Will someone please tell young women that taking your clothes off for money is not a feminist act? Somewhere along the way, the definition of feminism has gone awry. Although there is not one way to define feminism, most would agree that it involves the empowerment of women. Notice the term "women" because it is about doing what is best for the collective as opposed to the individual. Your personal gain from money earned by taking your clothes off does not translate directly to any type of gain for women as a collective. It just underscores dominant ideologies about the function of women in society -- as passive objects to be looked at and reduced to their genitalia. Popular culture seems to be a place where what qualifies as a feminist act gets muddied.
Last week, nude photos of The Hills star Audrina Patridge surfaced. The timing could not have been better since the photos came out just before the premiere of the new season of the sensationalized show. For those of you who have not seen it, you have not missed anything. It is a show about nothing, which seems to be the theme du jour of the reality genre. Suffice it to say, when you have a show whose main "characters" ooze narcissism, materialism and idiocy, then you have to drum up hype or buzz so that people remember to watch it. Although Patridge claims that the photos were taken of her when she was just out of high school, naïve and vulnerable, the timing of the photos suggests otherwise.
What is disturbing about these photos is that it seems to be a strategy used in Hollywood to elevate young, female wannabes from obscurity to stardom. Audrina, who has been overshadowed by her Hills co-stars (Heidi Montag and Lauren Conrad), has now emerged as the most popular member of the cast based on these steamy photos. Nude photos or raunchy sex tapes seem to be popping up everywhere, too. I suspect that folks have noticed the meteoric rise to superstardom of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, both of whom "starred" in sex tapes, aiding them in their newfound celebrity status.
These young ladies are often criticized for their choices, but the million-dollar contracts and television shows tell a different story. Although they are supposedly being taken to task for these acts, it is clear that they are also being rewarded for this type of lewd behavior. High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens was embroiled in a similar scandal last year. What did she get for her trouble? Hudgens received an even bigger contract from Disney to star in the next installment of the film and a $1 million endorsement deal from Skechers. Some would say that this is just business as usual. But it's troubling to hear people discussing this as if it is a feminist act, particularly female students.
Women who allow themselves to be photographed nude for the pleasure of men, are not feminists and neither is the act. It is a selfish act. Women using their bodies for financial gain is not a feminist act -- even if it is to pay for college, which is a popular excuse that has crept into the public imagination. Financial aid is available and you do not have to swing around a pole to get funds.
While reading an interview with Eliot Spitzer's alleged prostitute on MSN.com, she spoke of the money that she received as a high-paid call girl and how it empowered her as a woman. Her list of items that she would not have been able to afford had she not done this included ultra-expensive clothes, accessories and travel. Selling your punany for Prada is not a feminist act -- it is a dumb one. To confuse power with materialism is dangerous.
On a recent trip back from Australia, I picked up an Australian edition of Glamour magazine. On the cover, it talked about stars fighting against human trafficking. Inside the magazine, there were nude photos of the stars with mini-interviews on the page. The introduction to the article stated that the stars were naked in order to symbolically "expose" the issue of human trafficking. Out of the six stars profiled in the piece, only two mentioned the issue of human trafficking. It appears that another type of human trafficking was going on -- naked photos of stars used to boost magazine sales as opposed to "exposing" the horrors of human trafficking (which is indeed a feminist issue). It is the exploitive use of the female body in this way that conflates the definition of feminism. Unfortunately, women are often the very people who create and execute these worrisome acts.
As we move into the summer, undoubtedly there will be more incidences of "celebrity slippage." Conflicting messages will continue to be sent to consumers and celebrities -- it is bad to take off your clothes in front of cameras, but if you decide to do it, you will be greatly rewarded. Hopefully, we will wise up and realize that there is nothing feminist about these individual "acts," which are toxic, denigrating and simply selfish.