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February 19 2015

Empowerment: Feminists for Tiny Bikinis?

Rachel DiCarlo Currie

As Melissa noted earlier this week, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover girl Hannah Davis is defending her almost-naked photo as “empowering,” while dismissing certain critics -- those who consider it degrading -- as people who “aren’t feminists.”

In fairness to Davis, there is nothing new or surprising about the appearance of soft-core pornography in the Swimsuit Issue. Yes, the 2015 cover shot -- in which Davis seems to be removing her super-skimpy bikini bottom -- leaves very little to the imagination, but the 2014 cover shot was arguably more pornographic. SI has been marketing such near-nudity for years now. People who are upset about that should direct their ire at the magazine rather than at Davis.

(Quick side note: There was a time, believe it or not, when SI cover models wore one-piece suits. Check out what Carol Alt wore for the 1982 cover. Compared with Davis, she looks downright Victorian. Charlotte Allen also had an interesting take on the very small matter of Davis’s bikini.)

Having said that, it is risible to suggest that genuine feminists would -- or should -- celebrate the objectification of women’s bodies. Indeed, one need not be an anti–Swimsuit Issue crusader to find Davis’s comments hopelessly misguided. She may sincerely believe it is “empowering” to bare almost all on the front of a publication aimed at hormonally charged teenage boys, but there is nothing feminist about doing so.

And yet, her remarks reflect a broader trend: The concept of feminism has become so muddled and contradictory that women of all stripes now feel free to use it as a shield.

Example: In a recent interview with Glamour, actress Dakota Johnson insisted that her character in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, female protagonist Anastasia Steele, should be seen as a feminist role model. “Everything she does is her choice,” Johnson explained. “And if I can be an advocate for women to do what they want with their bodies and not be ashamed of what they want, then I’m all for that.”


Meanwhile, even the so-called Duke porn star has assured us that she, too, is a feminist. Seriously.

Just to clarify: I am not comparing the Swimsuit Issue to Fifty Shades of Grey, nor am I comparing either to hard-core pornography. My point is simply that, if “feminism” can be appropriated to defend virtually everything that falls under the umbrella of “women’s choices,” then it no longer has any practical meaning.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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