Go ahead, wear the lipstick
Heather Wood Rudúlph
Sacramento writer Heather Wood Rudúlph is one-half of the duo that authored Sexy Feminism: A Girl's Guide to Love, Success, and Style (Mariner, $15.95). With her New York-based co-author, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, Wood Rudúlph also runs a website, www.sexyfeminist.com, which focuses on related issues surrounding work, body image and relationships, as well as the friendships between women. Wood Rudúlph, who grew up in the Sacramento area, lives in Land Park with her husband and their son. She's also an adjunct professor of journalism at American River College, where she's teaching a class on race, gender and the media. Wood Rudúlph, who'll be reading from and discussing her book on Wednesday, November 13, at Time Tested Books, recently talked to SN&R about unintentional feminism, male-bashing and Gloria Steinem's makeup.
In the book, you write about young women who get into activism and don’t realize that what they’re doing is feminism. Do you see a lot of that?
Absolutely. I felt that when I was in my 20s and even younger. I grew up with a feminist mother, and even my dad, too—I don't know if he would identify as a feminist, but he encouraged me to be educated, to be independent, to have a career and affirmed that I was equal to anyone, regardless of gender.
So, I was raised to have it all, basically. But there's a backlash to having it all, because once you get to the age of, say, making babies … it becomes difficult to have it all. But before that, in your 20s and before babies, there's this time in your life that is about figuring out who you are, and so many wonderful things happen during that time, but you really start to feel strongly about your core beliefs. …
A lot of young women in this generation who are going through this period of exploring core beliefs don't know that what they're doing is feminism. The word “feminist” had become a negative word. “Feminist” has become something they didn't want because of the association with male-bashing, or the old stereotypes of bra burning—which never happened, by the way. And there's been legitimate criticism that feminism has been exclusionary over the years—that it's been primarily white women of privilege. That's true, to a certain extent, unfortunately, but it certainly is less true today in feminist activism. We like to call this book the “gateway drug” to feminism. Here, taste a little bit. ‘Oh, that's good.' Now try a little more.
Some of the backlash was the result of some feminists rejecting traditional beauty standards, but feminism has always had room for women who retained a sense of fashion and made their own path, you know?
These bold actions and statements—protesting at the Miss Universe pageant, for instance—were the sort of actions that needed to be taken then. You have to shout really loudly to get attention at the beginning of any social movement. Women were being judged solely on their looks, and so second-wave feminists were saying, “Well, then, let's just get rid of that exterior packaging, so that you have to look at me as a person and listen to what I have to say.”
But even one of the icons of second-wave feminism, Gloria Steinem, was gorgeous. Loved her makeup, loved her hair, dressed fashionably and refused to apologize for it.
You could just as easily call this “people-ism” or “humanism” or whatever.
Right. A lot of people who might be described as fourth-wave feminists—if you want to give it a title—will call themselves “humanists.” They almost want to get rid of that title entirely, even as they're doing feminist work. But I think there's an importance in valuing the term, embracing it and not hiding from it. The history is important, all these different waves, right up to today. It is rooted in women's rights, but also human rights. It was about socioeconomic rights and racial equality, and it remains that way. So embracing that term today is empowering. If you call it something else, it's almost like dismissing that history. The book is a primer on the history of feminism for young women who don't want to take a women's-history course—or just haven't yet—and also provides some ways to take feminist action in small ways.
What sort of small ways?
For instance, be conscious of where you shop. What are the corporate policies of the major brands that you shop? And there's using makeup responsibly: Is there Third World labor associated with your lipstick? We're not saying, “Don't wear lipstick.” If you want to wear lipstick, go for it, but don't do it at the expense of another person's health and well-being.
What about the politics of plastic surgery?
We talk about plastic surgery, too, about how the decision to have breast implants can impact so many women. I wrote an essay in that book about [waxing. I do it,] and I don't apologize for that. But I wouldn't have that standard of normalcy if not for porn culture and the value that we place on a particular aesthetic of women's bodies. So, I wrestle with that.
And wrestling with it is part of being a feminist?
Yes, because we're saying, ‘OK, no one is a perfect feminist. It's OK to wrestle with your choices.' Just be clear about that and about how it's affecting other women.