Call Me a Feminist: The Institute of Art and Ideas

Celebridades hipersexualizadas como Beyoncé o Kim Kardashian se consideran a sí mismas feministas, mientras las voces más críticas opinan que el movimiento ha perdido el rumbo. La socióloga Catherine Hakim debate sobre el asunto con el activista LGBT Peter Tatchell.

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Call me a Feminist

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Feminism is usually associated with serious women, intellectually-accomplished rebels who act against the system and stop at nothing to achieve equality of the sexes in political, professional and social life. Famous figures of the last one hundred years include the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, the politician Eleanor Roosevelt, the writer Betty Friedan, and the poet Maya Angelou. But in the 21st century, feminism and populism have joined forces, with personalities from the worlds of fashion, pop and reality TV claiming the title, including Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian. These women, talented as they are, appear to embody and emphasise in the way they look, act and dress, everything that men have traditionally desired.

THE DEBATE

Dr. Catherine Hakim is a sociologist and author. A former professor at the London School of Economics, she currently works at Civitas, a UK-based think tank. In her 2011 book Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital Hakim argues in favour of women like Kim Kardashian, calling those who criticise them the real perpetrators of a patriarchal society. Hakim debates the issue with Peter Tatchell, an Australian-born human rights campaigner best known for his work with LGBT social movements. Hakim begins:

Catherine Hakim (Northern English accent): Physical and social attractiveness has social and economic value and is a key element in what in the 21st century gets people into [to] the very highest levels. Yes, you need qualifications, yes you need intelligence, ability and all the rest of it, but in today’s very competitive world you need something extra that gives you the edge. And what gives you the edge is erotic capital. It’s the ability to present yourself well and that means physical and social, to dress well, to have good manners and also to make yourself as physically attractive as possible. Men know this. Men do it. In times of recession there’s a massive upsurge in men going to get facelifts and other bits and pieces to make themselves look more youthful, so that when they go into their next job interview they’ll have the edge and get the job. And yet women have these anxieties about whether they should use cosmetic surgery or not.

Men do it and get on with it and get the job and get the money and have the power. The key element of patriarchy today in the 21st century is men telling women that attractiveness is shallow, superficial, valueless, degrading, objectifying.

REAL ISSUES

Tatchell acknowledges that female sexuality can be empowering, but only as a small part of a much wider movement.

Peter Tatchell (Australian accent): Feminism can operate in many different ways and achieve many different results: political, economic, cultural and personal, including sexuality, but not sexuality alone. And I think all these different ways in which feminism seeks to drive women’s empowerment forward are good and positive, they’re all valid, they all contribute. But to me the idea that Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and others are the cutting edge of new wave feminism is simply not credible. Sexuality is certainly part of the feminist agenda, all the more so because sexual repression has been a core part of women’s underachievement and second-class status in society. In favour of people like Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and so on, I guess it’s true that their feminist sexuality does often reach parts of society, young girls, in particular... maybe their style of women’s assertive sexuality, maybe that has an appeal that traditional feminism doesn’t have. So that’s perhaps a positive thing. But not a sufficient thing.

BECKHAM’S BODY

Hakim believes that the gender battle has been won and that today’s men and women should be treated exactly the same. She uses the example of David Beckham, who poses in his underwear without criticism. She also acknowledges the importance of ’erotic capital’ in the gay community.

Catherine Hakim: People like Kim Kardashian – I take my hat off to her – she’s recognised that actually if you are attractive, you can earn a hell of a lot more, you can monetise that in a very big way. When David Beckham poses in underwear on huge posters in the street we don’t go around criticising him or fretting that he’s been degraded or objectified. He’s made more money from those sorts of adverts than he’s made from his profession as a footballer. The research on the gay community shows that erotic capital is even more valuable than for women in the heterosexual community. You don’t even have to have terribly good social manners and skills. Women have to learn. And celebrities are role models because they’ve already understood and they’re doing it.

NOT RIGHT, NOT FAIR

Tatchell, who points out that cosmetic surgery is still far more popular among women than men, states that the way things are is nothing to celebrate. He worries about the influence of ’sexualised’ icons on the aspirations of young girls, and the expectations of young boys.

Peter Tatchell: Just because they’ve (Kardashian, etc.) understood and they’re doing it doesn’t make it right. Isn’t the danger that you’re setting up like a new model of ’the princess’ to which young girls aspire to but most will never ever be able to achieve? That’s a weakness, that’s a flaw, not something to celebrate, because it emphasises shallowness over substance.

BAD GIRLS GET PAID

Hakim says that feeling obliged to act morally in the common female good is succumbing to the patriarchy. She thinks that real feminists should look out for themselves, using brains and body to get what they want.

Catherine Hakim: I have a doctorate, I have never ignored intellectual development. I have never recommended any of my students at the London School of Economics to stop bothering to get a degree. I am simply saying, when you go to an interview your degree isn’t going to be enough. You need an edge. Men have been exploiting any talents that they have got for centuries, without any moral inhibitions whatsoever. Women have constantly trapped themselves in this victimhood mentality that says: ’I’d better be a good girl before I’m anything else!’.

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