Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Hot Feminist - Why George is our new role model

How great is this? Clooney thrilled to be marrying Alpha Amal
He's spent the last twenty years being praised for being the world's ultimate Alpha Male, so it's good to see George Clooney emerging as strong voice for women in the driving seat. Clearly thrilled to be  married to Alpha Amal, he is happy to tell anyone who will listen how much he admires her work and how she is far more intelligent than him.  Earlier this year he was even interviewed on Women's Hour.  In a cosy interview with Jenny Murray,  he sounded as one with the sisterhood as he explained how his production company, Smokehouse Pictures,  is run by 'smart, strong women'. He's supportive of raising awareness of the gender pay gap - citing revelations about pay disparity in Hollywood as 'the only good thing that came of the Sony leak'.

Ageing naturally?
Further evidence of George's commitment to gender equality were his comments in the interview about the ageing process. He predictably denied any unnatural interventions saying that surgery actually made men look older and advocating an accepting approach to ageing.  Very convenient if you happen to be one of the world's most attractive men for whom grey hair is actually enhancing, but terrifying for most of us for whom the thought of facing the world with grey hair, VPLs and unwaxed legs is right up there with dreaming you're giving a speech naked.

It's very hard to feel like you can take on the boardroom boys club if you're not feeling confident in the way you look.   Self-confidence is a huge part of success.  And I'm certainly muddled about whether my urge to avoid the seven signs of ageing (really - only seven??) is fatally at odds with my equally strong desire to see women treated equally.

Since the seventies we've been presented with the idea that we can't be supportive of gender equality and looking good at the same time.  Most of us associate feminism with role models like Germaine Greer and Erica Jong.  Interviewed recently for the launch of her new book 'Fear of Dying', Jong was angry about the progress on gender equality since her classic 'Fear of Flying' was published over forty years ago.  She described it as a constant battle saying "we have made a third of a revolution, a half of a revolution. I really believe feminism is like democracy -- when you stop fighting for it, it slips away".
Greer still fighting.. Huffingtonpost

Greer is also keeping herself angry - swearing liberally several times in a particularly punchy
interview with Kirsty Wark on last week's Newsnight about why Greer has been de-listed by her old Cambridge college because they don't like her controversial views on transgender politics. 

At least you know where you are with these two.  You can rely on them to celebrate the traditional feminist values of anger, a casual attitude to underwear and a general air that women who celebrate their femininity are letting down the sisterhood.

We owe them a huge debt.  Their hardcore attitudes raised awareness of women's inequality and provided the foundation for the widespread acceptance that women should be entitled to the same rights and rewards as men.  I'm a strong supporter of their legacy but truth be told I've never been very comfortable with the anger. Amazingly, even high achiever Amal was subjected to criticism by the feminist lobby - for changing her name to Clooney. Like many women, I'd like to support the ideas but dial back the anger and make the best of myself without feeling guilty.

Wife of Bath for the 21st Century 

Polly Vernon - a 21st Century Wife of Bath?   EveningStandard

Searching for a middle ground, journalist Polly Vernon's recent book with the great title 'Hot Feminist' - caught my eye. Central to her  argument is that you can be a feminist and be interested in clothes and make up.  It was destroyed in the Guardian - in a lengthy and brutal review Helen Lewis said "What you cannot do is rewrite feminism into a sloppy self-help movement whose main aim is to make you feel better about your thighs". Louise Carpenter in the Telegraph was kinder, describing Vernon as the 'wife of Bath for the 21st Century', concluding that Vernon loves women and is rooting for them - citing Madeline Albright's famous comment that 'there is a special place in Hell for women that don't help other women'.

Judging by Amal's emergence as a fashion icon I doubt she suffers from wardrobe nightmares or sports a drawerful of Spanx.  But for those of us dealing with the day-to-day realities of succeeding in a male dominated workplace  anything that makes us feel better about wobbly thighs gets my vote.  It's a a stretch to celebrate cellulite as a feminist act and I'm happy to leave most of the anger to others.  Instead we can be thankful to our mothers for burning their bras and relieved that we don't have to - celebrating instead that the finest minds in the fashion industry have turned their attention to jeans with artfully placed pockets and clever dyes that make us look pounds lighter delivering a great confidence boost at the same time.