Date of Submission
Project Advisor 1
Daria Di Lello
I am a feminist. I am ashamed to admit that I am ashamed to admit that I am a feminist. It is an embarrassing confession in some situations (such as amongst cool, apathetic peers) but a badge of honor in others. I am anxious both to accept and to reject this label. In my experience, feminism often fiercely clashes with features of feminine identity, another set of standards I struggle to both embrace and reject. Certain social norms dictate that my worth is generated by physical beauty and sexual availability. If I achieve these things, I am supposed to gain satisfaction from the resulting attention I receive. For example, men who would otherwise be disinterested in interacting with me are more than happy to do so as a sexual endeavor. With self-worth and self-actualization on the line, the pull to seek this readily available form of approval is practically gravitational.
Feminism resists this pull by providing formats of female existence alternate to the rigid molds supplied by the mass media. If I were a better feminist I wouldn’t allow my behavior to be governed gender norms that don’t ring true for me. But I nevertheless consider myself a feminist because I see a serious problem with the relentless pressure to embody the culturally ideal woman. I want to be this woman as much as I really don’t want to be her. I want to embody our cultural standards as much as I want to change them.
My senior project seeks to express the feminine versus feminist conflict through a photographic body of work, and to document the struggle of existing within and between these seemingly contradictory categories. Working with the young women that I know to make these images gives life, motion, and tangibility to what would otherwise remain suppressed thoughts and dissatisfactions within me. With this work, I hope to reclaim my continued inclusion in the “feminine” category while also threatening the standards of inclusion and reframing the meaning of the category from within it.
There is a serious discrepancy between the women that I know and the “ideal” women represented in mass media. My work attempts to articulate the gaps between the two. In one series of photographs, I compare products as they are advertised to products as actual women use them. My aim in this exploration is twofold: first, to shed light on the discrepancy between the world of advertising and the reality of the female consumer, and second to provide evidence of self-possessed, beautiful women who do not look like super models. In this sense, these images serve as a call for more variety and authenticity in media representations of women.
The central series of my project, which takes place outside of the studio, is titled How it Really Goes. This group of images questions various aspects of feminine gender presentation, including makeup, body abuse, and body hair. In one image, stick-figure lines drawn on the body serve as a reference to impossible standards of beauty. In another, reading at a desk with hands tied represents that nagging urge I feel to put on makeup before leaving to go to the library, for example, even though I don’t actually want to wear any makeup. When the viewer sees a pair of unshaven legs, what kind of assumptions does he or she make about the individual’s body and why? In each of these images, my aim is to reframe our preconceptions about gendered presentation of the female form.
How it Really Goes is also about pain. When our bodies do not fit into a particular mold we are taught to hate them. Even when our bodies do fit certain molds we are taught to allow them to be treated like objects or playgrounds. Body abuse manifests in a variety of different ways: some women endure a level of roughness during sex that they are uncomfortable with, some women starve themselves in order to lose weight, others wear high heels to look sexy even though the skin on their feet becomes blistered and torn-up.
There seems to be a trend in which feminine-identified women claim to advocate for women’s rights and freedoms yet anxiously reject the feminist label. It seems we perceive some sort of invisible distinction drawn between the non-committal “girl-power” mood and the essentialist feminist personality feature. We think that the former will allow us to remain comfortably within feminine normalcy while we fear that the later will align us with various outdated stereotypes about feminist women. When we “believe in women’s rights”, we are docile and do not threaten the status quo, but when we are feminists we are purposeful, concrete and mean to change things. For this reason, I cannot be afraid to exult in the feminist label. I know that I am not alone in this paradoxical desire to remain within the confines of the feminine ideal while also striving to burst free from its suffocating limits.
How far has my indoctrination into the female identity gone? Has it reached into my every physical gesture? What makes me female? What makes me good? In whose eyes?
Feminists are not necessarily women. Women are not necessarily feminists. Whether male or female, if you believe in women’s rights and gender equality then I consider you to be a feminist. You may not be inclined to label yourself as such but it is my aim in this project is to take personal pride in the label. My hope is that you will too. But I’m a Feminist keeps me asking questions, resisting, thinking, and articulating. It is the process by which I keep myself a feminist.
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Di Lello, Daria Elena, "But I’m a Feminist" (2013). Senior Projects Spring 2013. 279.