After getting some friendly feminist Twitter flack for our name when we relaunched as The Sexy Feminist, we teamed up with Pretty Young Professional (another site whose name has been questioned) and The Daily Femme (who’d done someof the questioning) to debate whether feminists can be sexy and young professionals can be pretty without compromising our principles. This is exactly what feminism should be — women teaming up to intelligently discuss the issues that face them. We’re hoping to do more of these collaborations in the future; for now, here’s what we said on the great name debate — tell us what you think!
The Daily Femme first wrote:
As a young woman entering the first stages of adulthood, I was constantly asking for advice from family members, college professors, and older friends to quell my many anxieties around landing the dream job and moving out on my own. Navigating the first few years out of college and entering the professional work force has not been an easy task, thus I was truly excited to learn of a start-up Web site devoted to giving young women career and lifestyle guidance- it seemed like just the thing I needed. However the moment I read the name of this site, Pretty Young Professional, I was immediately turned off and tempted never to visit. With the encouragement of a friend I took some time, against my will, to explore the site and I realized how much it really does have to offer women in my position. However with each visit I continue to wonder why the site’s creators thought using the adjective pretty to name an empowerment site for women was a smart move.
With the mission of providing guidance, support and encouragement to young professional women,Pretty Young Professional strives to be the ultimate online resource for their target audience. On the site itself the authors and creators constantly remark on the fact that young female women are confident, talented and serious professionals, once again making me question why the word pretty is in the title. In response to this question the site’s founders said they deliberately chose this word to spark conversation and to reclaim its meaning, but I just don’t think it works. The fact that women are often judged in the workforce based on their appearance as opposed to their intellectual capabilities or education or experience is not new and the creators of the site openly acknowledge this, but still insist on using pretty. Even if one wanted to highlight the beauty or attractiveness of this population (clearly not my preference), there are so many other options for stronger words that would convey the type of message the site is sending to readers.
The term pretty doesn’t convey confidence or intelligence, instead it reminds me of a word a skeezy executive boss might say about his secretary in a condescending manner. To argue that women should reclaim this word seems to be a bit naive and pointless when there are so many other positive and more effective words used to describe powerful professional women. So while I thank the creators of Pretty Young Professionals for their innovative content, including networking tips and profiles on many professional women, I wish they would reconsider changing the name of the site to something that exudes the same type of confidence and professionalism that is conveyed in their articles.
Here’s what Pretty Young Professional said: As Gen Y women, we enter a world filled with opportunities that were not available to generations of women before us, and obstacles that are unexpectedly subtle at times. Although women make up more than half of all college graduates and PhD candidates, they only account for 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women have fewer role models to demonstrate an achievable path to personal and professional fulfillment.
What’s more, many young women face issues not encountered by their male colleagues: how to dress neither too sexily nor too square; how to navigate the line between assertive and aggressive; even how to develop mentorship relationships with senior leaders who are usually much older, married men.
In addition to new opportunities for career advancement, today’s young women also face insurmountable pressures to look perfect, to act perfectly, to do it all. It doesn’t help that throughout our youth we were fed media that portrayed an image of the ideal woman who definitely wasn’t the breadwinner.
Faced with this conundrum, young women today are often stuck between the excellence we seek and the societal stereotypes that tell us to play nice and put others’ needs first. As young ambitious women, we believe that we face many of the same struggles regardless of our industries or our location.
The debate ignited by our name gets to the root of the one of biggest issues we face as young women: the stereotypes applied to us because of our femininity or lack thereof.
We deliberately chose Pretty Young Professional (PYP), a play on Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit song P.Y.T., to refute the notion that femininity and professionalism are incompatible, that professional success means androgynous or masculine behavior. Our conviction is that being young and female does not compromise our confidence, talent, and drive to be taken seriously as professionals. When we first launched our beta site, some people called our name sexist, demeaning and isolating, while others wrote in urging us to keep it, saying they felt it was empowering and insightful. After the first week, we wrote a long article on the debate titled “The Problem with Pretty.”
Yes, our name is meant to be provocative and intriguing. That doesn’t mean we were prepared for questions like “What about the ugly girls?” At PYP we strongly believe that all women are pretty. We recognize that being young, ambitious and female is not easy. PYP’s founding team proudly consider ourselves feminists – we created a company with the sole purpose of supporting and empowering young women to be their best selves. We also fully recognize that feminism comes in many different packages and do not think that any of its various packages must meet pre-formed feminine or anti-feminine benchmarks.
As a society we have permitted a negative stigma to be attached to the label “feminist” among many groups, a stigma that has become a tremendous impediment to achieving the goals of feminism. If you identify yourself as a feminist and you happen to possess conventional feminine characteristics, are you immediately cast as “not really” feminist because of your outward appearance? How many potential feminist allies have been dissuaded from the cause because of reverse discrimination that screams “you must be a bra-burning, androgynous, crazed individual to really be a feminist”? Note: if you want to burn your bra, go for it, but don’t make it a prerequisite to joining the cause for gender equality. At PYP, we support all women: burned bra, pink bra, or no bra (not that it matters).
Fans on Twitter subsequently brought up our name, as well, as one that made them a little uneasy even though they loved our content.
Here’s what we said: The Sexy Feminist name came easy to us.
As we were pondering a recent revamp of our six-years-running pet project, SirensMag.com, one goal stood out above all the others. Yes, we wanted to move to a super-easy blog format, and we wanted a graphic overhaul that did not involve the color aqua. But most importantly, we wanted our philosophy to ring out clearly, even on the noisy noisy Internet, and the best way to do that was with a clear name.
Quite frankly, we hadn’t known what that philosophy was when we started Sirens back in 2005. All we knew then was that we wanted to write about things that mattered to us and didn’t seem to matter to most women’s magazines. We wanted to talk about canceling weddings, enjoying sex, and, most of all, exploring the complex feelings we had about fashion, makeup, and men. Not the way that women’s media covers them, as if they are the oxygen we breathe, but the way we experienced them in life — as complicated decisions that affected everything from our finances to our feminism.
And that was it: Now we knew. This was about feminism, about our right to make everyday choices the way we wanted to, but also about our responsibility to make such choices in ways that benefit all womankind. As we explored the societal implications — and there are societal implications — of everything from bikini waxing to miniskirt-wearing, one thing became clear: Feminism is sexy. As in, there are few topics that come up in relation to feminism that aren’t hotbutton-sexy or just plain sexy-sexy. What if we called ourselves SexyFeminist? That’s us, we thought, in one catchy (and available, praise be!) URL.
As we spent more time in the feminist blogosphere — and, by implication, the anti-feminist blogosphere — something else came rushing back to us, a memory pushed away since our women’s studies classes in college, an ugly reminder of a seemingly perpetual truth: A great many people, men and women alike, seem to find feminism quite unsexy. This can be a huge problem, particularly when it comes to bringing new young women into the fold.
When women say, “I’m not a feminist, but …” they’re saying something very specific. They’re saying, “I don’t want to be perceived as unpleasant, unsexy, but, gosh do I want equal rights for women.”
What all of those folks are missing out on is that not only is feminist debate damn sexy, so is feminism. Empowerment and confidence are sexy. Liberation in the bedroom is sexy. Standing up for all women is sexy. If the word “sexy” in our name, like the word “pretty” in Pretty Young Professional, attracts a new kind of woman to the cause, or reclaims the meaning of sexy, that naughty little word will have done a world of good. I hope anyone interested in women’s issues gives both of us a chance, regardless of how “pretty” or “sexy” we are, just as I’d hope the words “professional” and “feminist” wouldn’t scare away those not already dedicated wholeheartedly to female advancement.
When we speak of Sexy Feminism, we’re including all feminism. We wish the world saw our name as redundant. Until it does, we’ll be keeping it. We honestly had hoped, in choosing it, to provoke just this sort of debate. We hope it continues until everyone thinks feminism is as hot as we think it is.