You shall go to the ball

Post by Kay

Feminist or Feminine? Do they have to be mutually exclusive?

Surely not. I thought being liberated meant finding out who you are, and being allowed to be it.

I’ll get straight to that ‘it’: Bell Hooks said in her book Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics ‘“If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.”
So I ask, why should a woman who embraces true femininity in all its wonder (wise, instinctive, empathic- powerful stuff!) conflict in any way with the concept of feminism, which simply means, according to the Oxford Dictionary “The advocacy  of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” So any assumption added to that is purely subjective.

So often, especially in the knee-jerking, anonymously commenting culture of online click baiting, people get lost in semantics, to and fro they go, getting all upset and trussed up in a cul de sac of assumptions – rather than realising that these words attract connotations like barnacles on rocks and they stick.

Let’s pick them off (without spoiling those nails!).

I can’t help but wish we could reevaluate what these words actually mean in modern terms.  1st: words are a device to explain things, they are not actually ‘the things’ and 2nd: words change their meaning over time (and isn’t that sick….happy and gay, everyone?).

Me? I’d always assumed that feminine meant that you were some form of loveliness, that it was also akin to being ‘a woman’, which sounds a little stronger somehow. But nonetheless, I never assumed that being ‘feminine’ in any way made me weaker, simpler, or more docile. I feel very ‘feminine’, as I’d assumed that ‘femme’ means ‘woman’, of which I am, and I feel very much ‘a woman’.

Oh to my surprise when I looked at my Mac’s dictionary meaning that said “having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness: the snowdrops gave a feminine touch to the table.” Oh dear-so not me, or any woman I know let alone admire. I’m a resilient, self-made only child whose friends (go sisterhood) are my family.

As for femi-nism, Germaine Greer (a very famous one) once said that “If a woman never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run?”. I love dresses, pencil skirts and high heels, and when I want to run Germaine, I put my Nikes on (but we needed those metaphors back in the early 70s).

Yep, I like spending whole days (and ahem, occasional weeks) in stretch fabrics and trainers but being compared to a minuscule afterthought of a flower arrangement if you’re ‘feminine’ was a tad surprising in 2016.

To be, or not to be feminine, OR a feminist-I’ll be both thanks!

Ideal clutch bag for "A Room Of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf

Perfect clutch bag for the pocket-sized “A Room Of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf. Vintage dress by The Gathering Goddess

So with this in mind, I get why Susan Faludi wrote in her 1991 book ‘Backlash’ that “The “feminine” woman is forever static and childlike. She is like the ballerina in an old-fashioned music box, her unchanging features tiny and girlish, her voice tinkly, her body stuck on a pin, rotating in a spiral that will never grow.”

But as Virginia Woolf wrote in ‘A Room Of One’s Own’ (which I thoroughly recommend, it’s a tiny read, can fit beautifully in a ‘cigarette’ clutch) “All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are ‘sides,’ and it is necessary for one side to beat another side, and of the utmost importance to walk up to a platform and receive from the hands of the Headmaster himself a highly ornamental pot.”

Yrsa-Daley Ward in Chanel by Nicole Nodland for Violet Magazine

Yrsa-Daley Ward in Chanel by Nicole Nodland for Violet Magazine

Feminism today has become a lot more ‘bespoke’, It is ultimately about the individual choices women make and that they are allowed to make them. A dress does not maketh the woman, her actions do.

I love the juxtaposition of a baddass female in a dress, (or a quiet sweetie in a tough khaki boilersuit). I like contradictions, and I love to challenge myths.


I love the juxtaposition of a baddass female in a dress, (or a quiet sweetie in a tough khaki boilersuit). I like contradictions, and I love to challenge myths.

That was my inspiration when I did the creative direction on a shot for Violet Magazine last year. It was inspired my debutantes and balls. I’d always loved the aesthetic, the beautifully crafted hair with little to no make up, a truly fabulous dream dress, soft, swan-like necks subtly sprinkled with the family heirlooms-either pearls, or diamond. The moment frozen forever under the lenses of the greats of portraiture : Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon Irving Penn and Snowden. But the reason they looked so sweet? Debutante balls were ‘coming out’ balls, basically saying ‘she’s ready to wed’ and this is the package. So instead, I cast 6 diverse women who were whole, fully-fledged beings with or without matrimony, taking the aesthetic, and ditching the rest.

Yes I love those contradictions and again, I love dresses. And I love coming across pictures of balls in Harlem in the 1950’s, the women look SO fabulous.Harlem Balls

Harlem Balls






Nascent ‘UK National Treasure’ Caitlin Moran, author and unashamedly hysterical feminist has probaby a literal mile of quotes for the ‘feminist fearers’. If you haven’t yet read ‘How To Be A Woman‘ you must-especially if you like to laugh out loud on public transport. Here’s one: ““We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”


So now, the wonderful Zawadi models this gorgeous, modern-day ballgown by Rosie Assoulin.

Zawadi by Jackie Dixon

Zawadi photographed by Jackie Dixon earrings by Ted Muehling

We’ve found a far more affordable dress in a similar style, this 21st century lilac prom dress from, currently on sale for £35.50.lilac-cut-out-summer-dress-asos












Lastly, ‘Dear Mac Dictionary, you might want to update.’ 🙂


One thought on “You shall go to the ball

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Follow Us

Subscribe to!

Email *

What we're tweeting

"RT @parisreview: James Baldwin was born on this day in 1924. Read his Art of Fiction interview here:"
"RT @HadleyFreeman: A friend who lives in the US read this and compared England to "one of those crazy people who goes on a good date and im…"
"RT @ava: When you practice what you preach and the laws of nature bend in acknowledgement. This is Kindness. This is Generosity. This is Lo…"
"Mother superior and Queen @BritishVogue"

Latest Posts