Enough with the shoulder pads

As World War II took mankind by storm, women were in the workplace adorned with shoulder pads. The style was considered militarized, masculine and capable. The shoulder pads empowered women at a time when the world was at its weakest and men were most vulnerable.

 When the war ended in 1945, the shoulderpads were quickly tossed out and women went back to their usual feminine dress and domestic practices.

 But that wasn’t the last of the shoulderpads. Forty years later, they strutted their way back onto the scene in the form of the 1980s Power Suit. The Power Suit, for all its intended swagger, confidence and capability, was a fashion disaster to say the least. Padded blazers were boxy, awkward, and sometimes flimsy. But did this make women feel empowered and command men’s respect in workplace? Wrong.

 Perhaps the women were empowered, but as recent history has shown, they commanded no more respect than they had before. That is because beneath those shoulderpads lies the idea that masculinity is superior to femininity. The shoulderpads were a defense mechanism, a way to assimilate into the male-dominated workplace. Rather than embracing the strength of their own femininity, women chose to compensate for it. Although the shoulderpads are not the latest trendy eyesore, the idea they embody permeates most conversations about feminism today.

 The modern feminist likes to think of herself as a woman empowered by her ability to choose to be as stereotypically masculine as she pleases. However, in doing so she often trips into the pitfalls of Shoulderpad Feminism in which feminity is belittled or rejected.

 For example, media today often promote the active stereotypical tomboy for girls, and the working woman who manages to have it all for women. These girls and women alike are praised for being independent, active, and ambitious while others who enjoy classically feminine practices are not.

 Lately, girly-girls have been put on the back burner. Girls who enjoy makeup, baking, or who want to grow up to be moms are trivialized or shunned for their stereotypical femininity. Women who choose to stay home are viewed as women who have failed to “have it all.” They are constantly being encouraged to abandon their femininity for stereotypical masculine traits, reinforcing the idea that femininity is simply not enough.

 Take the summer blockbuster hit, “Wonder Woman”. Diana is both a force to be reckoned with, and soft and caring at the same time. A perfect feminist role model for many, but just not enough for others.

 Shoulderpad Feminists cherish Diana’s determination and strength, but fault her for falling in love and needing a man’s help. She doesn’t promote confidence and independence, so how feminist can Diana really be? Some ask.

 How feminist are we really if we’d rather a woman overcompensate for her weakness with pride? How feminist are we really when we politicize romance? And furthermore, how feminist are you if you don’t hold men to the same standard?

 Never has Superman, Batman, nor Aquaman been faulted for getting help from others or for falling in love along the way. In fact, when these masculine heros are soft they are praised for it. So why are we belittling our feminine heros for doing the same?

 The ways in which we treat femininity in the public sphere, be it through fashion or through media, affect those who are watching and listening.

 When girliness is belittled and disrespected little girls internalize that and begin to look for ways to differentiate themselves from “other girls.” When women are deemed as failures for not being working moms, they may feel as though they are not doing enough for their family.

 Rather than giving in to Shoulder Pad Feminism and rejecting classical feminine practices for fear of being stereotyped, how about addressing the inaccuracy of such stereotypes in the first place. Girly-girls and stay-at-home moms are feminine, intelligent and capable without the atrocious shoulder pads.