Cupcakes, it seems, are feminism’s new enemy. There’s no arguing that a new wave of pink sugar-frosted femininity and its love for kittens, craft fairs, and retro kitch of every kind has burst out from a section of the indie scene to become mainstream. Decried as some sort of female class treachery in Jezebel, it is now due to become completely inescapable, as the US sitcom New Girl explodes across our screens.
Let’s take another look at that Jezebel article here. Leaving aside just when it became feminist to go after how other women dress, it has a lot of problems. First of all, the article casually assumes that all women who embrace “twee” do so simply so that men will have sex with them. Not only does this assume that all women are heterosexual – or perhaps that only heterosexual women are “real women” – but it states as given that this entire package of gender expression exists solely in order to please men.
The equation of femininity with weakness , artificiality, and existing solely in order to please men is hardly a new thing. What is new, or at least newer, is separating out the quality of femininity with the lived reality of being female, and then using that separation as a basis for feminism. It’s okay to be a woman, as long as you don’t act too girly about it.
This is simply femmephobia, attacking feminine qualities rather than women in general. The “natural” femininity advocated in Jezebel isn’t precisely defined, yet a general picture is painted: seriousness, “age-appropriate”ness, wine rather than fro-yo. All of which are certainly less juvenile, but also strikingly gender-neutral. There is another unstated, and therefore unchallenged assumption here: that femininity is rightly taken less seriously, that it somehow precludes serious thought, that it abolishes female agency. The Jezebel article’s alternative, however, is somehow magically free of patriarchal pressure: male ideas have influenced twee girls’ style and sense of self-worth, yet the formless proposed negation of all things kitteny stands alone among historical womanhood in being free of these influences. Amaze.
What is also amazing is the sheer intensity of the hatred for this kind of “cupcake femininity”. Just like every other cultural trend co-opted by capitalism, this kind of retro-geekery happened in waves. While online hatred of trend-latecoming hipsters abounds, criticism of neotenous tastes: 8-bit gaming, animation, comics, bad movies, cupcakes, crafts, and kittens, is reserved only for the “feminine” things on that list. It’s fine to indulge in this kind of zeitgeisty retro fetishisation if a man does it – or so long as a woman steers clear of that awful fake girly thing.
Now, a kind of neotenous femininity has one striking advantage for women: the avoidance of compulsory sexualisation. That’s wrong, too, right? Modern feminism is sex-positive, and women who pose as oversized children must just be playing weird and questionable games with male sexuality.
This, too, is horribly problematic: “male sexuality” is centred and naturalised, put forth as something we should all aspire to. Sex positivity is all, any woman who doesn’t want sex needs help dealing with her shame, or perhaps medical intervention, and the existence of rape culture is, again, magicked away. The issue of self-determination, instead of being paramount, shrivels away and vanishes. Any thought of the economic and societal trends behind delayed social maturation is also verboten: what a consumer chooses to do with their money and the increasing age of being able to afford a first mortgage couldn’t possibly be connected in any way, right?
In reality, women in 2012 have few choices in our self-expression. We can embrace a juvenile version of femininity: pink, twee, and less sexually objectified. The price is the boundless ire of other women, who know that their preferred strategy for survival under kyriarchical capitalism makes them better than us.
Or we can embrace mature femininity, the illusion of choice, sex positivity, and deal with objectification: in contrast to the Jezebel article, misogynists are still perfectly able to indulge in woman hate whether or not women are “adult” or not. A glance at any popular internet forum, or indeed the comments section of almost any media article written by a woman proves that.
Our final choice is a queer androgyny that is becoming increasingly masculinist in its appearance, language, and outlook. For those committed to abolishing patriarchy, none of these offer any meaningful choice at all. We can mix and match to our hearts content, yet no simple combination of gendered behaviour will make the bars around us fall away.