What Putin's policies (and Nicki Minaj) and teach us about post-feminist power
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The ability to transform yourself – and the cultural expectation that we should – has changed the way we think about authenticity. Today, celebrities are often valued less for their “natural beauty” and more for working on their appearance in transformative ways. Women admire the famous for their ability to style themselves, while countless articles are published every day about their weight loss.On one level, this is a democratisation of attractiveness – if we learn the techniques we can all do it. But it also makes femininity a highly crafted performance. This all ties into a wider cultural shift. In a range of ways, we now produce ourselves to be viewed by others. Instagram stars, for example, create highly crafted representations of “authentic” living. And apps can “enhance” the images posted on social media. But when we view these images, we know they are not authentic and this makes us cynical. Yet they still affect us. We can look at a food blogger and wish to be more like them, even while believing their images are stylised. Being affected while taking a cynical stance is just one of the many contradictions of “post-feminist sensibility”. This term describes a set of ideas about “ideal” femininity that frame women’s appearance-work as enjoyable, empowering and something women choose to do for themselves. Post-feminist sensibility works through contradictions. Women are encouraged to be whatever they want to be. Yet they must also desire a heterosexual marriage and a conventionally attractive body. They should not be too feminist, like shopping, and even consider cosmetic surgery so their vulva looks like those in porn films. All this while understanding that these desires represent a personal, empowered choice. These contradictions make attempts to live out post-feminist ideals of femininity difficult and confusing. But still, women continue to “buy into” post-feminism.
Post-feminism and Russian policyIt might seem like a tenuous link at first, but contemporary Russian domestic and overseas policy may help us understand the powerful attraction that post-feminism holds for many women. The same issues of contradiction, confusion and cynicism define both post-feminism and a new form of power emerging from Putin’s government called “nonlinear warfare”. The aim of nonlinear warfare is to create a sense of confusion, so that people cannot be sure of reality, and nothing feels stable. As filmmaker Adam Curtis argues, Putin’s government might fund domestic anti-Putin organisations, but also lets it be known that it has done so. Such confusion leads to people supporting the existing order because it is seen to offer stability. Any opposition is neutralised because it cannot mobilise a consistent narrative against an indefinable, changing political landscape.
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