Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Feminist Mystique: On Finding Feminism in Beauty, Fashion, and the Everyday

I have a secret to share with you!

I like to read blogs about beauty, decorating, and fashion.

Gasp! Am I the only one who finds this hard to admit? I actually had a total crisis in college and thought I couldn't be a Women's Studies major because I enjoyed reading the US Weekly's my mom would bring me way too much. Then a professor mentioned reading US Weekly, and a feminist writer came in and talked to us about her analysis of The Bachelorette, and I felt redeemed (and then I found Jezebel and felt like I had entered some sort of snarky, feminist, pop-culture savvy heaven).

Being a feminist can be emotionally draining and difficult - we're aware of the sexism that surrounds us and spend a good portion of our time working on or reading about issues such as gender-based violence, sex trafficking, poverty, and attacks on reproductive rights. It is difficult stuff!  And even though it can be very rewarding, sometimes I find that it takes its toll; that I feel overwhelmed by the sexism, violence, and inequality around me.

So sometimes I check out and look at pretty pictures of dresses, or decorating ideas, or hair tutorials (I'm fast becoming a pinterest addict). It is a fun  little escape and offers a respite from the serious things in life. Indeed, sometimes I feel like I need these little escapes to remind myself that life can be fun and beautiful, even while we're working on the hard stuff - like destroying patriarchy.

One of the things you hear about doing feminist work is that it isn't sustainable. People usually mean this in two ways; that it isn't sustainable because it doesn't pay very well, and/or that it isn't sustainable because being a feminist is emotionally exhausting (this is a variant of the classic: you'll only be liberal while you're young. In the words of a friend, "don't you ever get sick of analyzing every article, every tv ad, every show, every tradition for sexism!"). The latter has already been addressed, and the former...well, it is true that feminist work, like most non-profit and advocacy work, doesn't pay very well. And that is a very real social and economic problem. It is unfortunate that so many professions, such as teaching and non-profit work, mean a trade-off in quality of life, or even that one can only do it for a few years because it is impossible to exist on such a salary.

I, however, am trying very hard to make it sustainable. I think the work is necessary, and I'd rather change my lifestyle and become less capitalistic - I'd rather learn to live simply on less- than give up the work.

My perusal of pretty dresses, decorating ideas, and beauty tips are all being shaped by these goal, by a desire to remind myself of the fun and the beautiful, and by a desire to live a more simple, natural, and chemical-free life (the many reasons for this last one will have to wait for a separate post). I've been thinking a lot about how much I buy and consume, and how much I have that I could give to others who need it more. I've been thinking about my impact on my fellow humanity and our planet. I've been thinking about how everything -- from the food you eat, to the shampoo you use, to the way you decorate -- can be political. After all, the personal is political! That is feminism 101.

This is actually one of the reasons why I started this blog, and why I named it the Feminist Mystique. I started writing a few months after I had graduated with a Master's and was suddenly thrown into the real world. A world where I couldn't just spend all day reading feminist theory, but had to live my feminism. And yet, I wasn't sure what feminism meant to me and how I could bring those values into the everyday. I'm still not sure.

So, while this is hardly a lifestyle blog, I'm going to start blogging a little about my desire to live more simply; to live as a feminist in every sense of the word. I'm going to share with you some things I do that make me happy and give me a fun break from the hard stuff, while also (hopefully) helping me to live a better, more simple life. And I'll share some fun, all-natural, not budget-breaking beauty, fashion, decorating, and cooking things as well.

I hope you find these posts helpful and fun!


  1. looking forward to hearing your thoughts.....

  2. Hi Shannon, it sounds like we are on the same journey (and also know Kim). Love your blog!

  3. As we've talked about probably 12398235 times, it is a VERY difficult balance! I find that the more involved I am in the truly important things in my life, the less I rely on my material wants. The more time I spend with Lucas, the more engaged I am with my students, the less I feel the need to look at JCrew.com, and the more I realize... I have everything I need and more! I have a love-hate relationship with style blogs. On the one hand, they are fun and pretty. On the other hand, I find them very addictive and when I look at them, I just have this crappy feeling of, "I wish I had more nice things!" I get frustrated when STUFF is on my brain. Ideas are better for the brain. And pearls, duh.

  4. Twosie - Thanks!

    Twoneness - Thanks!! I'm so happy you like it.

    Becky - It is so important to realize that we have everything I need! I only start feeling like my wardrobe is lacking if I peruse J.Crew.com. Part of what I'm trying to do is simplify, to be happy with what I have and not have STUFF on the brain. But part of simplifying is evaluating what I have and what I really need, and how to make things pretty without necessarily buying things or spending tons of money (this is kind of like Kim's simple closet idea). But you're right - ideas are better! And thinking ideas while you're wearing pearls is the best! :-)

    P.S. I was actually thinking the other day that I am (almost) never tempted to buy jewelry because I have my two pearl necklaces. All gifts from Momma with tremendous sentimental value to me. They are beautiful and make me feel beautiful and happy, and I never sit around thinking, "oh! if only i had more jewelry my outfits/life would be complete!" My jewelry box is thankful because it is devoid of necklaces. Pearls = simple, beautiful, clutter-preventing. xoxo!

  5. Very good topic. As someone who isn't very feminine but enjoys beauty at large, including the sight of (other people's) lovely clothes and well-decorated palaces and museums (Versailles, L'Hermitage come to mind), I believe that what gives you pleasure is the most important criterion for how it fits into your life, including your feminism. It's when the performance of femininity is imposed on us, instead of being a choice we enjoy, and that nourishes our creativity, that it becomes a burden and a trap. Likewise, when the performance of the masculine prevents men from enjoying the same pleasures, it also becomes their prison.

  6. @thedelphiad - Thanks for your very articulate comment! I love what you said about the difference between choosing to enjoy beauty versus having the performance of femininity, or masculinity, imposed on us. I completely agree with you!