There I was, flogging my book at a trade show, dressed in my feminist personality --meaning whatever externally but liberated and independent internally-- when two women whom I judged to be in their late twenties to early thirties stopped by my booth. One of them nudged the other, pointed to the cover of the book and whispered, "You should take a picture of that. It's like feminism never happened."
The name of the book is Sex, Cheese and French Fries--Women are Perfect, Men are from France. The subtitle alone should lay waste to that whispered assertion but, okay, here's what's on the cover: a woman with a shapely figure, dressed in low-slung jeans and a red lace bra. Her right hand holds a French baguette, and in her cleavage sprouts a bushel of French fries. From the left, a man's hand lifts a French fry from her bosom. His sleeve suggests he's wearing a striped, boat-neck pullover, you know, as in that clichéd French look. Everything about the cover is supposed to suggest the French, like sex and cheese, and flirty women and sexy lingerie, plus --just to hit you over the head-- a baguette. The French fries are meant to imply American, as in freedom fries or fast food, take your pick. So, here's my question: Why is a sexy woman the opposite of a feminist? The idea sent me running to check on prevailing terminology, and here's what the American Heritage Dictionary describes as feminism:
"A doctrine that advocates or demands for women the same rights granted men, as in political and economic status."
Then, I checked in with Wikipedia, and here's what they said:
"Feminism is a collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies largely motivated by or concerned with the liberation of women."
Nowhere did I see anything that said a woman who believes in or practices feminism should have no sex appeal. I think there is some confusion on this point. So ladies and gentlemen, word Nazis, idea fascists and Keepers of All Things Proper, listen up! The gratuitous use of a woman's body to sell something is not only rampant and obnoxious, but yes, it is antithetical to feminism. If done well, the use of a woman's body --sexy or otherwise-- to make a point is no more unusual or disrespectful than smart and effective advertising. Like anyone who ever took marketing and sales classes in college, I learned that sex sells. So does the promise of fun, adventure and a good time. That's what my book offers and, hopefully, delivers.
But the pressure to be PC these days is relentless, like a non-black daring to have an opinion on black issues (that racist!); or a non-Jew disagreeing with Israeli policy (that anti-Semite!). So, I realize now that I was insensitive in my choice of visuals for a humorous book on the challenges of a cross-cultural marriage between an American woman and a Frenchman. I should have used a snail and a baseball bat.