find the term, of course it’s more complicated than the lipstick. It’s about reclaiming sexuality. It’s about taking back the word “slut.” And with those two things, I don’t have a problem. I can get behind this. I am behind this.
Here’s where I do have an issue: I don’t believe that sexual power over men is bringing us any closer to the ideal… okay, to my ideal stature of equality. I don’t want the same things to happen to men that are happening to women. (Not that it’s anywhere near coming remotely close any time soon.) I don’t want advertisers to think it’s okay to photographically dismember parts of men’s bodies to sell products or to tell men that they’ll never be perfect or desirable. I don’t want society to shame men about wanting sex or enjoying sex any more than I want male sexuality to be about accomplishment rather than pleasure. I want these things to stop happening to women, not for them to happen to women and men. That’s not the kind of equality to be pursued.
I’m well aware of the fact that this is not the goal of lipstick feminism. Lipstick feminism, for the most part, celebrates sexuality and femininity. And both these things need to be celebrated. I believe more than anyone that there is an enormous need to reclaim the word “slut” and do away with the double standards in society when it comes to sex in which men are applauded and women are discarded and shamed. I agree completely with the idea of the ethical slut. I’m a little more on the feminine side of the gender spectrum, and I wholeheartedly feel that femininity should be as celebrated as masculinity always has been.
I’m also well aware of the fact that a reverse is not going to happen. Men’s bodies are never going to be objectified as much as women’s bodies have been since the beginning of time, as much as women’s bodies still are (even worse) today. And I’m well aware of the fact that sexual power is extremely desirable. To everyone. And there is nothing wrong with it. What I have an issue with is the concept of having sexual power over someone else, which is the reasoning used to argue that lipstick feminism is a means of female empowerment.
Ridiculous, I know, since you can’t have power without having power over something. But sexual power over yourself (which is awesome) is a lot different from sexual power over someone else (which is kinda sketchy.) And my worst fear is not that it will objectify men, but that it will backfire. Perhaps I’m dwelling too much on feminist Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, a disturbing read about how women are encouraged to objectify themselves after being brainwashed to believe that it is empowering.
A huge part of me protests. Women should be able to celebrate their sexualities without worrying about how men will take advantage of the celebration. It’s not my problem if some douchebag misinterprets me because I dress femininely. If he finds it provocative–Not. My. Problem. His. And in a world where the woman is always blamed for being assaulted or raped (her hair was too blonde, her skirt was too short, she asked him to help her with her grocery bags) the objective of lipstick feminism in reclaiming femininity and sexuality as the right of women and not the possession of or a showcase for men is beyond crucial.
Did I say I was afraid it would backfire? I meant it has. But maybe that was just inevitable. After all, if you’re a woman, everything is used against you. Birth control was a step toward freedom… until he made it completely your responsibility and refused to wear a condom. Getting doctors to admit PMS is real was an accomplishment… until it was used to “prove” how weak and useless you are. There’s a wage gap because “you get pregnant.” (This is a lie.) Why aren’t you getting pregnant? You’re supposed to get pregnant. Go get pregnant! Of course you’re being paid less, you should’ve thought of that before you got pregnant.
The virgin is ridiculed and the slut shamed. And today’s ideal woman is expected to be both. (If you have not seen Black Swan, you must watch it.) Both innocent and experienced, an impossible standard, and probably the first time in history this combination is expected.
So with all that in the picture, there isn’t much to criticize about lipstick feminism from the perspective of potential. All that has gone wrong was bound to go wrong. I can only conclude from here, so far, that it is pointless to worry about the way feminist theories are received in an anti-feminist society. They will always be twisted, like every other theory about every other possible thing in the universe. The core of lipstick feminism–and the extended stiletto feminism–is female empowerment, reclaiming sexuality, and eliminating double standards. And, until it extends to degradation, not from the perspective of men who will always find a way to degrade women, but from a woman practicing it unhappily or uncomfortably, I’m not entirely against it.

14 thoughts on “thoughts on lipstick feminism and reclaiming sexuality

  1. I'm fine with lipstick feminism. Stiletto feminism makes me nervous. But this, "Women should be able to celebrate their sexualities without worrying about how men will take advantage of the celebration. It's not my problem if some douchebag misinterprets me because I dress femininely. If he finds it provocative–Not. My. Problem. His." is pretty much how I feel for both.


  2. We need women like Madison Young. But there's also a Lolita effect to consider, and I feel that she's unaware of the damaging effects of pornography in mainstream society. Pornography has become mainstream. It's been unrealistically portraying how sex works, how sex should look, and how women should look while they're having it. Madison Young is an artist and a role model when it comes to women reclaiming a sense of ownership over their own sexuality, but the way pornography has intertwined with society is having a negative effect on young girls. Pornography–I prefer to call it erotica when it isn't offensive, but she says pornography–can be educational and positive, but… it isn't.


  3. You know, we hear a lot about an exploitative and abusive mainstream porn industry, but I have yet to come across mainstream porn that's actually exploitative or abusive. Isn't most mainstream pornography lacking of dangerous depictions?


  4. I wouldn't be able to tell you Debora, since I haven't seen it. One of the things lipstick feminism suggests that I feel is necessary to fight for is the protection of prostitutes. Denying them all deserved protection will give way to denying women other areas of protection and the right to consent.


  5. To veer us back on topic here, the marketing of self-hatred to women has been going on for centuries, and no matter what lipstick feminism attempts to celebrate, essentially we are celebrating patriarchal demands on women's bodies by celebrating a standard of beauty made attractive by marketing. Nahida, no offense, but you are conventionally beautiful–thin, bright-eyed, with long hair. And you aren't even white. Models in advertising are never portrayed as an ideal unless they are either white or possess Caucasian features. Do you think you'd straighten your hair the same way, wear your clothes the same way, if it weren't for patriarchal conditioning?


  6. Maybe I wouldn't straighten my hair. But I sure as hell would do everything else. I can't help some of them, I'm thin because it's my body type. I don't *keep* myself that way.I understand your point, but what you are proposing is borderline offensive. To suggest that we aren't in control of our own self-expression is to treat women like children.


  7. I don't believe that celebrating femininity is directly celebrating patriarchy, though I can see the correlation since patriarchy for the most part dictates what *attractive* femininity even is. I haven't seen lipstick feminism celebrate women who aren't conventionally beautiful. By the way, why would that be offensive? I found your entire comment offensive as well, but I don't think I would have if it hadn't been for that.


  8. Erika

    As far as pornography goes, check out Erika Lust. She is an erotica film director based out of Barcelona. Her work is truly beautiful and artistic. She reclaims the feminine perspective of sexuality and embracing it exquisitely. I recommend Cabaret Desire.


  9. I completely agree that femininity should be celebrated just as much as masculinity. I have just come to hate those terms. They paint a picture of femininity being something that strictly belongs to women and vice versa with masculinity. What you have between your legs does not define you as a person. Society does.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s