Mother to Daughter: Second- VS. Fourth-Wave Feminism.

While I’ve only begun calling myself a feminist in the past few years, I think I’ve always had feminist tendencies: I’ve always believed in reproductive rights, I’ve tried never to judge a woman based on her choices and it’s been instilled in me that, as a woman, I can do and be anything I want to.

A lot of this is thanks to my mum, who is a ’70s bra-burning hippie feminist through and through.

Though recently, as I increasingly immerse myself in current readings of feminism, I see just how far we’ve come, baby, and how the second-wave feminism of my mother’s era is worlds apart from today’s discourse on gender equality.

There have been many debates between second-, third- and fourth-wavers about who did, and is doing, more for the movement.

At a 2011 Melbourne Writers Festival presentation on why we still need feminism, Sophie Cunningham asserted that feminists under 25 can’t really grasp the concept because they’re still young and beautiful and have men falling at their feet. She also observed “a sort of ‘bottleneck’ in modern feminism”, where white, Western feminists aren’t able to incorporate intersectionality into the fold, which was a criticism of SlutWalk, one of latter-day feminism’s most high-profile conquests. Pardon me, but wasn’t it foremother Betty Friedan who was accused of being racist and homophobic with The Feminine Mystique?

Perhaps the most contentious issue is the constant bickering amongst young feminists as to what, exactly, feminism is. You’ve got women undertaking such obviously feminist tasks as Marissa Mayer overseeing Yahoo! and Beyonce nearing total world domination, yet they’re reluctant to call a spade a spade. And the non-feminist media would have you believe there’s infighting going on about who is allowed to be a feminist (definitely not Taylor Swift!).

But, I think, the feminist movement of today would like to believe it’s accessible to all kinds of women (and men): straight, gay, bi, male, female, trans, black, white, mixed-race, rich, poor, able-bodied and non-able-bodied, sex workers, etc. Can second-wave feminism of yesteryear say that?

This divide is illustrated by Germaine Greer’s infamous comments about Julia Gillard’s clothing choices and how they accentuated her apparently undesirable body shape last year on Q&A and feminists everywhere taking to their respective platforms to mostly disagree with her. One such vocal detractor was Mia Freedman, who said Greer “broke my heart a little bit” when she took herself “down in a hail of self-inflicted friendly fire while the world watche[d] in embarrassment.” When the two women appeared together on a recent episode of Q&A, Freedman was asked to clarify her response: did it mean she wasn’t a fan of the “ground-breaking, arse-kicking lightening rod for social change who ignited a feminist movement from which every woman in the western world has benefited” anymore? Was this an example of the abovementioned feminist in-fighting?

Freedman responded that while she has nothing but respect for the woman in whose water she grew up and who influenced her mother’s feminist awakening, “feminism needs to have a lot of different voices… It should be really, really broad and inclusive.” Essentially, feminism should accommodate both the foremothers and their daughters.

Freedman went on in that same episode of Q&A to—what some would describe as—shame sex workers, or “prostitutes” as she archaically called them, which ignited a backlash of her own. So much for that broad inclusion she waxed lyrical about…

While liberating housewives of Germaine and Freedman’s mother’s era from “the problem with no name” and ushering in the birth control pill are milestones women of today must be thankful for, they’re very much narrow-minded accomplishments: The Feminine Mystique appealed to white middle-class women and many women can’t afford the birth control pill, a predicament that still exists today. And second-wave feminism was very much responsible for the sexual liberation of a generation of people, but I’m not so sure that transfers to the hook up, raunch and porn culture/s of today (as Freedman’s comments about sex workers above would indicate).

For example, when I was living at home and Girls of the Playboy Mansion came on the TV, my mum would make me turn it off (keep in mind I was 22 by the time I moved out and this was not long before that). When I brought this up recently as an example of her generation’s reluctance to embrace sex positivity, she launched into a tirade that ended with her calling into question the women who pose for Playboy’s sexual promiscuity.

We must acknowledge that media like Playboy is an inherently patriarchal construct, but I think making the assumption that any woman who uses her sexuality as a commodity is a slave to said patriarchy is buying into the notion that feminism works against: women have no autonomy. Much like the debate over women in Islam (and don’t even get me started on the fight I had with my mum about asylum seekers that, similar to the Playboy exchange, ended with her defensively inquiring about the legality of people seeking asylum via boat), certain kinds of feminism need to broaden their scope to take into account the lives of all women, whether we agree with their choices or not.

This close-mindedness comes from a lack of access to new information and technologies and willingness to learn from and hand the reigns over to the feminists of today, I think. While many feminists of all ages count the works of Greer, Friedan and Naomi Wolf amongst their collection of feminist tomes, how many second-wavers can say the same about the musings of Jessica Valenti, Clementine Ford, Rachel Hills and the myriad feminist bloggers? That face of feminism has certainly changed to make it much more accessible. What once was narrowly accessible at rallies, underground meetings and in academic journals is now available wherever you look: Gillard speaking up against sexism in parliament, movements like SlutWalk and Destroy the Joint and all across the interwebs.

So on this Mother’s Day eve, it’s important to acknowledge the gender equality path paved for me by my feminist foremothers, including my actual mother, but also to recognise that we have, indeed, come a long way, baby. Maybe that’s something that second-wavers need to consider, too.

Related: Why Young Feminists Still Have “A Long, Long Way to Go” In the Eyes of Second-Wave Feminists.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Elsewhere: [The Atlantic] 4 Big Problems with The Feminine Mystique. 

[The Guardian] The Tragic Irony of Feminists Trashing Each Other.

[MamaMia] Germaine Greer: You’ve Lost Me.

[MamaMia] No, I Won’t Apologise for My Sex Worker Comments.

[Daily Life] Stoned for Having Short Hair.

The Hills Have (Dead) Eyes.

 

While The Hills has come to an end (more on that to come), its final season has been one marred with controversy.

First, Heidi Montag debuted her plastic (not-so-) fantastic look in the lead up to the premiere.

And in other Speidi news, the couple accused a producer of sexual harassment and left the show soon after.

Kristin Cavallari was suspected of having an eating disorder and a drug addiction, while Stephanie Pratt came clean in the tabloids about her past food and alcohol problems.

And finally, Heidi filed for divorce from Spencer, who demonstrated signs of drug dependence and anger management issues in his final episodes.

Phew!

A recent episode, aptly named “This is Goodbye” for Speidi’s last hurrah, was troubling, in that it showed just how distorted Spencer and Heidi’s perception of reality has become.

Kimberly, in a topical blog post on I Love Wildfox (a component of the brand Wildfox Couture), came to the defence of Kristin, Audrina et al, saying that with the seemingly low expectations the producers have of its cast, it’s no wonder Heidi, in particular, “has a warped perception of who she should be”:

“Maybe I need to watch the prior seasons to understand what MTV was really going for, but basing my opinion on this [one] episode I gathered this message from the astoundingly popular series: look pretty, gossip, sunbake, flirt, look pretty…

“The girls on the show are all incredibly physically beautiful. Looking good in every light at every camera angle is not normal. Most girls don’t look half as pretty on camera as they do in real life.

“It saddens me that MTV chose the easy suck-you-in route once again, telling all girls everywhere, ‘this is what you should talk about, this is what you should want to be,’ without showing (even once in an entire episode) what these girls actually struggle with, what they are good at, or what they dream of; even The Girls of the Playboy Mansion managed to do that!”

The buzz surrounding the final episode, which aired last week and featured Kristin leaving for Europe, with a saddened Brody Jenner (Kristin’s ex) watching as she drives awayonly to have the Hollywood sign Brody’s standing in front of revealed as a green screen, and that the whole final scene was shot on a film lot, seems to be taking a stab at the “scripted” label, leaving audiences wondering whether the whole thing was a set-up or if it somehow morphed into one along the way.

Kristin has been quoted as saying that The Hills was just her job, and she would never put her real friends and the people she cares about on TV.

So why did “Heidi’s family appear on the show to discuss her surgery, further condoning the need for limelight on their daughter’s sad and massive insecurities”?

You will notice that it’s really only the Pratt and Montag families who were caught up in the “drama” of the whole show, which bodes the questions: were Speidi’s marital woes all a set up? What is the extent of Heidi’s body dysmorphia and the necessity of her multiple surgeries? Did her family really express shame at her new look, or were they all in on the act, if it was an act, too?

Going back to “This is Goodbye”, there is a scene at a club that Heidi and Spencer rock up to, uninvited, during a fun night out with most of the other cast members. Spencer speaks of he and Heidi’s life together, saying, “I don’t let her go on [watch] TV, no computers. The only thing Heidi does is read and write poetry, and pray, and pet puppies…”, while Heidi sits there genuinely and enthusiastically nodding along, only interjecting to add, “and I read books”.

When Kristin confronts her about being isolated from her friends and family, Heidi says she’s just focussing on her love for Spencer and asks, “who am I without Spencer?” If she’s not an emotionally battered wife, I don’t know who is. As Holly said, “she’s brainwashed”.

Furthermore, Kristin and Audrina add that “there’s nothing going on behind those eyes anymore” and “there’s no emotion”, respectively.

I would tend to agree with these statements, however I don’t agree with what comes next.

When the girls discuss what to do about the abusive state of their friend and sister’s marriage, Lo asserts that “Heidi is guilty on all counts… she hides behind Spencer and plays the victim”.

If this was real life, I would say that Heidi’s alleged friends and family should have stuck by her a little harder, supporting her through her inevitable marriage breakdown.

But we don’t know how real The Hills really is, so I have to say that maybe Heidi did willingly become a victim to Spencer’s controlling ways or, to take it a step further, to Hollywood’s ideal of what a woman should be.

Kimberly declares that she hopes “those of you out there who criticise yourselves and your bodies, who look at thin girls all over the place in fashion, who watch outlandishly pretty young ladies on television, who admire movie stars and supermodels and yearn to be like them can know: That’s not what it looks like. Ever.”

It is also interesting to note that Heidi, and to a lesser extent Stephanie, Holly and Audrina, is the only one whose succumbed to this ideal.

Lauren Conrad, the original star of the show, got out when the going was good, and now leads a relatively quiet life as a fashion designer-cum-author slashie. Kristin, as her earlier comments illustrate, knows it’s only a job. Lo is fairly low-key and we really don’t know that much about her, which is probably the way she likes it. And while Audrina, Holly and Stephanie may have had surgical augmentations of some kind or another, they all remain fairly down-to-earth girls, or so it would seem.

Kimberly also notes that while almost everything on the show is fake, The Hills “is the realest account of female self-destruction I’ve ever seen on television”. This may be true, but this unravelling of Spencer and Heidi can be taken as an exercise in critical discourse about “reality” television, Hollywood and celebrity culture, which bodes the question: why can some people handle fame whilst others become the next Lindsay Lohan, trapped in a prison sentence, both literally and figuratively?

Elsewhere: [I Love Wildfox] That’s What Girls Are Made Of.