Participants at a recent conference in the U.S. were asked to define what masculinities meant to them. All of them responded with something along the lines of: the freedom to be and express who you are. This same sentiment is apparent in the massive (over 1.5 million views so far) online reaction to a father who dressed up as Elsa from the film Frozen to take his daughter to a sing-along, with viewers calling him ‘the best dad of the year.’
Okay, so if masculinity means freedom of expression, what does femininity mean? According to Nike, it means flouncing around in completely inappropriate clothes. NikeLab’s most recent line of the activewear for women consists of lace, fishnet stockings and bustle-tailed dresses…yes, bustle-tailed dresses. As Megan Wiegand of Slate states,
Just like our fellow male athletes, we want athletic gear that doesn’t chafe, sag, or stretch, that’s breathable and fitted, and that survives through countless spin cycles…how about reinforcing running tights’ seams for the overwhelming majority of us who don’t have thigh gaps?
Nike’s self-proclaimed “bold, feminine and modern” new designs for women are an example of what Finn Mackay describes in critiquing ‘choice feminism:’
There is an attempt, unfortunately fairly successful, to reduce feminism to simply being the right for women to make choices. Not choices about whether to stand for parliament, or instigate pay transparency in the office or lead an unemployed worker’s union, or form a women-only consciousness-raising group in their town; far from it. Instead, there are choices about what amount of makeup to wear, whether to go “natural” or try mascara that makes your eyelashes look like false eyelashes, or what diet drink to buy, or whether or not to make the first move with a man – or other such modern and edgy decisions of the sort which face the feisty, sassy, pull-no-punches liberated woman of today.
This is not to say that companies don’t also make ridiculous representations of masculinities just to sell their products – they most certainly do. It is, rather, to say that the ‘freedom to be’ is presumably something that everyone aspires to, regardless of whether they consider themselves masculine or feminine. And feminism (despite whatever assumptions this word conjures up for people) is really just about equality and freedom for everyone. It’s not about taking power from men and giving it to women. It’s not about women finally being able to choose to do kickboxing in a bustle-tailed skirt. It is, as Mackay states, “about change, not a changing of the guard.”