3 min read
The youngest self-made female billionaire, according to a recent report from Forbes, is Sara Blakely, the 41-year-old inventor of Spanx. For those who aren't familiar with Blakely's company (and I'm guessing almost everyone in that category is male), Spanx are high-tech girdles. With lines of "slimming products" for both men and women, Blakely has achieved success beyond her or anyone else's wildest imagination. Now here is one area of life in which, were my grandmother alive today, she wouldn't find the modern world so foreign. Unfortunately, the popularity of this age-old concept -- that women could use a little help to look better in their clothes -- is not going over so well with feminists. Take Margery Eagan, a columnist for the Boston Herald, who finds the popularity of Spanx to be a blow to women's liberation.

And she interviews other locals who feel the same way:

“I’m so torn,” says Lauren Beckham Falcone of WROR’s “Loren & Wally” show. “On the one hand, I’m thrilled. That’s just great and smart of her. But I don’t know. . . . She’s built her empire on the self-loathing of women for their bodies.” “I’m shocked that she wasn’t a woman in porn,” said victim rights advocate Wendy Murphy, deadpanning about the zillions made on pornography. “There’s something sad about the fact that women are so liberated but so constrained, literally and figuratively, by Spanx.”

Really? Offering women supportive undergarments is just like supporting the porn industry? Every woman who wants to shed a few pounds must be engaged in "self-loathing"? Of course Eagan would be even more unhappy if these same few women decided to diet or, God forbid, undergo plastic surgery. But such is the state of modern feminism that a pair of tight pantyhose can apparently threaten it.

Most women would hardly begrudge Ms. Blakely her fortune. Just like they don't think that there is any problem with the way Oprah made her money (even if some of her shows involved gushing over male celebrities, one-hour makeovers, and tips for weight loss), why shouldn't female entrepreneurs make money off of figuring out what women want?

Criticizing the spokeswomen of feminism is like shooting fish in a barrel. Boy does it make blogging easy. The typical woman on the street is much more sensible about such matters. Which is why I'm beginning to worry about what the rank and file (of women) are beginning to say about the presidential race. A lot of other questions have arisen lately about what women's "liberation" really means.

The New York Times has a piece today about how "centrist" women are getting turned off by the Republican candidates' discussion of sex and contraception. I don't entirely blame the candidates, of course. I do think this issue at stake is a question of religious liberty and at the beginning of the controversy I think that religious leaders were successfully framing it that way. But somehow things have gotten away from them. Whether Rick Santorum or any other candidate actually wants to restrict access to contraception, that is the message that is coming across to voters. After all, they conclude, why are we discussing it if it's not something you want to legislate about?

I'm sympathetic with the case that contraception has had a deep and sometimes harmful effect on the traditional family and traditional sexual norms. That being said, the birth control pill is so much a part of the lives of most middle- and upper-class women of childbearing age that it would be hard to underestimate how shaken they are by even the idea that it is even part of a political debate. There may be some social issues we can turn back the clock on. Maybe more restrictions on abortion are feasible. Maybe gay marriage is not an inevitability. But the pill? The pill is here to stay and the sooner that social conservatives stop thinking otherwise, the sooner they stop mentioning the word contraception in any context besides an exemption for religious institutions from the Obamacare mandate, the sooner they can start winning back the reasonable women of America. Girdles and all.

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