I was very down for ‘Hot Feminism’. I envisaged a feminist manifesto arguing that ‘hotness’ could be channelled and embodied by anyone. I thought, just maybe, I would feel better about my thighs after reading it. Although feminism has long advocated the right of women to look however they want (regardless of patriarchal standards of beauty), I can still understand why some women may feel the need to reinforce this particular aspect. After Polly Vernon’s set at Hay Festival, however, it became clear that Vernon’s new, exciting brand of feminism was just, well, the same feminism we’ve had for 100’s of years but from a confused, conceited and deeply privileged perspective.
Vernon (like so many others) has been exposed to the myth that feminists are angry, man hating, hairy legged shrews- who of course will berate a woman should she choose another path. A myth that was actually created through a reactionary barrage of misogynistic abuse in early 19th Century media as a way to ridicule and dismiss suffragettes fighting for the right to vote. Instead of deconstructing this myth, Vernon has bought into it and blames her discomfort with patriarchal beauty standards on these imaginary women – rather than the patriarchy.
She clearly thrives off the validation that subscribing to patriarchal standards of beauty invokes. There is nothing inherently wrong with this – nothing at all. My issue is that Vernon feels the need to tear herself away from the feminist movement in order to promote something that feminists have been advocating for years: choice. There was an awkward moment during Vernon’s set at Hay Festival where she asked the audience to raise their hands if they had ever felt ‘less of a feminist for liking salad’. Honestly, liking salad has never been something I’ve felt attacked by feminists for doing and the nervous laughter from the audience suggested that this was not really something that had ever occurred to us.
Vernon’s main beef is that feminism has become ‘anti female’ in that it shames other women for having differing views. She fails to make the distinction between shaming and criticising. There are ‘feminist’s’ who do not believe that trans women are real women, who believe it is their decision to decide whether or not Muslim women everywhere should be able to wear a Niquab, who refuse to take disabled women’s opinions seriously. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. We absolutely need to have arguments in the feminist community, we need to flesh this out. The ‘sisterhood’ is not and will never be a bunch of women sharing exactly the same opinions.
Vernon leaps on the idea that women shouldn’t be criticising other women- primarily because it acts as a shield for her. She admits that, yes, women can be dicks yet refuses to allow that any other woman would be warranted in calling her a bit of a dick head. God forbid anyone accuse Vernon of being a ‘dick’ then she will immediately label them ‘trolls’. It’s very important to make the distinction between trolls and critics. Trolls send you anonymous, intimating and usually irrelevant bile. Trolls are the internet’s reaction to women possessing agency. Critics, on the other hand, are rarely anonymous and provide genuine feedback from a point of interest. To dismiss critics (a.k.a anyone who disagrees with her) as a troll works perfectly for Vernon. Any woman seen to be disagreeing with her is therefore ‘letting the side down’ rather than expressing valid criticism of her work. In characterising her critics as scary trolls she is also perpetrating that old trope, afore mentioned, of the scary, man-hating feminists who demand that all women must mirror their militancy.
I refuse to become the scary, shaming feminist that Vernon so excitedly accuses her critics of being. She has a huge and valuable place in feminism but at the moment what she is selling is a tangled, vulnerable wreck of:
– Her enjoyment of practising traditional ‘feminine’ and idealised beauty
– The fact this does not make her immune to sexism
– Needing someone to blame for this
– Blaming feminists instead of the patriarchal, male dominated society.
Her act of blaming other feminists is, in itself, conforming to what the patriarchy wants her to do. I am not telling her to hate men; I am encouraging her to redirect her discomfort where it will have an impact. She speaks so passionately about women supporting other women yet at the same time tears down feminists for ‘excluding’ her due to her hotness. I absolutely believe that women should be able to define and revel in their own ‘hotness’. However I do not feel that feminism has ever been an obstacle to this. Feminism advocates looking however you want, regardless of, or in tune with patriarchal standards of beauty.