I knew there’d be a bit of a hoo-ha about Karl Lagerfeld’s staging of a ‘feminist demo’ on his latest (Paris) catwalk show. In the Guardian and various recesses of twitter, anyway. Hadley Freeman calls the display ‘flim flam feminism’ which I rather like as an additional sub-genre of the dogma. Sounds more fun than the serious holier than thou type you get in the Graun. Hadley also demonstrates the constant contradictions within feminist rhetoric, when she says the feminist themed catwalk show is apt, since feminism is currently ‘fashionable’. Because there remains a loud refrain amongst her sisters that feminism remains unfashionable, ‘taboo’ even , and so it is brave women of conscience who are able to come out and stand up with the sisterhood. The slipping between ‘we are strong! we are powerful! we are a mass movement’ and ‘we are weak, we are castigated, we must fight the power’ may not be consciously designed by feminists, but it is an important discursive weapon in their artillery. The weak, isolated image of feminism allows the myth of big bad’patriarchy’ to be perpetuated, whilst the ‘we are legion, we can /and have change(d) the world’ rhetoric allows feminists to galvanise the troops, and take credit for what some of us think is socio-economic change beyond the influence of Hadley Freeman, flim flam feminists, et al. Caroline Criado Perez embodies the dichotomy well – she plays poor weak victim of abuse, patriarchy, misunderstanding, and also powerful crusader and winner of feminist campaigns, set to take over the world. and, I wouldn’t be surprised if she did just that.
Whilst I’m not a keen follower of fashion I do find this catwalk show interesting. I think it is playing on, building, the ‘brand’ of feminism and probably especially on the feminism hadley dislikes. But I would say flim flam feminist/ ‘girl power’ fashion icons such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Victoria Beckham are more widely known and liked by girls/women than any Guardian columnist and more relevant influences to Lagerfeld’s show. But it is also playing on a favourite theme of fashion and 21st culture more broadly – nostalgia. Or faux-nostalgia. The Times described it as a ‘women’s lib’ themed show and that is what it looks like to me – a post-ironic nod to 70s bra-burning husband-leaving feminists. The models holding the placards are doing so with a nod and a wink, and a ‘this shit is O.V.E.R. we’re it now’.
In our current age, the past is continuously referenced, regurgitated, but not necessarily with any real valuing of its content, it is much shallower – more Baudrillard ‘surface’ than that. I do wonder though what the future holds for culture when our present is such a scrapbook of high resolution replications of previous eras, shown on catwalks, lap tops, iphone screens. I fear it will be just more of the same, on different more high tech screens. As a true Nostalgic I know that Blondie knew all this and saw the future back in the late 70s/early 80s:
‘ooh baby, I hear how you spend your time, wrapped like candy in a blue blue neon glow’
Feminism is a brand. Lagerfeld is profiting on it. It’s a successful brand partly because it is nebulous, malleable, and in the end, can be all things to all women. From Hilary Clinton to Emily Watson to Hadley Freeman/The guardian. As a commenter under Hadley’s article pointed out, ‘flim flam’ feminism is no less real than Guardian hand-wringing variety. But not quite all women buy into any of it, thankfully. Whatever type is in this season.*
*I Loved how Hadley said that the show is as feminist as a ‘ fruitcake’ – when I coined the term ‘mumsy cupcake feminism’ http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/mumsy-cupcake-feminism/ just for those power-women who love to bake in their cath kidston aprons in their spare time between writing angry articles on their laptops on the kitchen table. Fruitcakes are feminist too!