Jewish World Review Oct 13, 2005/ 10 Tishrei,
The swingin' pendulum of feminism
But in the world where image is all and the politics of protest
race across page and screen, the fashionable are targets, too. How
embarrassing for Anna Wintour, editor of the American edition of Vogue, to
be smacked in the face with a cream pie by a protester for the People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The pie splattered across her black
fur-trimmed jacket, enlivening the spring couturier shows in Paris, the
crossroads of high fashion and haute cuisine, and her only consolation was
that the cream was made of tofu (good), and not butter (bad).
Protest against cruelty to animals has been fashionable in
certain precincts since at least 1896, when a Boston society lioness
crusaded against feathers on hats. The crusaders were more ladylike then.
They fashioned "Audubonnets" decorated with ribbons and flowers, and their
protests led to the formation of the National Audubon Society.
Modern fashion, if there can be any other kind, has been a
target in the culture wars, where models and the advertisements they live in
are subject to the pressures of cultural conservatives to preserve certain
values. When Kate Moss, one of the world's most beautiful and recognizable
models, was revealed to be a cocaine junkie, H&M, Europe's largest clothing
chain with 78 stores in the United States cancelled her contract to be
their representative. She was scheduled to go global next month with the
introduction of a new collection designed by Stella McCartney.
"If someone is going to be the face of H&M," a spokesman for the
chain told reporters, "it is important they be healthy, wholesome and
sound." Healthy, wholesome and sound is not what either Miss Moss or high
fashion brings first to mind. It was Kate Moss, in fact, whose anorexic
thinness with dark shadows under her eyes was the face of "heroin [not
heroine] chic" in the 1990s.
While many in high fashion continue the never-ending search for
avant-garde shock, there's nevertheless a recognizable yearning today by
young women for fashion both feminine and romantic. Certain shows in Paris
are responding, for better and sometimes worse, to satisfy wishes for
ruffles, pompoms and bows, something described as "girlie-girl frilly" and
"powder-puff prettiness." One New York buyer at the Paris shows harrumphed:
"But what if you're not a virgin?"
This is not, to be sure, the fashion that feminists burnt their
bras to achieve. But feminism as we have known it is in its descendency, and
it's just possible that the fashion now emerging reflects the old allure
that aims to attract a man for keeps, rather than for a fleeting "hookup."
When The New York Times reported that certain Ivy League women say they
intend to set aside a career in favor of raising their children, the
newspaper was bombarded with angry letters of feminists decrying a return to
a '50s mindset. Nevertheless the examples spoke eloquently. In interviews,
considerably more than half of 138 freshmen and seniors at Yale said they
intend to cut back on work, or quit entirely when they have children.
A decade or two ago, it was the professional woman who enjoyed
status at high-school class reunions. Now it's often the full-time mothers
who dominate the alumni websites with news and photographs of their babies.
Professional achievements are often the footnotes.
Many women in their late 30s have experienced pangs of regret
for having put motherhood on hold, and feel betrayed by their bodies and by
the feminist rhetoric that didn't warn them that by waiting they would find
it more difficult to get pregnant. When Shirley Tilghman, the president of
Princeton, welcomed incoming freshmen this year, she emphasized that the
goal of education was for men and women to be leaders in the broadest sense,
including careers in education, medicine and engineering. She later found it
necessary to expand the description of leadership to include "stay-at-home
parents" who can make an impact in the community.
The day-care debate has morphed into a concern for the
importance of sustaining parental support for children in the adolescent
years. The "home alone" experience is now considered as treacherous as the
years of the "terrible twos." The pendulum of feminism, like that of
fashion, describes a wide arc. We've come a long way, baby, but that means
it's a long way back.
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