A Feminist Standard: Where Are We, NOW?

After reading about the National Organization for Women (NOW) protest of the 1968 Miss America Pageant, I was curious to see how feminists viewed contestants of beauty pageants. Were they the enemy, or were they captives and victims of a society that glorifies the activity? Have those views changed over time?

My initial findings knocked me off course, when I learned about Nancy Redd. The 2004 Miss America, and winner of the swimsuit competition, was a speaker at the 2008 National Now Conference. Redd graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in Women’s Studies and wrote the New York Times best-seller Body Drama. The book was endorsed by NOW and is aimed at empowering young women to appreciate a healthy body image, ignoring the unrealistic standards set by the media. Clearly, NOW does not have a firm stance against all Miss America entrants, especially not against someone like Redd. But now I wonder if she is the face of the new feminism: the third wave feminism I learned of during class.

Ohh. So THIS is what a feminist looks like? Maybe? Courtesy of NancyRedd.com

I’m going to consider Redd an ardent feminist. Her education, her associations with NOW and her message should easily qualify her as such. On top of that, she’s  She is also beautiful (a panel of pageant judges voted on it, so it must be true!), and married (NOT A MAN-HATER). If this is the face of feminism, I can’t imagine why anyone would need to qaulify statements about their views with “I’m not a feminist, but…”.

Is Redd the norm for feminists today? Or is the supermom of the 1970s gone, replaced by a post-feminist doppleganger? Matthew Continetti’s 2009 book The Persecution of Sara Palin took a shot with a post-feminism-tipped arrow at Tina Fey, a woman very similar to Redd in her success.

And while Fey is also pretty, married, and has a daughter, the characters she portrays in films like Mean Girls and Baby Mama, and in television shows like 30 Rock, are hard-pressed eggheads who give up personal fulfillment—e.g., marriage and motherhood—in the pursuit of professional success. …
Liz Lemon is smart, funny, and at the top of her field. But she fails elsewhere. None of her relationships with men works out. She wants desperately to raise a child but can find neither the time nor the means to marry or adopt. Lemon makes you laugh, for sure. But you also would be hard pressed to name a more unhappy person on American TV.

Being unable to distinguish characters and the actors who play them aside, a new era of post-feminist supermoms, such as Palin, are placing personal fulfillment in the domestic sphere back at the top of the list of women’s priorities. Is Palin then the new face of whatever state feminism is in today?

A view of the speakers and honorees for the 2010 National NOW Conference shows six women of vastly differing appearances, some of whom list husbands, families and children in their bios. I think it’s actually more comforting to me that I can’t find a perfect feminist standard. Anyone who believes in NOW’s key issues can claim to be a feminist, without having to let people know “I still care about the way I look.”

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