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It was in part a response to the ideological backlash against radical varieties of second-wave feminism, with the negative stereotypes it generated of the “ugly feminist” or the “anti-sex feminist”; in part the result of the belief that the very successes of second-wave feminism had made it possible to reclaim aspects of femininity that had earlier been seen as disempowering, like make-up or stilettos.
Linguistically, Lipstick feminism proposed to semantically reclaim, for feminist usage, double-standard insult words, such as “slut”, in order to eliminate the social stigma applied to a woman whose sexual behaviour was patriarchically interpreted to denote “immoral woman” and libertine.
Philosophically, Lipstick feminism proposes that a woman is empowered — psychologically, socially, politically – by the wearing of cosmetic make up, sexually suggestive clothes, and the practice of a sexual allure that appeals to men and/or to women. The rhetoric of choice and empowerment is used to validate such overt sexual practices, because they no longer represent coerced acquiescence to societally established gender roles, such as “the good girl”, “the decent woman”, “the abnegated mother”, “the virtuous sister”, et aliæ.
Other feminists object that the so-called empowerment of Lipstick feminism is a philosophic contradiction wherein a woman chooses to sexually objectify herself, and so ceases to be her own woman, in control neither of her self nor of her person. In an ongoing debate, Lipstick feminism counter-proposes that the practice of sexual allure is a form of social power in the interpersonal relations between a man and a woman, which may occur in the realms of cultural, social, and gender equality.
Stiletto feminism, a more ideologically radical variety of Lipstick feminism, sees the postmodern use of fetish fashion as empowering; and extends the argument from the acceptance of makeup, to the validity of women practicing occupations specifically predicated upon female physical beauty, such as working as a striptease dancer or as a pole dancer, as well as (flashing) or lesbian (girl-on-girl) exhibitionism.
Critics argue that in practice the rhetoric of empowerment and equality is far removed from actual reality: "just look at the lap-dancing club...The men in there are respectable, they are in suits, they have bank accounts, the women are not respectable, they are naked, they have debts".
In popular culture
- In the U.S. television series, The West Wing, the 57th episode, “Night Five”, features a scene wherein the characters debate the merits of Lipstick feminism. The female protagonist decides it is empowering, while determining that sex-negativism distracts from important issues like pay equity.
- R. D. Lankford, Women Singer-Songwriters in Rock (2010) p.98
- Natasha Walters, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010) p. 129
- What is Lipstick Feminism
- J. Hollows/R. Mosely eds., Feminism in Popular Culture (2006) p. 84
- Walter, p. 28 and p. 43
- What is Lipstick Lesbianism
- Helmut Newton and Stiletto Feminism
- Walters, p. 49
- "#313 (57) "Night Five"". The West Wing Continuity Guide. Retrieved 1 June 2007.