I have never been much of a feminist. In fact, I have never understood why being a woman ought to be so complicated. My early role-models – from Holly Golightly to Gilda to His Girl Friday to Lara Croft – had nothing in common with each other except for the fact that their behavior would be so much more acceptable if they were a man.
This was not a good mindset to have at Harvard in the early-nineties. My girlfriends became exasperated by my absolute blindness to male misogyny, doubled by the height of my heels in a dorm where a grunge look was de rigeur. I believe I got off lightly on an excuse of being Latvian. Years later I discovered same girlfriends in New York shopping for Manolos and beauty potions with the very abandon they once applied to quoting Susan Sontag. There was a sharp turn in the spirits of the times, as we entered the era of J. Lo, Destiny’s Child and bling as a weapon of an independent woman.
Yet I just read an article in the UK Harper’s Bazaar which made my non-existing feminist gene cringe. It is a story on the subject of Consumer Feminism. The writer begins by quoting an ad for Alaia high heels – something about “teetering tantalizingly”. She finds the tagline sexist, to say the least. Combined with the height and the price of the shoes, she wonders why would any woman put herself through physical torture and financial ruin to achieve the effect described by the ad. She then proceeds to explain the notion of consumer feminism, and how modern liberated woman is entitled to spend all of her money on fashion that makes her feel powerful. Pages later the story ends on an ecstatic note of the writer buying the Alaia shoes after all, and feeling quite powerful in them. The article is illustrated by: a black and white photo of 1971 women’s liberation march, de la Renta sandals, £191, Gucci boots, £450.
I have been wondering for quite some time why is there only one kind of women’s magazine. Or, rather, why all women’s magazines – whether they be about housekeeping, teenage dreams, fashion, beauty or, well, fashion – seem to speak to the same kind of woman. She may be savvy, educated, even well-off – yet she does not seem to mind being told that there is a certain bag to absolutely buy this season, a certain treatment to book right away, a certain beautiful starlet to imitate, a certain cause to support. It’s not just a sense of urgency in running after illusion that bothers me. It is the veil of dullness and lack of irony – same symptoms that put me off the political correctness of my college girlfriends – which seem to permeate the feminine press, no matter how hilarious the subject. The article above is just another example of a writer missing a golden opportunity to seize the absurdity of the social phenomenon she covers, and make us laugh at ourselves.
From what I know of men’s magazines – granted that there are certain sections of a newsstand that I do not yet frequent – popular press can be varied and at times quite intelligent. Last summer, for instance, I picked up a copy of the Rusian Esquire and found in it such a fountain of irony and good writing, that my faith in Russia’s future was temporarily restored.
Even new men’s lifestyles magazines, which can’t afford to hire top literary talents, offer stories original enough to make their mark. Take Monocle, for example, which delivers a “briefing” on everything from Kyrgizstan to M-Flo. You could argue that Monocle is not necessarily a “men’s magazine” per se, but come on – it just feels, reads and looks like a magazine for guys, and this is why I am probably not the only woman who likes it so much. And while some of its articles do veer towards insipid and glorifying, the editorial line is savvy and “second degree” enough to make me glance over those fallbacks and spend a fortune on the next issue.
So whence the magazine for women that Coco Chanel and Diana Vreeland would enjoy? I glimpse certain sparkles of possibility in the American press. Take the recent US Vogue, for instance, in which the editors struggle with the notion that already unaffordable couture prices are going through the roof as the dollar falls. Guess what their saving mantra is? “500$ is the new 300$” ! I take it that some girls out there are keeping their sense of irony sharp against the bluntness of common sense.