March is Women's History Month — so what better time to acknowledge the most recent contribution of feminism's so-called "third-wave"?
No, I am not talking about the launch of my new book, The 51% Minority — I'm talking about the brand-new reality series, "Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll."
For the uninitiated, the Pussycat Dolls are a female singing group whose six (generally scantily clad) members skyrocketed to fame after posing the musical question: "Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?"
Promoters of "Pussycat Dolls Present" claim the show represents "third-wave feminism" because at its core, it's about "female empowerment." Convicted felon, rap star, and judge on the show, Lil' Kim, who famously showed up at the 1999 MTV awards in a dress which exposed her bare breast adorned in a pasty, concurs: "Everything the Pussycat Dolls are is everything I've developed myself into being."
So what is the "third-wave" of feminism? According to Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, authors of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, it's a phenomenon that emerged in the 1990s with shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” activist groups like Riot Grrrl and books like Elizabeth Wurtzel's "Bitch." Third wavers, say Baumgardner and Richards, want to continue the fight for equal rights, but not to the detriment of their sexuality. In particular, says Richards, third-wave feminists ought to embrace and "reclaim" words like "slut."
As a matter of fact, according to a recent article in the New York Times, use of the word has become common place in certain circles. "It's definitely a term of familiarity with teens," says Karell Roxas, a senior editor at Gurl.com, a Web site that addresses issues that affect teenagers. "They'll say 'Hi slut!' the way my generation would say 'Hi chick!' or 'Hi dog!'"
But third-wave feminism is about more than just words. According to Baumgardner, it's about a "joy and ownership of sexuality" and "a type of energy." For marketers of products aimed at young girls, it is also about the bottom line.
Bratz dolls, the fishnet stocking, feather boa-wearing dolls that Margaret Talbot of the New Yorker described as having "the sly, dozy expression of a party girl after one too many mojitos," brought in $2 billion dollars in 2005. Barbie still claims 60 percent of the market share, but Bratz dolls have reached 40 percent and are climbing fast.
Meanwhile, a real life crew of Bratz — Britney Spears,Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan — is currently more famous for partying than talent. Entertainment blogs and YouTube let us follow their every move — rehab stints, DUIs, and those nights when underwear just won't do.
Clothing stores for “tweens” are increasingly selling camisoles, lacy panties, and thongs. "Attitude" t-shirts, which feature slogans like "Who needs brains when you have these?" are available for girls of all ages.
And singer Fergie's latest CD was listed by Amazon.com as one of the top 10 things "every girl wants for the holidays." In the video for one of the CD's most popular tracks, "Fergalicious," Fergie dresses in a bathing suit and rolls around in cake.
"It's sold as an image of power, but it's not changing the world kind of power," says Lyn Mikel Brown, author of "Packaging Girlhood." It's more about the power of "choosing between mango lip gloss and cherry lip gloss."
Ariel Levy, the author of "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture" says a girl in California told her that she and her friends compete to see who can look "the skankiest." When Levy told the girl that when she was in high school, girls wanted to be known as "the prettiest" or "the most popular," the girl remarked: "How did you get the guys? Charm?"
According to a recent study by the American Psychological Association, all of this "third-wave" style marketing may be taking a toll. Among the study's findings was that the "sexualization of girls" can lead to depression, eating disorders, and poor academic performance.
Some of the specific consequences, according to the report, include:
• Constant comparison between one's own body and cultural standards, leading to feelings of inadequacy and shame.
• A tendency to focus more on a partner's judgments of one's appearance than on one's own desires, safety, and pleasure.
• A significant jump in plastic surgery for teens between 2000 and 2005. Invasive cosmetic surgery increased 15 percent, and minimally invasive procedures, such as botox injections, chemical peels, and laser hair removal, increased 7 percent.
The most common procedures sought by teens are breast enlargements, nose and ear reshaping, and liposuction, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
So, how should we respond to a Pussycat Doll/third-wave culture, that is not just hyper-sexualized, but also hyper-commercialized? The answer is "as simple and as complicated" as it always was, says Levy.
"Making the young women in our lives aware that this is the culture they live in, but they don't have to take part in it, they will still be attractive to men, because people have managed to recreate the species for some time … You will find a partner," says Levy. "But the main project is you. What do you want to be? What do you want to think about? What turns you on?" Ultimately, she says, it's about "instilling in young women a sense of the value of their humanity."
I don't know about you, but I can't think of a better way to celebrate the legal rights obtained for us by our courageous foremothers. Happy Women's History Month.
Pussycat Doll Sources
• Promoters of "Pussycat Dolls Present" claim the show represents "third-wave feminism" because at its core, it's about "female empowerment."
• "It's definitely a term of familiarity with teens," says Karell Roxas, a senior editor at Gurl.com, a Web site that addresses issues that affect teenagers. "They'll say 'Hi slut!' the way my generation would say 'Hi chick!' or 'Hi dog!'"
Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.