Revamping the F-Word

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The past is haunting me. My Facebook sidebar has developed a tendency to feature timeworn photo albums from the first semester of college, as if those ill-advised vodka shooters and subsequent painful Sunday mornings were something I wanted to remember. Last week, I accidentally clicked on an “Oktoberfest!!!” album, which ultimately led to a series of incriminating Halloween photo-shoots that I must remember to delete before I start looking for a job.
 
The photos did not sit right with me. Not solely because of the general freshman-esque messiness, but rather because I noticed a blaring trend. For Halloween 2009, I donned the role of a Sexy French maid; in 2008, a Sexy Little Red Riding Hood; in 2007, a Sexy Angel. The more I thought about it, the more I felt kind of icky and gross.
 
Now, I’m all for Halloween mischief (and clichéd costumes, apparently), but I could not help but wonder if my attempts at sexy dress-up were at odds with my feminist beliefs. Was I being a two-faced feminist?
 
More importantly, there’s a larger question at hand: can a woman dress sexily/raunchily, play into male sexual fantasies, allow herself to be an object of the male gaze and still call herself a feminist?
 
After hours of heated internal debate, I have yet to come to a conclusion. I would like to think that I am a feminist 100% of the time. But I know deep down it’s still problematic, so I feel a little dirty. I’ve got F-word guilt.
 
I’ll be the first to admit that there is something empowering about being able to turn heads by dressing a certain way, make a booty call rather than solely respond to one, or let guys buy drinks for you with no intention of it going anywhere.
 
It’s delightful that women have the power to do things that were taboo even a half-century ago. Our generation is revolutionary in the sense that we can now wear the Playboy bunny logo as a supposed symbol of liberation. We can watch porn, “just like the boys”! We can take strip-dancing aerobics classes! We can get our cooters waxed!
 
But do these developments show how far we’ve come as women? Or do they show how much further we have to go?
 
Sexiness does not equate to sexual freedom. Some porn stars also find their work empowering; does that qualify as liberating too? In the preface to Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, Emily Macguire says, “attempting to avoid being personally oppressed by collaborating with the oppressors is harmful and ultimately futile.”
 
Other women achieve this collaboration by denouncing their own sex—mocking “girly stuff”, pooh-poohing “women’s issues”, and desperately striving to be “like a man”. Some refer to themselves as “tomboys” who get along better with men, because women are petty and catty and stuff. Gag. This kind of self-directed sexism is almost as nauseating as my come-hither costume collection.
 
Let’s rewind for a second. I realize not all of us refer to ourselves as feminists. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I’m not a feminist, but…”, followed by a (usually poor) qualifying statement.
 
Young women tend to see the “old-fashioned” word as something to avoid, or irrelevant to their lives. Some argue that equality has already been achieved. Just yesterday I heard someone citing recent female-heavy college admission statistics as a reason that the feminist project has already reached its peak. Yet in a world where some women still do not have access to education, and others are laboring to look like Pamela Anderson, I refuse to accept this argument.
 
Furthermore, the F-word has been demonized by anti-feminists, which has contributed greatly to Feminism’s radical negative connotations and the bra-burning, man-hating, dike-fostering stigma.
 
True, the word comes with a lot of baggage. But it’s time to step up and own that baggage. Alternatives like “humanist” and “female liberationists” are preferred among some, but they are generally a total cop-out and tend to sidestep the issue.
 
I believe it is time for our generation to reclaim the word. Even if we do occasionally problematize our stance by doing things our feminist foremothers would scoff at, it’s time to patch up notions of gender equality and remedy misperceptions about Feminism.
 
So I’m calling on my fellow feminists: let’s hear you roar. Using the F-word is more liberating than any strip-dancing aerobic class, Girls Gone Wild moment or sexy Halloween ensemble will ever be.

Photos from www.coyotescorner.com, used to advertise shirts, tanks and doormats. 

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