Displaying the Modern Woman: Feminism in the Labyrinths of Media Culture
"Wear your attitude" advises the Weekender advertisement. As parents, teachers and other stodgy members of institutionalised society, we are perfectly within our roles as squares and spoilsports to object to this facile equation of inner being with outer appearance, with something as trivial and as casually changeable as clothes - but as feminists, committed to changing this institutionalised social structure, to questioning hierarchisation? On the one hand, we must certainly not shrink from declaring, indeed even wearing, what we believe in; and for many of us, our politics and our beliefs are often discernible in our appearances.
We too can, and sometimes do, wear our attitude. But this advice seems also to raise a few uncomfortable questions as I watch the women liberated by consumer capital while she strides confidently across the television screen at one end of my living room. She tells me exactly what to buy/wear/invest in order to satisfactorily tackle the pressures of being a woman in an economy implicated by global capitalism and hooked to a satellite dish. This superwoman has my problems, she wears what I wear and does what I do, she wears her liberated attitude for all to see, and yet... and yet, she raises the questions that this paper tries to address. Is it really possible to wear an attitude, to reduce the pleasures, pains and struggles of attempting to engineer change in our own lives and in those of others, by a single line of clever copy? Are we really involved in a struggle over appearances? It is so simple to say we are not, but does an assertion of this kind imply that we are then involved in a struggle over essences? In what follows, I will explore the persona of the televisual woman, the medium and genre in which she appears, the context in which
* Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Calcutta.
Social Scientist, Vol. 28, Nos. 3- 4, March-April 2000