Is there a way to be a bad feminist? How do you survive in the male art world? What does it mean to be a female writer? In conjunction with our Girls Rule issue, some of our favourite writers, activists and artists will be musing on these questions for Girl Guides, a series of how-tos and thinkpieces on the state of modern womanhood. Here, Dazed writer Steph Kretowicz unpicks the neverending toxic cycle of advertising, body issues and inequality.
Learn to be a good clean woman
Woman: the original captive market. She’s the result of a fantastical social construct which demands certain behaviours from a group of people (hi, ladies) deemed of little worth – and then prescribed a range of products to make them a little less so.
For those marked by the misfortune of learning, enacting and perpetuating these subordinate behaviours, appearances and privileges, there’s an entire industry owned by men and founded on the economic exploitation of women. News Corp owned magazines of ‘what they’re wearing’ with a page where you can buy it; ads on how to be a good clean woman, with Vanish Oxi Action as your answer; health food programmes linking self-worth to the size of your stomach. Girls don’t have their periods. They squirt blue fluid into fragrant sponges. Their teeth are straight and hair, preferably blonde. Their skin is white, their wrists are weak and in case they forget, there’s a market here to remind them.
Stay young forever, babe
It’s a stroke of Machiavellian genius, this ouroboros of subordination and exploitation, a vicious cycle of PTSD-induced self-hate disguised as feminine modesty. “I looked like a fat pig,” sobs Britney in the Daily Mail around the same time her panty-free pussy announces itself from behind a car door. "Another one’s cracked. She can’t handle the pressure of power and success. Can’t look after her kids: I’m Mrs, oh my god, that Britney’s shameless." Don’t let this happen to you, ladies. The truly accomplished female is master of her own private domain: weight loss, washing powder and even the extras, like “getting in and out a carriage”.
Girl power: it’s a concept that discredits itself before it’s been said. Thank you, market expansion for reminding her of her place – over there, at the kid’s table, while selling her records and giving her Baby Spice. The grown ups will handle the important stuff; those men with the square shoulders and aggressive stance on the public toilet door, just to the right of the triangle skirt with its chaste legs welded shut.
Climb, baby, climb!
It is a liberal democracy, though, and she can join us if she really wants to. But does she, from down there? Can you see her, climbing the corporate ladder through a stock photo, looking upwards and dressed in skirt and stilettos for the occasion. Hilary Clinton has the right idea as she stomps up a man's world on the cover of TIME in heels and a pantsuit. That’s how women win elections.
Wear those beautiful shackles with pride, darling, while we airbrush your heavy-set shoulders and too-wide neck. For that we’ll use your soft-, to our hardware, because digital technology rules the world. It’s been written into the HTML code of IRL pornification. Where the ‘O’ to the ‘∆’ of the European WC door is transferred between the grateful receptacle of a blow up doll’s mouth and the “half-open mouth with full lips” vector illustration of womanly seduction (thanks, Shutterstock). You can buy it online, after you get the CGI sex avatar that does exactly what you tell it to.
Eat some salad or get your neck airbrushed
I’m the man. I’ll buy the broadband. You, just focus on your waistline while laughing alone and eating your salad with the other healthy, happy women on Getty Images. You’ll love it. There are Weight Watchers energy bars if you’re feeling low but don’t eat too many, because what’s your Lena Dunham to our Jonah Hill? Pull your neckline up, honey. No one wants to see that.
Too fat? Get skinny. Too skinny? Get fat. But firm. Always stay firm, like a girl. Zumba will sort you out and you’ll learn something alluring in the meantime. Work that prize rump like it’s Kobe beef and do as we tell you to. We’ll use force if we have to; brand you ‘Higella’ and blame the symptom, not the cause, if you still won’t listen.
“It's Britney's super skinny waist, bitch!” See how much better she’s feeling now? We were worried for a minute when she cried on X Factor but her body is now a picture of mental health. Because men like to look and women like to be looked at and if there’s a correlation there, then all is well with the world. No need for Cosmo to tell you how to desire, only to be desired. And remember, the way you dress is a direct reflection of your character, so purchase appropriately.
The slimming, fitted sweaters are in the women’s section between the push-up bras and snow-white gowns. You put on the nape-exposing dress and your groom can take the high-collared tuxedo of bow-tied invulnerability for the wedding day. Because that’s what you’re after isn’t it, a husband to love and children to care for? The fantasy of 2.5 children: every good girl’s dream. If you’re not into that, then you’re an aberration, a blip – a corruption of the naturalised order of things. Here’s what you can buy to fix it.