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Who needs feminism when you can empower yourself with a bra top?

SUNDAY LIFE COLUMN: There are some words I really loathe. Words I refuse to say out loud. Like panties. There are other words, I never spell right. Like business (or is it buisness?). Then there are words which have become meaningless over time. Like yuppie. And words which are chronically over-used, like ‘journey’.

There are also words which just irritate me. Like ‘empowerment’. What does it really mean? Why is it thrown about so gaily? And why has a generation of women rejected the word feminism and replaced it with this namby-pamby term that stands for everything and nothing?

Feminism is a word in need of a makeover. And a spin-doctor. Sound philosophy, lousy image. So where did it all go wrong? When did a generation of women decide feminism meant hirsute and man-hating?

Lady Gaga, I’m talking to you. The creatively dressed pop star is leading the charge to make feminism a pariah with recent comments like this: ”I’m not a feminist – I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars.”

Well OK, but none of those things actually preclude Ms Gaga from also being a feminist. In another interview she continued: ”I think it’s great to be a sexy, beautiful woman who can f— her man after she makes him dinner. There’s a stigma around feminism that’s a little bit man hating. And I don’t promote hatred, ever.”

I’m not really sure where to start with those sentiments except possibly here:

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What a perverse definition of feminism Lady Gaga carries around under that platinum wig.

I’ve always thought feminism simply came down to two principles: equality and choice. Women’s right to have the same social and economic opportunities as men and the choice to take those opportunities – or not. Is that so bad? So controversial? Something to be shunned or rebelled against?

I don’t remember receiving the memo that said feminism precluded you from cooking a meal or having sex or loving beer or men or doing all those things at once if you want to.

Lady Gaga is not the first strong, successful pop star to say or sing some perplexingly retro things.

A few years ago, Destiny’s Child released a song called Cater 2 U and Beyonce sang:

“My life would be purposeless without you….Do anything for my man…..I got your slippers, your dinner, your dessert and so much more…..anything you want just let me cater to you….I want to give you my breath, my strength…that’s the least I can do..”

The song continues with Beyonce and her girls solemnly promising their men:

“I’ll keep it tight, I’ll keep my figure right, I’ll keep my hair fixed…when you come home late, tap me on my shoulder, I’ll roll over, baby I’m here to serve you.”

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When this song was released, I remember feeling confused. Slippers? Roll over? Serve you? Are we talking about a woman or a Labrador? And is this the same band who sang “I’m a Survivor” and “Independent Woman” because I have a bit of whiplash. Put down your microphones and pass me a neck brace, will you.

And so it is with Lady Gaga. Yet another independent woman rhapsodising about the joys of being subservient and powerless.

Is this the depressing new face of feminism? Is it empowering to fetch someone their slippers and lose weight for them and provide sex on demand? (frankly, I don’t really want to have sex with anyone who wears slippers, I’m just saying…) Is that called girl-power?

Or has the role of domestic goddess become an ironic choice for a generation of women to whom the idea of ACTUALLY defining themselves by the way they pander to their men is absurd enough to be amusing?

Perhaps we’ve moved so far from our great grandmothers that we’ve romanticised what their lives were like when they had no choice but to fetch slippers. I wonder if they found it empowering.

I think the word feminism is a lot like the term politically correct. Both have been hijacked by the far right as a way to discredit very mainstream ideas about equality, fairness and common decency.

‘Empowerment’ sounds like so much more fun, doesn’t it? If only it wasn’t so often used to justify the desire of some women to swing around poles, get boob jobs or have threesomes. Nothing wrong with any of those things if they float your boat but they don’t exactly help other women in a big picture way, do they? Not in the same way less sexy issues like maternity leave do.

As journalist Emma Young wrote recently:

”Feminism is associated with a dour and comprehensive agenda of concerns. There is negotiation of fair salaries, the tragically unequal status of women in less-developed nations, reproductive rights, the trafficking of women for sex work … and the list continues.”

And it WILL continue while women keep declaring themselves empowered each time they take their clothes off for a men’s magazine or have cosmetic surgery. By all means get your boobs out but remember to care about the other stuff too. And don’t be afraid to use the F-word.

So. What does the word feminism mean to you?

And, more importantly, if I asked you if you were a feminist, what would you say….? Why?


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