A Tug of War: The Tension Between Expression and Understanding

In the previous class, an interesting discussion arose about the distinction between the verbal expression of one’s feminism versus physical expression through one’s actions such that others’ readily perceive a person as a feminist. This discussion emerged after the class read a GQ interview in which Beyonce voiced beliefs that were clearly feminist—a contrast to her seemingly non-feminist behaviors both on stage and in her music videos. One side of the argument in class was that if feminists expect to be seen as such and taken seriously, their behaviors should match their ideologies. Beyonce’s “provocative” behavior may, in fact, result in others questioning whether she is truly a feminist. However, we must first ask ourselves who is creating and enforcing these norms for feminist behavior.

Looking more closely, one can see that it is, oftentimes, not women who impose these standards of conduct but men. Some women also take part in defining feminist behavior, but again we must ask ourselves where their ideologies stem from. If we take the time to look closely enough, we will see that the same source of information emerges—men. Although some women may lay claim to dictates governing behavior and dress, many simply regurgitate the very messages that they have internalized.

If feminism is so deeply entrenched in one’s choices about their personal conduct, why is it that men can have practically naked women dancing in a music video and not encounter much backlash? However, when a woman is scantily clad in a music video or is twerking or dressing “provocatively” she is met with much negativity.

At the end of the day, we must keep in mind that part of being a feminist means not letting people define who we are, but defining on our own who we are whether that is or is not what other people see in us. In practice, this also means not judging other women based on outer appearances such as attire. Because, ultimately, desiring and acting toward equality for all women has nothing to do with how short a woman’s skirt is.

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