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Unlike early feminist campaigns that focused on the basic fundamental rights of women, starting with the Women's Suffrage Movement, lipstick feminism seeks to ascertain that women could still be feminist without ignoring or negating their femininity, particularly in terms of sexuality. During the second wave of feminism, feminists had focused solely on legal and social equality of women and refused to 'embrace' their sexuality; some even abhorred the idea of men and would often take on physical characteristics and persona that was far from what the average woman looked like, thus creating stereotypes of what feminism and feminists looked like. Despite the stereotypes surrounding feminists, and the dominate social narratives surrounding feminism at the time, women like Zora Neale Hurston and Emma Goldman have argued that by using philosophical ideas of aesthetics and ideas of femininity, it is possible to empower and analyze the ways that gender works in daily life. Lipstick feminism embraces the concepts of womanhood and female sexuality emitted from a woman's body. Scholars of lipstick feminism believe that women have a right to act in accordance with passion and sexuality.
Lipstick feminism also seeks to reclaim certain derogatory words and turn them into powerful tools for their cause such as the word 'slut' as seen in the SlutWalk movement. It developed in part as 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 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 can be empowered — psychologically, socially, politically – by the wearing of cosmetic make up, sensually-appealing clothes, and the embrace of sexual allure for her own self-image as a confidently sexual being. The rhetoric of choice and empowerment is used to validate such overt sexual practices, because they no longer represent coerced acquiescence to societally established gender roles, such as “the good girl”, “the decent woman”, “the abnegated mother”, “the virtuous sister”, et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. Feminist scholars have often discussed whether or not the decision to perform traditional gendered actions, such as shaving your legs and wearing short skirts can be considered an act of empowerment. Feminist scholars like Fionnghuala Sweeney and Kathy Davis argue that there is a freedom that can come from understanding and embracing gender norms of sexuality as a means of freeing yourself from the stereotypes of women in society. 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. Scholars have pointed out the contradictions between feminist viewpoints and traditional gender roles. Scholar Kathy Davis wrote, “feminist scholars need to ground their normative, theoretical critique of passion in a grounded analysis of what the experience of passion feels like and what it means to those who have it, but it also suggests contradictions between feminist theory and embodied experience are a useful starting point for reflecting critically on some of the silences within feminist theory itself.”
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.
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 and "honest-to-God sexual harassment".
- R. D. Lankford, Women Singer-Songwriters in Rock (2010) p.98
- Sweeney, Fionnghuala (2015). "'Beautiful, radiant things': Aesthetics, experience and feminist practice a response to Kathy Davis". Feminist Theory. 16: 27–30. doi:10.1177/1464700114563244.
- Davis, Kathy (April 2015). "Should a feminist dance tango? Some reflections on the experience and politics of passion1". Feminist Theory. 16 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1177/1464700114562525. ISSN 1464-7001.
- 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
- Walters, p. 28 and p. 43
- Davis, Kathy (April 2015). "Should a feminist dance tango? Some reflections on the experience and politics of passion 1". Feminist Theory. 16 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1177/1464700114562525. ISSN 1464-7001.
- Helmut Newton and Stiletto Feminism[permanent dead link]
- "#313 (57) "Night Five"". The West Wing Continuity Guide. Retrieved 1 June 2007.