Two Faces of Feminism
Feminism and female sexuality
Recent decisions by female politicians in Iceland and the Czech Republic highlight two very different ways of understanding women's empowerment.
In early 2010, Iceland banned strip clubs in the name of enhancing women's rights and quashing the objectification and commodification of women. Then, later in the year, several female Czech MPs posed provocatively for a calendar with the purpose of highlighting the growing presence of women in Czech politics.
Feminism: The Icelandic way vs. the Czech way
The lower house of the Czech parliament has about 22% female members, while Iceland has 43%. Iceland is also home to the world's first openly gay Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, who is also the country's first female Prime Minister. Iceland also claims the world's first democratically elected female head of state, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who served as President from 1980 to 1996.
The recent elections in the Czech Republic which prompted the provocative calendar saw the highest-ever number of women elected to the country's parliament. The Czech tradition of feminism and women's rights has been characterized as less confrontational and less bold than western versions, but nevertheless delivering significant positive results for Czech women over many decades.
It is worth noting that for all the wonderful boldness and passion of American feminists, the percentage of women in the American House of Representatives today (17%) is less than that in the Czech lower house (22%). There is a similar gap between the two upper houses.
Sexy women: powerful or powerless?
Compare the sentiments of a Czech politician...
"Women's political influence is growing. Why not show we are women who aren't afraid of being sexy?" said Marketa Reedova, Public Affair's 42-year-old candidate for the Prague mayor's office.
... and an Icelandic one:
Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban [on strip clubs], firmly told the national press on Wednesday: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold."
The Economist notes a "clash of sexual civilizations" involving the differing approaches to sex between Slavic countries and Anglophone ones. The Nordic countries generally have taken a tougher stance on prostitution and the buying and selling of sexual services than other European countries.
Feminism and sex
Feminism in the broadest sense is the project of increasing women's rights to the point of equality with men. Since much of sexism revolves around sex, the role of sex and sexuality has always been a feminist concern.
Does the commodification of sex and even of female sexuality help or hurt women's advancements in politics, business and society? Do displays, exhibitions or exploitations of the female body basically enhance or undermine women's power? Do they have any effect at all?
The answer is that any negative effect on female empowerment is minimal, if not absent altogether. The history of wealthy societies over the last 50 years demonstrates two relevant developments occurring in tandem.
First, there has been an increasing sexualization of culture, or a removal of restrictions to sexual expression (depending on one's point of view). Second, there has been an inexorable increase in women's empowerment and their role in society. To take the US as an example, surely if more sexualized images of women retarded women's overall progress in society, then we would not see an increasing number of women in universities, businesses and politics. We would see a decrease.
This topic will be explored further in another hub. For now, enjoy your local strip club while you still can.