Postfeminism and Pin Ups

Screenshot 2015-08-09 20.25.42Today I read a pretty smart piece by Anne Helen Peterson over on BuzzFeed. I know “smart” and “BuzzFeed” normally aren’t featured in the same sentence, but Peterson is a former academic who’s now writing for the pop culture site.

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She’s of the mindset that academia won’t accept people who are public/academic scholars (I’d beg to differ on that one as, uhm, that’s what I do), but the upshot of this is that she’s regularly inserting think pieces into popular culture.

And that’s a good thing.

This article is about Trainwreck, the new comedy featuring Amy Schumer. And what it argues is that postfeminism – or the idea that we don’t need feminism because women already have it all – is pretty much bullshit.

As Peterson observes, films like Trainwreck

make visible the ideologies that have become so natural as to simply feel like “the way that it is.” Guys don’t treat you like a human being worthy of respect? That’s just the “new dating.” Sex without pleasure? The way we have sex now. A work environment characterized by low-grade sexual harassment? The price of advancement. Making money by reproducing sexist rhetoric? Just playing by the rules.

By the film’s end, she says, the audience realizes that it isn’t things or even conventional paths to “happiness” like kids, a husband, a great job and a gorgeous home that make one satisfied – instead it’s a satisfaction with yourself. Instead, it’s confidence and self-awareness that makes one truly happy. In the case of Schumer’s Trainwreck character, that’s not losing those 15 extra pounds or buying new clothes – it’s getting rid of self-destructive (or better, self-loathing) behavior.

Now I haven’t seen Trainwreck. I’m also aware that there are plenty of people who think the film is an anti-feminist screed.

Nonetheless, Peterson’s argument seem to be something that one can apply to pin-up culture.

Switch out Trainwreck for pin up and you have something that seems to reflect the world I’ve been watch (oh, and toss in some feminist intersectionality while you’re at it). The women are saying that it’s not the perfect body and perfect figure that makes you a model – pin up models can and do come in all shapes and sizes. Not only that, but they own their own sexual representations. They’re doing it for themselves.

As I’m writing this, Grease is replaying on ABC Family. And I’m struck by the irony. In the latter film, a woman changes herself completely by the end of the story in order to keep her man. Happiness only comes through transformation.

dmsbtsThere are problems in the pin up world. Models still don’t control their own publication, and in some cases photographers attempt to call the shots, limiting the model’s own agency.

But in the best partnerships, the pin up is a pretty feminist thing, where the women are controlling how and when the audience looks. And the women are accepting the diversity of shapes that make women interesting – and the pin up alluring.

And that’s pretty damn feminist.

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