The New Face of Feminism

With feminists seemingly now viewed as hairy, turtle-neck toting spoilsports, it would appear we have become something of a society of neo-feminists. As glamour models speak of empowerment and role model criteria shifts based on attractiveness, has 21st Century feminism has become about burning our bras, quite literally? Laura Routledge finds out.

It’s the early 20th Century. Women are starving themselves, with food refusal the only form of control they have left in their struggle against subordination, and fighting with their lives to win the vote and equality.

Fast forward to 2009, my sister has taken up pole dancing lessons because, ‘It’s really good for toning muscles’ and my mother encourages me to wear something a little more feminine to guarantee my male peers find me attractive. Feminism seems to have become a set of beliefs women are apologetic for and certainly quick to defend. Over the past century, it has become loaded with a host of negative adjectives from ‘unshaven’ and ‘unattractive’ to ‘angry’ and even ‘lesbian’. Emmeline Pankhurst could have saved herself a lot of bother, had she realised that, a century later, we’d all be forgetting any moderate beliefs of equal rights for women and idolising a Geordie who was propelled to stardom after beating up a toilet attendant because she went back to her cheating husband and lost half her BMI.

Uncomplimentary stereotypes that cling to the noun ‘feminism’ lead to associations with Grumpy Old Women, Janet Street Porter and Germaine Greer. Not exactly a social group that many young women will be quick to draw allegiance to. With role models such as Cheryl Cole and Jordan, who has accumulated a wealth of £40 million and whose fame rose from her enlarged assets and various high profile relationships, perhaps feminism has simply been manipulated to adopt a new meaning in the noughties. With negative associations attached to word itself, women are now looking to new ways to show that they are liberated. Cardiff-born glamour model, Emma Green, feels that her decision to pose naked for photographers is an example of her asserting control over her own body and own brand of feminism. ‘It is empowerment,’ she explains. ‘It boosts your self esteem, makes you super confident and gives others the confidence to do it.’

In the last few decades, lad’s magazines like Loaded have propelled girls like Emma to the forefront of teenage boys’ ‘hearts’ as their seeming obtainable ‘girl-next-door’ images make for soaring magazine sales. Martin Daubney, editor of Loaded, is responsible for almost 200 different scantily-clad cover girls over its fifteen year life span, not to mention the plethora of bare boobs and bums that grace its pages. But what has this meant for women’s roles in society as a result? It is well publicised that even now, a whole century since women cared enough to die for the right to vote, women in the same jobs as men are being paid less and men continue to dominate the top positions. As the media becomes increasingly powerful it is hard not to presume a symbiotic relationship between the host of negative connotations to feminism, the rise in these macho rags and the suppression of feminism.

Martin believes that glamour modelling, rather than opposing feminist ideals, is a sign of the times and empowering thousands of women in society. ‘Any woman who makes an informed choice about what they do with their lives is surely a feminist. It’s just bullshit to say that women are in some way coerced into glamour modelling. You could argue that porn stars are feminist role models as they are highly paid and control men,’ he says. ‘When a Loaded cover girl earns more in one day than a male writer does in an entire year, who is having the last laugh?’

So are women now fighting glass ceilings in the work-place by taking charge of their fake-tanned bodies and manipulating men through this adaptation of feminism? Well, it’s certainly not a path that Germaine Greer would have ever chosen. Alex Sim-Wise, a journalist and newly appointed gaming expert on Radio 1, fell into glamour modeling quite unintentionally while at University. But from her experiences as a model, Alex finds it hard to believe that glamour models have even heard of feminism. ‘The girls who get into it as a career are generally the least empowered women you could imagine and are doing the job because they don’t have the smarts to do anything else and are looking for a rich boyfriend,’ she says. ‘Added to that, a lot of glamour girls now work for free (due to the decline in magazine sales and the popularity of ‘real girls’ in magazines like Nuts and Zoo) so are essentially exposing themselves for zero reward. It’s a male dominated industry where women have little control over their product.’

However, glamour model Kelly Crossin feels that the freedom to tantalise a male audience with her naked body is something of a reward as she manipulates the men that flick through the glossy pages. “I enjoy knowing men find me sexy and that they fantasize over me,’ she says. ‘I think we all unfairly portrayed. People assume I’m stupid, but glamour models often have a good business head on them.’ Yet, even Front magazine editor, Joe Barnes, who has made a living from paying young attractive girls like Kelly to whip their kit off in a bid to ‘give the men what they want’, sees this as a rather unrealistic notion. Instead, Joe believes that these models have a counterproductive drain on a century of women fighting for the vote. ‘The reason the girls do the shoots, it’s a sort of myriad of different reasons. Maybe some of them think there’s a sort of feminist thing behind it but I’m afraid that’s a bit ridiculous really,’ he admits. ‘I can’t see how it fits with feminism at all.’

The idea that male middle class media professionals are sitting in their nicely furnished offices rubbing their well-manicured hands as the money pours in thanks to the potential naivety of these models, leaves something of a bitter taste. Professor Sally Alexander has been a feminist since the sixties. Now a lecturer at Goldsmiths University in London, she continues to follow the developments and advances of the seemingly lost movement. Yet, Sally believes glamour modelling is not so much a replacement of feminism, but more a product of it. “If young women choose to model and pose for men’s magazines and pop videos, then that is their choice, so far as it is education and their environment that has enabled them to do so,’ she says. ‘This is fortunate for those women.’

The ‘have it all now’ culture could be seen to be linked to the rise in the number of women who turn to glamour modelling enticed by the short hours and big bucks. In fact, Kelly has rather controversial views on modern feminism. It seems, the twenty-one year old from Poole feels empowered by tantalising men, but feels the feminism is something of a restraint. “I think feminism matters less now’ the Nuts model explains. ‘Personally, I think feminism has caused more harm then good as we now work as well as look after the kids and keep the house clean, where as before it was the women’s job to stay at home and watch the children. So I think feminism is making life harder for women.’

There would appear a fine line between empowerment and the disillusion of pleasing men whilst convincing oneself that you are liberated. Yet it does not feel feminist to cast judgement on these women. Am I in a position to judge these women for finding a seemingly easy way to make a lot of money? Probably not. But it would seem that there is still room for improvement. Ellie Levenson, author of ‘The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism’ wrote the novel after finding that the only ideas of feminism were American or completely out-of-date. The uncharacteristically proud feminist feels it is important that we do not blame girls who wish to use their looks to get them further. ‘We shouldn’t judge people by how they look or what career choices they make. That doesn’t seem very feminist at all,’ she says. ‘We need to make a lot of improvements to change things for men and women because feminism is about making society better for everyone, not just women.’

With glamour models claiming feminism is holding them back and giving them too much to do, it is undeniable that feminism has done something of a u-turn. Whether feminism has been manipulated and modernised in the form of glamour modelling, I would suggest not. As while these women earn big money for doing little and toy with men’s emotions with every finger bite and seductive lip-glossed pout, feminism should perhaps be more to do with making a difference and building on problems such as pay gaps, the treatment of rape claims and removing negativity from the term ‘feminist’. In the words of a fully clothed Miss Pankhurst ‘We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half’. Thus it seems there is more to feminism than the liberation of women, it is about society as a whole and the greater good of it. But whether or not glamour modelling will serve to improve or deter the status of feminism in the future, only time will tell. In the meantime, I think I’ll be keeping my bra on.

By Laura Routledge