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Can't feminists laugh? The overreaction to Nine West's sexist ad campaign

Nine West's new campaign offends by promoting 'starter husband hunting' shoes. Are we being too sensitive?

Um, how many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

About as many as have clutched their pearls so tightly as to have nearly decapitated themselves over the horror of Nine West’s new ad campaign for its fall line of shoes.

Leopard-print stilettos for “starter husband hunting”? Black peep-toe booties for seeing your kid off for the first day of kindergarten: “The bus arrives and so do the waterworks. Then it hits you: Mommy now has the weeks off. Wipe those happy-sad tears”?

That’s not funny!

Never, it would seem, has the feminist commentariat, from Time to Twitter, engaged in such an outpouring of rage, boycott threats, hand-wringing over the damage to women’s “self-esteem” the Nine West ads could cause, and just plain lack of sense of humor. If you think that feminists are grim, hysterical sourpusses determined to rob life of all wit, fun and glamor, you’ve got plenty of evidence in the anti-Nine West furor.

The main feminist beef seems to be that the ads suggest that women are primarily interested in getting married and becoming mothers. Never mind that that’s exactly what most women are most interested in -- in the feminist world of “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” that’s heresy. Women’s most important interest is supposed to be their careers.

First, there’s Time’s Charlotte Alter, setting us straight on the dogma:

“In other words, Nine West shoes appear to be created only women looking for a man or taking care of kids. Because that’s what women mostly do, right Nine West?”

Beth Greenfield of Yahoo Health calls the ads a threat to women’s mental health:

“Nine West, apparently dissatisfied with the amount of self-esteem issues that women already struggle with, has issued a clear but disheartening message with its latest ad campaign: We know you like pretty shoes, and we know why you like them — so you can do your walks of shame, hunt for husbands, and (once you’re properly married — to a man, natch), send the kids off to school in style. Right? Groan….”

Mary Beth Quirk of Consumerist complains:

“Not even going to ask about shoes for a woman to wear when she hears there are only two important shoe occasions in life and snagging your first job/signing an important client/being a normal person aren’t included.”

And finally, the tweets (reported by Greenfield):

“On Twitter, critics called the ads ‘gross,’ ‘silly & insulting,’ ‘reductive and heteronormative,’ ‘unacceptable,’ and reason enough to boycott the brand. “I definitely don’t need or want husband hunting shoes. In fact, after this ad I don’t need ANY Nine West shoes,” tweeted New Republic editor Hillary Kelly.”

Now, if I myself were as humorless and relentlessly doctrinaire as a feminist, I would point out that the Nine West critics display their own “insulting” and “reductive” prejudices. Namely, contempt for stay-at-home mothers and for heterosexual women’s desire to look sexually attractive to men (via high heels and other accouterments) because they actually are “husband hunting” -- that is, looking for lifelong mates and fathers for their children. Ask most women what’s the most important thing they’ve done with their lives, and they’ll answer: raising their families.

Or I could point out that the Nine West ads are exactly about women who have enough self-esteem to take charge of their quest for mates and enough wit to realize that even the most devoted mothers need a break every now and then.

But instead I’ll simply ask again: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

That’s not funny.

Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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