Discourse surrounding the idea of femininity and the enjoyment of manifestations of stereotypical femininity is highly topical in the current cultural climate. The world has been saturated in pink for the promotion and release of the Barbie film, and highly-coveted events such as Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour and Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour are taking place across the globe.
“Antiquated and stereotypical beliefs surrounding femininity dictate that it is not possible to be feminine, or to enjoy typically feminine things, and still show an understanding of serious societal issues”
Antiquated and stereotypical beliefs surrounding femininity dictate that it is not possible to be feminine, or to enjoy typically feminine things, and still show an understanding of serious societal issues. However, this is being disproved time and time again by women who show that these things are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, should caution be taken when it comes to these highly popular feminine outlets?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated in an article for The New York Times that it is important to “allow women a multiplicity” in how they choose to live their lives and present themselves. This particular quote concerns the discourse surrounding cosmetics. Under Adichie’s perspective, women are allowed a choice in whether or not to wear makeup, with the belief that makeup is no signifier of the personality or seriousness of the person wearing it, and that it does not take away from that person’s attitudes or beliefs. The need to address these ideas surrounding makeup and the enjoyment of stereotypically feminine things in general stems from antiquated ideas relating to the conditions of feminism that originated in the second wave feminism of the 1960s and 70s. At this time, women symbolically rejected femininity as it was then viewed as a symptom of oppression. The success and impact of this movement was largely positive, but since then the concept of femininity has had to gradually extricate itself from these negative connotations.
Adichie’s perspective can be applied to this year’s highest grossing film so far; Barbie. The character of Barbie displays, in a fun whirlwind of pink, that it is possible to show an interest in stereotypically feminine outlets such as fashion and makeup, while simultaneously remaining a feminist with high social and cultural awareness. The film is being showered with praise for its feminist societal commentary and the highly-feminine style in which this was achieved.
Adichie’s perspective also applies to the discourse surrounding music artists Taylor Swift and Beyoncé as they each dominated music industry headlines with their highly sought-after tours this past summer. Documented across all social media platforms, these tours have so far had hundreds of thousands of people in attendance. Both women are wildly successful musical artists and respective performers, with millions of loyal fans across the globe. They are typically feminine in their choice of appearance, a fact which in no way removes from their seriousness as artists or power as musical performers. They are emblematic of the belief that choices in relation to appearance should not affect the perception of a person.
“Women must be allowed to present themselves however they like and be taken equally seriously whichever way”
However, cosmetic products are often marketed in ways that make women want to wear them out of feelings of necessity, as opposed to genuine desire. Brands target insecurities and offer products to fix perceived “flaws” such as wrinkles, under-eye bags and acne in order to sell their products. Furthermore, through the virtual media we consume, we are constantly subject to images of people who present an unrealistic, airbrushed portrayal of how we should look. In this way, it is difficult to know whether the decision to wear makeup and present a more feminine outward appearance is coming from our true selves, or is a result of subliminal messaging we receive from advertising and social media that tells us presenting as feminine equates to beautiful. Women must be allowed to present themselves however they like and be taken equally seriously whichever way; one of the views of the modern wave of feminism. Through films like Barbie and the mass appreciation of artists like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, it is clear that femininity and feminism complement one another. These women choose to present a very feminine appearance and demand to be taken seriously anyway. But we must not let this choice be dictated to us by brands and the media who incidentally profit from women’s various insecurities.
These particular recent cultural events are exciting for many as they offer a form of escapism from a typically patriarchal society. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying something that is stereotypically feminine, is there a point to be made about the consumerism attached to these outlets in particular, simply because they are so large? So far, under Greta Gerwig’s direction, Barbie has grossed $1.34 billion in the box office, leading to Gerwig being named the highest-grossing female director ever domestically, a highly admirable achievement and a big signifier of growing equality in the film industry. A highly popular release, it is safe to say that people have been to see this film in their droves.
A lot of the film’s success can be attributed to its inescapable marketing campaign. Through multiple methods, it was ensured that there was not a corner of the globe untouched by the sea of pink-themed advertisements. #Barbiecore took over our social media feeds – and our clothing choices. The film has now collaborated with a number of brands including GAP, Primark and Zara to produce thematic clothing lines. These brands are contributors to the enormous environmental threat that is fast-fashion, involving the use of harmful materials, cheap foreign labour, contributions to water wastage and severe pollution. In this case, all to fill the rails of high-street shops with Barbie-themed clothing that compels consumers to part with their hard-earned money. Furthermore, the film itself was made as a promotion for the brand Mattel, creator of Barbie™, and to the keen eye, was filled with product placement.
Tickets for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour were eye-wateringly expensive. In the US, resale prices ranged from $500 to $7,000. For Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour, attendees saw similar price ranges, the most expensive costing upwards of $4,000. Therefore the events were tainted with a certain elitism, because of which certain fans were priced out of buying a ticket to see their beloved artist. It seems a shame that fans of these artists would not be able to attend their concerts for financial reasons. The bottom line: it is perfectly okay to enjoy the music of these artists and appreciate their work, but it would be prudent to have an awareness of the elitism of the current concert ticket system that prevents certain people from partaking through astronomical pricing systems.
The concept of femininity has always been nuanced. This past summer has shown through various outlets that it is something positive, enjoyable and even powerful. However there is caution to be had when it comes to the connection between femininity and consumerism. In this culture, if something can be sold, it will be. It is important that we recognise the importance of femininity outside the realm of marketing and consumerism, and know that it is not something to be bought.