Lipstick feminism Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick_feminism

Lipstick feminism is a variety of third-wave feminism that seeks to embrace traditional concepts of femininity, including the sexual power of women, alongside feminist ideas.[1]

Unlike the early feminist campaigns that focused on the basic fundamental rights of women, starting with the Women's Suffrage Movement, lipstick feminism seeks to prove that women could still be a feminist without ignoring or negating their femininity and sexuality. During the second wave of feminism, feminists focused solely on the legal and social equality of women. Feminists of this era refused to 'embrace' their sexuality. Some second wave feminists abhorred the idea of men. As a result, they would often take on physical male characteristics and a persona that was far from what the average woman looked like. This created the stereotype of feminism. This also created the stereotypical imagery of what a feminist should look like.

Despite the stereotypes surrounding feminism and the dominate social narratives surrounding feminism during their time, women like Zora Neale Hurston and Emma Goldman argued that by using philosophical ideas of aesthetics and ideas of femininity, it is possible to empower and analyze the ways that gender works in everyday life. Lipstick feminism embraces the ideals of womanhood and the sensualities of a woman. Scholars of lipstick feminism believe that women have a right to act in accordance with passion and sexuality.[2][3]

Lipstick feminism seeks to reclaim certain derogatory words and turn them into powerful tools to promote their cause. For example, lipstick feminists has redefined the word 'slut', as seen in the SlutWalk movement. This redefining developed, in part, as a response to the ideological backlash against radical varieties of second-wave feminism. Redefining terms were also influenced from the negative stereotypes generated during the second wave of feminism, such as "ugly feminist" or the "anti-sex feminist". In one sense, the successes of second-wave feminism made it possible to reclaim aspects of femininity that were seen as disempowering, like make-up or stilettos.[4]


Lipstick feminism is a subset of the third wave of feminism, following the second wave feminism. The second wave of feminism emerged in the US around 1960. This wave challenged America's beauty industry and it's standards by protesting in a boycott of items considered to be feminine.[5] These items included bras, girdles, curlers, false eye lashes, and magazines catered to women. Boycotting these items as well as embracing unorthodox appearances of women, such as unshaved legs and wearing no makeup, became a liberation mark for the second wave feminists.[5] From early literature to date, the appearance of femininity has always had a negative relationship with feminism. During the eighteenth century, writings of Wollstonecraft criticized women who focused on their beauty, calling them "feather birds" with nothing to do besides plume themselves.[6] Some time after Simone de Beauvoir implored women to go beyond their bodies by rejecting emotional responses and the superficiality of beauty. De Beauvoir urged that this was the way to equality for women. Fashion, glamour and beauty has always been viewed as superficial and problematic. Second wave feminism viewed these as bondage, being oppressive and exploitative. [6]

Third wave feminism was birth out of the demands of the second wave of feminism.[7] Women wanted to continue to fight for equality and to continue their activist work, while not fitting into the box of what society felt a feminist should look like. While second wave feminism focused more on political activism while pushing the beauty ideals away, lipstick feminism embraced both beauty standards and political activisms.


Linguistically, lipstick feminism proposed to semantically reclaim, for feminist usage, double-standard insult words, such as "slut",[8] in order to eliminate the social stigma applied to a woman whose sexual behavior was "patriarchally" interpreted to denote "immoral woman" and libertine.[9] Terms such as "chick" and "girl" was once viewed as patronizing and depowering for women. Lipstick Feminism, a variant of third wave feminism, embraces these terms by redefining their meaning.[10] Women saw this reviving of words as an act of solidarity in the movement of empowerment.[10]


Philosophically, lipstick feminism proposes that a woman can be empowered – psychologically, socially, politically – by the wearing of cosmetic make up, sensually-appealing clothes, and the embrace of sexual allure for her own self-image as a confidently sexual being. The rhetoric of choice and empowerment is used to validate such overt sexual practices,[11] because they no longer represent coerced acquiescence to societally established gender roles, such as "the good girl", "the decent woman", "the abnegated mother", "the virtuous sister", et aliæ.

Other feminists object that the so-called empowerment of lipstick feminism is a philosophic contradiction wherein a woman chooses to sexually objectify herself, and so ceases to be her own woman, in control neither of her self nor of her person.[12] Feminist scholars have often discussed whether or not the decision to perform traditional gendered actions, such as shaving your legs and wearing short skirts can be considered an act of empowerment. Feminist scholars like Fionnghuala Sweeney and Kathy Davis argue that there is a freedom that can come from understanding and embracing gender norms of sexuality as a means of freeing yourself from the stereotypes of women in society.[13][14] Lipstick feminism counter-proposes that the practice of sexual allure is a form of social power in the interpersonal relations between a man and a woman, which may occur in the realms of cultural, social, and gender equality. Scholars have pointed out the contradictions between feminist viewpoints and traditional gender roles. Scholar Kathy Davis wrote, "feminist scholars need to ground their normative, theoretical critique of passion in a grounded analysis of what the experience of passion feels like and what it means to those who have it, but it also suggests contradictions between feminist theory and embodied experience are a useful starting point for reflecting critically on some of the silences within feminist theory itself."[15]

Stiletto feminism[edit]

Stiletto feminism, a more ideologically radical variety of lipstick feminism, sees the postmodern use of fetish fashion as empowering;[16] and extends the argument from the acceptance of makeup, to the validity of women practicing occupations specifically predicated upon female physical beauty, such as working as a striptease dancer or as a pole dancer, as well as flashing or lesbian (girl-on-girl) exhibitionism.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the U.S. television series, The West Wing, the 57th episode, "Night Five", features a scene wherein the characters debate the merits of lipstick feminism. The female protagonist decides it is empowering, while determining that caring about workplace sexual harassment distracts from important issues like pay equity and "honest-to-God sexual harassment".[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ R. D. Lankford, Women Singer-Songwriters in Rock (2010) p.98
  2. ^ Sweeney, Fionnghuala (2015). "'Beautiful, radiant things': Aesthetics, experience and feminist practice a response to Kathy Davis". Feminist Theory. 16: 27–30. doi:10.1177/1464700114563244. S2CID 146827952.
  3. ^ Davis, Kathy (April 2015). "Should a feminist dance tango? Some reflections on the experience and politics of passion1". Feminist Theory. 16 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1177/1464700114562525. ISSN 1464-7001. S2CID 147235777.
  4. ^ Natasha Walters, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010) p. 129
  5. ^ a b Rhode, Deborah (January 2017). "Appearance as a Feminist Issue". SMU Dedman School of Law Review. 69: 1–15 – via SMU Dedman School of Law.
  6. ^ a b Baker, Sarah Elsie (2 January 2017). "A glamorous feminism by design?". Cultural Studies. 31 (1): 47–69. doi:10.1080/09502386.2016.1167928. ISSN 0950-2386.
  7. ^ Evans, Elizabeth (2 July 2016). "What Makes a (Third) Wave?: HOW AND WHY THE THIRD-WAVE NARRATIVE WORKS FOR CONTEMPORARY FEMINISTS". International Feminist Journal of Politics. 18 (3): 409–428. doi:10.1080/14616742.2015.1027627. ISSN 1461-6742.
  8. ^ McMahon, Mary (23 September 2020). "What is Lipstick Feminism". wisegeek.
  9. ^ J. Hollows/R. Mosely eds., Feminism in Popular Culture (2006) p. 84
  10. ^ a b Ferriss, Suzanne; Young, Mallory (1 June 2006). "Chicks, girls and choice: redefining feminism". Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue (6): 87–98.
  11. ^ Walters, p. 28 and p. 43
  12. ^ McMahon, Mary (23 September 2020). "What is Lipstick Feminism". wisegeek.
  13. ^ Davis, Kathy (April 2015). "Should a feminist dance tango? Some reflections on the experience and politics of passion1". Feminist Theory. 16 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1177/1464700114562525. ISSN 1464-7001. S2CID 147235777.
  14. ^ Sweeney, Fionnghuala (2015). "'Beautiful, radiant things': Aesthetics, experience and feminist practice a response to Kathy Davis". Feminist Theory. 16: 27–30. doi:10.1177/1464700114563244. S2CID 146827952.
  15. ^ Davis, Kathy (April 2015). "Should a feminist dance tango? Some reflections on the experience and politics of passion 1". Feminist Theory. 16 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1177/1464700114562525. ISSN 1464-7001. S2CID 147235777.
  16. ^ Helmut Newton and Stiletto Feminism[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "#313 (57) "Night Five"". The West Wing Continuity Guide. Retrieved 1 June 2007.

Further reading[edit]

  • F. R. Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005).
  • Sylvia Walby, The Future of Feminism (2011).
  • Reflections on Non-Imperialist, Feminist Values, Meyers (2021)
  • Feminism and Futurity: Geographies of resistance, resilience and reworking, MacLeavy, Fanning, Larner.
  • This is What a Feminist Looks Like: Identification and Exploration of the Factors Underlying the Concept of Feminism and Predicting the Endorsement of Traditional Gender Role Kaitlyn McLaughlin, Shelley Aikman

External links[edit]