Feminism, shmeminism! Let's go shopping!
by Elizabeth Winkler
I don’t think I’m being too absurdly dramatic when I say that the recent release of the film Confessions of a Shopaholic set the feminist movement back a delightful few notches. Impressive, to say the least, for a 2-hour, mindless movie about a pretty little girl bopping around NYC in search of the latest trendy buys. Chloe’s recent post on the exhausting nature of being a feminist rings all too true: I can’t help but be disheartened, and quite honestly, I can't help but wonder whether feminism has really accomplished as much as we would like to think. Because let’s be honest: my 9-year-old sister’s current idol is not Hillary Clinton or Dara Torres or even Hermione Granger. It’s the “Shopaholic” and her ilk. Is her childhood exposure to feminist ways-of-thinking really much more improved than my own?
The movie is centers around the escapades of a frivolous (but warm-hearted!), Prada-addicted college grad whose very raison d’etre is rooted in the anticipation of her next visit to one of 5th Avenue’s designer boutiques. She describes her girlhood discovery of the shopping world with an almost religious reverence, repeatedly citing its ‘magical’ nature, and the wonders of the women who inhabit it: “They were beautiful; they were happy…” she declares wistfully. Indeed, when the ‘shopaholic’ enters into a nasty cat-fight over a pair of shoes, it starts to seem that she has projected the very depths of herself and her happiness onto those must-have, red stilettos.
So not only does the film reinforce a sickeningly stereotypical portrayal of what all girls love to do – shop, duh! – but it paints shopping as the very essence of her being (girls can’t really be interested in anything more meaningful, after all), equating consumerism with life fulfillment in a rather disturbing fashion. The message is clear: to be happy, you must be beautiful; to be beautiful, you must spend lots and lots of money and worry perpetually about your appearance.
The emphasis on consumerist culture seems particularly problematic when one considers its implications for understanding contemporary female identity. The perpetual trying-on of clothes, debates over the message conveyed by purple versus blue eyeshadow, admiring one’s “new self” in that cute, new outfit, etc. suggests that a woman’s identity is not stable; she has no real sense of self, but is constantly re-inventing herself through the ‘message’ of her appearance. Think about advertisements that encourage you to “Express yourself!” or “Find the new you!” (Or the ‘edgy’ you, or ‘flirty’ you or whatever it may be.) I’ve always wondered what I’m really “expressing” when I put on a certain shirt. It seems that the depth of a woman’s identity only extends as far as her appearance, and even that must be constantly altered (transformed, revolutionized!) in order for her to seem ‘interesting.’
In today’s image-obsessed culture, who is modern woman, really?