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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Bimbo feminism isn’t empowering; it’s taking us steps back

5 min read I quip about inside jokes such as “girl math” and “girl logic” with my friends. But beneath the seemingly harmless veneer lies an undertone that’s difficult to ignore.
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Published 20 days ago on February 09, 2024

by Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro

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Artwork by Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro/TomasinoWeb

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When we hear the word ‘bimbo,’ we conjure images of ultra-feminine characters in media like Elle Woods, Regina George, Cher Horowitz, Barbie, or Sharpay Evans. Cambridge Dictionary defines bimbo as an attractive but unintelligent woman. While these personalities may not precisely conform to our traditional connotations of intelligence, they’ve proven that their unique and feminine quirks are just as admirable as their often misjudged and unapologetic personas.

Mainstream liberal feminine movements birthed bimbo feminism. Stemming from the bimbocore aesthetic, it embraces hyper-femininity. It is related to the “bimbo” stereotype, depicting women as superficial, witless, or excessively fixated on their appearance. This reclamation of hyper-femininity endeavors to recuperate societal judgments towards femininity, including glamour, sensuality, and love for fashion and make-up.

Amidst the rise of the coquette aesthetic, women can now embody feminine personas without compromising or nullifying their intellect, autonomy, and other multifaceted qualities. It’s a defiance of patriarchal standards of what it means to be empowered; asserting femininity and intelligence or strength are not mutually exclusive.

After years of the “not like other girls” phenomenon antagonizing this — it’s refreshing for the tables to turn. To witness the emergence of celebrating girlhood, confidence, and freedom through different subcultures. My friends and family often associate me with Barbie, a character I proudly resonate with as we both share a love for achieving many ambitions and interests, valuing female friendships, while being dolled-up. Wasn’t this optimistically indicative that our love for femininity was finally being validated for me and many girls?

Despite this seemingly affirming stance, it may not be the glittery and inspirational feminist win we think it is.

Dumbing things down is a tool for anti-intellectualism

Screenshot from Nikita Dumptruck/TikTok

Screenshot from Nikita Dumptruck/TikTok

Bimbo feminism has been criticized in many political social circles and the feminism theory spectrum. Radical feminists, such as Clio on TikTok, said it is counter-intuitive to dumb down significant topics for girls. This further perpetuates the trope of dumb women.

This is precisely what TikTok user, Nikita (@nikitadumptruck), openly embodies through bimbocore. Just months ago, many users found the influencer’s “bimbo-fied” videos on international relations, economy, and history “for the girls” both entertaining and helpful.

With over 730k followers, Nikita “girlsplains” complex events by exemplifying them in gossipy anecdotes and as she struts down the street in a feminine outfit. Laughs and memes quickly turned into backlash as she released her video regarding the Palestine genocide, where she discusses the situation in the same patronizing and gist-style nature.

I quip about inside jokes such as “girl math” and “girl logic” with my friends. But beneath the seemingly harmless veneer lies an undertone that’s difficult to ignore. It symbolizes divergence from the initial intent of subverting feminine traits; giving way instead to reductive stereotypes of women as lacking in problem-solving or decision-making. Are we not capable?

And it’s disheartening to see that women are turning themselves into the butt of ridicule when we should strive to move past such constraints. Bimbo feminism allows men get to have the last laugh and effortlessly get away with jokes like “Barbie is a plastic doll with big boobies.”

It's especially dismaying when considering the dire situation in societies like Afghanistan, where women's rights and education are under threat. The perpetuation of bimbo feminism fosters a culture of anti-intellectualism, contributing to impeding progress. And rather than working towards disproving the very patriarchal norms it stands against — it inadvertently reinforces traditions previous generations of women fought tirelessly to dismantle.

In an interview with TomasinoWeb, local Filipina feminist publication Gantala Press coordinator Faye Cura focused on the dormant link between bimbo feminism and our consumerist culture.

She said, “We should look at who benefits from the propagation of bimbo feminism.” She refers to the capitalists who have become beneficiaries that seize this trend and market, ranging from beauty products and expensive cosmetic procedures through media influences — films, books, and advertising.

She also said that another group that likely sees perks in bimbo feminism is the powerful class, who are influential in reinforcing ideologies onto women. “[Ideologies like] women should not be critical, not dare fight for what she thinks is right; that staying pretty is the priority, not questioning society.”

A palatable, picture-perfect feminism

Photo from Legally Blonde (2001)

Photo from Legally Blonde (2001)

Bimbo feminism may initially seem appealing due to its palatability. It’s a softer and more digestible image of emancipatory feminism that feels safe and unintimidating. It exists within circumspect areas that aren’t too radical or courageous.

“In some cases, bimbo feminism has been empowering for women, especially in my generation, when it comes to their self-confidence and embracing their hyper-femininity,” UST Hiraya member Genah Alquiza told TomasinoWeb. However, she also recognizes that even if bimbo feminism aims to break from these stereotypes, it sets a limitation on women by perpetuating they cannot perform certain tasks. And at its core, “bimbo is meant to be derogatory.”

Another member of UST Hiraya, Joana Yabut, also added that bimbo feminism is being reclaimed through embracing patriarchal feminine stereotypes — namely, being attractive, airheaded, and innocent. These messages of feminism are effectively channelled through conventionally attractive women, much like those seen in beauty pageants. It’s as if society only lends an ear, takes an interest, or views topics of feminism seriously when advocated by women who conform to conventions of prettiness.

This propensity becomes evident through mascots of white feminism Barbie, Taylor Swift, and Elle Woods. They exemplify how society embraces feminist dialogue more readily when conveyed by women deemed conventionally attractive. Thus, perpetuating the idea that the message gains traction only when delivered through this lens of conventional beauty. This operates within the constraints dictated by the discerning eye of the male gaze.

Hence, it implores a critical question. What consideration is given to the representation of the ordinary everyday woman who does not align with the established beauty standards or isn’t on the corporate ladder? Standing on the shoulders of pretty privilege, bimbo feminism frequently sidelines the contributions of unadorned and visually unconventional women in the feminist discourse.

Clio said that this part of liberal feminism is merely limited to self-help. Popular internet phrases like “Let people enjoy themselves,” “Slay girl,” or “Not a girl’s girl,” have become convoluted. By solely celebrating the seemingly invulnerable ethos, it entraps us from necessary dialogue that doesn’t conform to the mold of attractive, harmless feminism.

Girlish paradoxes and pitfalls

Photo from Nana (2006)

Photo from Nana (2006)

Even as a little girl, I used my trinkets of pink and cute belongings to speak for myself. I fixated on embedding myself within people's perceptions of femininity. As I “girl bossed” my way through threads of unadulterated girliness, it was my act of resistance against an era that loathed femininity and some girls who mocked my love for the color pink or anything girly.

As I reassessed my embodiment of femininity and possessive attachment over a color borne from the marriage of red and pink, I was prideful in noting that my enjoyment of being a girly girl is not inherently wrong. Yet, there’s a need for caution in endorsing convoluted views of femininity that only cater for the male gaze. It’s a moment to ponder for me, to understand myself as a walking and imperfect contradiction.

In conversations with my girl friends last month, we agreed that being girly and seeking inspiration in feminine characters were nothing to be ashamed of. This wasn’t exactly the problem. What makes it difficult is seeing others weaponize femininity to backtrack significant movements and erase hard-fought efforts of intersectionality; coupled with women who are influential in lowering themselves. What may begin as lighthearted and frivolous slogans are now morphed into aesthetics, lifestyles, and eventually principles into societal norms and practices in the blink of an eye.

Bimbo feminism places us at a disadvantage. And we cannot afford something that will take us steps back, especially in a world where we have to ask men to imagine us as their sisters or mothers, simply to seek basic decency.

Bimbo Feminism

Girl Math

Girl Logic

Girl Dinner

Media

Empowerment

Profile picture of Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro

Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro

Blogs Editor

Mikaela Gabrielle De Castro is the Blogs Editor of TomasinoWeb. The clad-in-pink girl is an Asian studies major who passionately covers cultural criticism, identity, media, and literature. She also writes for the youth and opinion sections of local news outlets Rappler, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the Philippine STAR. When she doesn’t pressure herself to write about everything, she hoards Sanrio stationery and Sylvanian Families, reads sappy non-fiction novels, and rewatches Barbie classics thrice a month.

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