I did a cheesecake photo shoot. I was a pinup girl. If you think that means I don’t get to be a feminist or work for women’s equality or reproductive rights, come and get me.
The freedom to have fun, be sexy on your own terms, and take up space in public discourse is worth fighting for.
My relationship with my appearance is complicated. I’ve had an eating disorder. I’ve had a baby and felt my body change. Generally, I don’t wear makeup and you’ll see me wearing heels just a few times a year. When I had a makeover earlier in my feminist career for the purpose of making people listen to me about feminism (no shit!), I cried.
But there are select awesome things that have long made me happily toss off my sneakers and glam it up. Those select awesome things are deco or noir or early sixties. (Let’s talk about hats!) I am picky, but every now and again I strike vintage gold.
There is one magical boucle coat I own; it’s teal with three-quarter sleeves. When I wear it to work, which invariably involves pushing for gender equality beyond the boundaries of what is considered polite, I have several times muttered to myself that I’m “taking it back for Grandma.”
Because, simply, Grandma looked great. And she deserved gender equality, too.
But wait. Isn’t fighting against the objectification of women what feminists are supposed to do? Don’t I have a responsibility not to play into that objectification by always looking as all-business as possible? There are some feminists who would say yes. But frankly, I think no.
Somewhere along the way the fight led by feminists to not be valued on the basis of your appearance in a world of impossible, sexualized standards — something that is toxic and fascist and deadly — became confused with a rigid idea that feminist women must not care about their appearance or (gasp) be sexy.
It is hateful when women are expected to be pretty or sexual, to be sure. But just as no woman is a threat to womanhood because she doesn’t care about her appearance (me on most days), so too she is harmless to the status of other women if she puts great effort into it.
Whether expressed around beauty, fashion, or enjoying supposedly “light” (read: feminine) forms of entertainment, the bald truth is that the alleged stupidity of one woman is not what holds other women back.
Systemic discrimination on the basis of not just sex, but also race, class, ability, sexuality and gender identity, and other immoral hierarchies of dominance and privilege is what holds women back. Denying these oppressions exist does not allow you to escape them.
Change happens not because the arc of history wants it to, but because individuals have acknowledged uncomfortable truths and insisted on breaking convention.
I insist upon being able to wear a fucking swimsuit and heels, and then continue to speak credibly about politics and in particular feminist politics. I know, some of you are cringing — Erin, don’t do this to yourself.
Actually, I’ve thought long and hard about whether to share these. And where I land is that if you think a woman showing her body is shameful, you are saying that her body is shameful. Excuse you!
My body is just fine, I’m not wearing anything particularly outrageous or showy in these photos, and, my gosh, I have legs. Please explain how hiding my legs means that my life will be perfect and women will be equal.
We know that sexism is at play in these assumptions because they simply aren’t there for men. Scott Brown posed nude for Cosmopolitan, and you know what he went on to do? Run for Senate. Not in one state, but two! But it’s not the same for women. Things will change, however, when women insist on taking up space even though we are not “perfect” – a purposefully impossible standard.
Krystal Ball, an MSNBC host who previously ran for Congress, is a hero for fighting back after right-wingers released racy photos of her in an attempt to tank her campaign in 2010 (emphasis mine):
The tactic of making female politicians into whores is nothing new. In fact, it happened to Meg Whitman, one of the world’s most accomplished business women, just last week. It’s part of this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible. But I realized that photos like the ones of me, and ones much racier, would end up coming into the public sphere when women of my generation run for office. And I knew that there could be no other answer to the question than this: Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.
I am sharing these photos because I love them. I am not ashamed of them. I refuse to let a fear of someone else finding them and ridiculing me — a fact of life when photos are digital and hacking exists — hold me back from participating in public life.
I am sharing these photos because there are lots of young women in a generation beneath me sexting. We should not judge them; sexting seems to be a fairly routine part of sexual exploration for many young people, these days. It is also a fact that many of the young women who are sexting will find photos leaked or shared with others against their will later.
If we want a world with equality, we must insist that those young women who have sexted are not then told that their futures are foreclosed because their body has been made accessible to the Internet. We don’t do that to young men. Nor should we.
I work on incredibly important issues, and I am incredibly serious about them. I am also allowed to have fun.