Belfast Telegraph

Freedom of choice doesn’t equal modern-day feminism

By Joan Smith

Once upon a time, little girls dreamed of marrying a prince and living happily ever. Now it seems they aspire to have breast implants, date a footballer or two, marry an Australian crooner, get divorced and marry a transvestite cage-fighter.

Isn't that what social commentators mean when they describe newly married Katie Price as a role model for younger women?

And not just younger women: one of my relatives, who is in her 60s, was devastated when Price came to a nearby town on a book tour and she couldn't get a ticket.

My relative regards Price, who married for the second time in a quickie ceremony in Las Vegas last week, as a woman who has transcended the boundaries of her upbringing.

Price is undeniably brilliant at providing stories: in one of the best twists yet, her ‘surprise’ wedding to Alex Reid made headlines by being a ‘private’ affair.

How do we know that last week's wedding was private? Because Price said so on a TV show, of course. That didn't stop pictures of the happy couple flashing round the world, along with reports that they'd celebrated the marriage by visiting pole-dancing clubs in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, Price's ex-husband Andre broke down on Sky TV when the presenter, Kay Burley, asked him how he'd feel if Reid wanted to adopt his two children with the former glamour model. Andre seems to be a nice, if rather emotional, chap and this possibility had him weeping buckets.

Almost 4,000 people promptly joined a group on Facebook calling for Burley to be sacked, drawing yet another character into an already complex narrative of passion, rejection, sponsorship, ‘reality’ TV and themed pink accessories.

Price is a phenomenon, described by Wikipedia as, amongst other things, an “author, businesswoman, glamour model and philanthropist”.

There is a school of thought that celebrates Price as a feminist icon, a woman who is doing something which has achieved almost sacramental status in modern culture: she makes choices.

This magic formula is used to defend everything from pole-dancing and cosmetic surgery to wearing the burqa; choice is so clearly a good thing that it can't be questioned, even if the consequence is damage in one form or another. This is actually the triumph of consumerism, which has got mixed up in the minds of many young women with the notion of freedom. It's just over six decades since Simone de Beauvoir considered women's second-class status and came up with a brilliant formula: “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman”.

Beauvoir wasn't so much arguing that becoming a woman was hard work (though it was), as suggesting that what women were taught to aim for was inauthentic.

They had to suppress feelings and ambitions to concentrate on fulfilling male ideals of womanhood and the result was the female eunuch that Germaine Greer would go on to write about.

So how did we get from 20th-century notions of equality to today's pole-dancing glamour models and footballers' wives?

Price is their poster girl, and it would be easy to see her success as a riposte to old-fashioned (some would say outdated) notions of gender equality.

But it's vital not to confuse ubiquity and popularity, and the public response to her second appearance on the ‘reality’ TV show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here suggests that she inspires mockery as well as admiration.

Another problem with this is that real people, like Price, get hurt. Many of the people who follow Price's adventures know that, and wouldn't want her life for themselves.

If they connect her with feminism at all, it's only in the primitive sense that she's a self-made woman.

That's an achievement of sorts, but it certainly isn't what Simone de Beauvoir had in mind when she sat down to write The Second Sex.

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