There are a couple of reasons why feminism has a difficult time taking root in many places; first, it’s because there is widespread suspicion of its origins. Historically and currently (by the Bush Admin), it has been abused to spread imperialism. It has strong associations with the privileged and ironically, paternalistic women who like to tell Muslim women what not to wear. Also, because it is home to lipstick feminism. Renee at Feministe has posted a good argument against women who claim empowerment from fashion and make-up but often forget the many other women who are tragically disempowered to keep lipstick feminism alive:
When women who are middle/upper class engage in a debate as to whether an article of clothing, or makeup is suitably feminist what they are ignoring is that they are in a position to engage in this particular conversation, because they exist with class privilege.
A woman who is making less than 1USD per day does not have time to concern herself with whether or not patriarchy is informing her clothing choices. This woman must deal with trying to provide subsistence for herself and her family under brutal economic slave labour. Her class location informs her position, as the realities of her daily lived experience extinguish the angst that lipstick/utility feminists engage in.
Regardless of your position regarding performing femininity through make up and or clothing, what cannot be denied is that any purchase within our capitalist economy is predicated on the exploitation of women. The cult of I blinds us from the reality that in our debate about agency and autonomy, we are completely obscuring the degree to which we personally are responsible for the impoverishment of others. Class position we posit is based on meritocracy, but I must ask, who works harder than a sweat shop labourer? Though feminism is a movement to end oppression against women, often times the failure to acknowledge privilege leads to the marginalization and exploitation of the most vulnerable within our society. Class division is not a flight of fancy, and to ignore the ways in which the Cult of I, turns us into oppressors is to decide unilaterally that only certain women matter.
You can read her full article here.
Update: Here’s an article posted at The F-Word that got me questioning about how I identify myself as a feminist and here’s a bit of defending the post’s title (Lipstick feminism is not feminism): I like lipstick and I do believe that to some extent it boosts my self-confidence, it assures me that I look pretty. There I said it, I need make-up for self-esteem sometimes. But then again, without make-up and new clothes I’m still me, the same self-assured woman-Muslim-feminist-daughter-lover-cook-pianist-artist who does not need to put everything I enjoy into boxes labeled feminist or not, ‘cos that’s just silly.