why 90swomanhood is all about stealth feminism and secret messages

Remember in the 90s when it seemed like everyone could live a super boho life in Austin (which you did!) or Olympia, making zines and going to shows and working part-time at coffee shops?

Well, most 90swomen can’t afford to live the Slacker lifestyle now; they realized, eventually, that they needed higher-paying jobs. And they also realized that writing “slut” across their stomach like they did as students wouldn’t really work in an office environment; more likely they would have to deal with a boss like (a very nice) one of mine who said “I’m scared of you right now” when I told him I was a feminist.

But that doesn’t mean we gave up our politics.

We just resorted to subterfuge. Teenage girls are experts at sending secret messages—remember all the subtle symbolism in a mix tape?—and we translated this skill. In my early twenties, as a college-women’s-studies-major-turned-glossy-magazine-editor, I quoted feminist philosophers Susan Bordo and Judith Butler in beauty stories and did articles for teenagers on what to do if your parents were constantly berating you about your weight (and interviewed actual teenagers for advice instead of adult experts–very Our Bodies, Ourselves).

I’m definitely not the only one who got feministy things out there without necessarily using the word “feminist.” Lots of 90swomen decided to work in the media or the arts in some way as adults, and many of us figured out ways to say what we wanted to say without our companies or superiors even knowing what we’d done. So while boomers have bemoaned slackery gen xers for not marching in the streets, I would say that our politics have often just been less obvious. Our hope was that we would get our message out there…but, by necessity, a little more gently.

One thing I would say, though, is that sometimes a compromise feels like a compromise. For me, a feministy story on body image accompanied by a super-hot picture of Beyonce in a bikini did not always feel like a victory.

What do you think about stealth feminism? And do you think there are other pop cultural examples? (Starting with Beyonce, perhaps?)


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