Schwalb: Women’s empowerment is not dead


Jessica Schwalb, Columnist

“RIP Feminism,” Piers Morgan tweeted last month after Kim Kardashian posted a nude mirror selfie with her chest strategically blacked out. Morgan had plenty of company in declaring Kardashian’s tactics lewd and disempowering for women. It seems that Morgan and others had more of a problem with the fact that Kardashian made her demand for respect while naked than with her exposed body itself. To demand that we be respected with clothes on and off is not the death of feminism. True empowerment requires an end to shaming women for their unapologetic sexuality and telling others what to do with their body.

Hypersexual representations of women are rampant, an inescapable part of engaging with social media. It would be almost impossible to avoid commercials and catalogs with scantily-clad women on them — and, by the way, equally as hard to find an equivalent volume of naked men used to sell any and all products. In response to such inundation, critics seem to decry only a certain brand of nudity: the kind not for male consumption. When Kardashian posts a photo of herself, critics decide she is not really empowering herself; she is just a victim of patriarchy and sexism telling her to take off her clothes for our benefit. This criticism, repeated loudly and often by older men, is condescending. Declaring that women don’t know what we’re doing by taking naked selfies — that we’re hapless damsels seeking male approval — is belittling.

Yet, there also must be room for self-criticism and self-awareness. Just as important as heralding empowerment as a real and important pursuit is acknowledging the forces that tell women we are worthy when we are beautiful and sexual. It is worth asking ourselves if selfies and social media are worsening the problem of hyperseuxalization, or if they are just a mere symptom? Is it a worthy reclamation if it means we seek validation from an external gaze and desire?

However, we have to leave space for subversion. There must be room for women to celebrate ourselves. Even, and especially, on forums often dedicated to using bikinis and boobs to attract male attention or sell cheeseburgers.

And photos like Kardashian’s aren’t usually for men, likely another part of what makes Morgan uncomfortable. To declare that our bodies, sexy or otherwise, can be celebrated by and for ourselves with no condition of male approval is radical.

This obituary of feminism is lame. Someone’s sexscapades and body mass do not concern you. Morgan and company’s ruminations about feminism are unhelpful and dated. His generation’s question of why women undress ourselves and still ask to be respected misses the point: We demand respect all the time.

Feminism is not only modesty. Feminism is not a constant judgement of others’ choices because we feel we know best. Feminism is not dead. It is allowing people to make healthy decisions with their bodies, free of judgement and shame. No buts. (Well, maybe Kardashian’s butt.)

Jessica Schwalb is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.