Thu, 09/25/2014 - 23:17
Victoria Beckham discovers feminism
As correspondents rush between speakers, interviews and deadlines at the UN General Assembly, there was one event on the agenda that provoked a collective eye-roll.
Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. “Posh Spice,” might be thought an incongruous guest at the world's most important gathering of heads of state, but she didn’t seem to think so -- she missed the opening of her own store in London to be here.
The British fashion designer, who is known for her skeletal pout and turkeyed complexion, had been invited to speak by the United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which has appointed her an International Goodwill Ambassadors with a focus on women and children.
The choice seems like a strange one. Beckham is indeed a woman, with children. But aside from that, a lifestyle of expensive taste, cosmetic surgery and extreme dieting would hardly place her as a source of strength and inspiration for mothers suffering from HIV or AIDS.
Despite her beginnings as a Spice Girl (the British pop group that branded itself on an innocuous form of feminism), Beckham has always made it clear that she never really got the gender equality thing.
In 2002 she she told Cosmopolitan magazine that she would not consider herself a feminist because “I like a man who opens doors for me, takes me out to dinner, buys me flowers”.
Her confusion would be harmless if it weren’t for her influence. In 2007, her very public purchase of a dieting book called “Skinny Bitch” -- something of female misogynists’ manual -- saw the book’s sales increase by 20,000 percent.
The combination has made her a frustrating antagonist to women’s rights activists. Veteran British feminist Germaine Greer described her in 2001 as "a scrawny, sabre-toothed beast".
‘For some reason, people listen to me’
But Beckham’s role as UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for women and children demonstrates an impressive progression from the woman who was once described as “the first lady of extreme-weight-loss regimes”.
It did take a trip to women’s HIV clinics in Cape Town for Beckham to realise that actively supporting women did not equate to men no longer holding the door open.
“I recently visited South Africa and was so touched by the women I met. I felt inspired and I came home and knew I had to do something,” she told UNAIDS on Wednesday. "It really was a life-changing experience. I've never experienced anything like it."
She even acknowledged having acted carelessly, saying "It's taken me getting to 40 to realise I have a responsibility as a woman and a mother". (A rather alarming admission for her four children).
And in an even more startling show of awareness, she said “For some reason, people will listen to what I have to say”.
The address was incomparable to British actress Emma Watson’s rousing speech at UN Women on Saturday, which is being touted as a game-changer for the feminist cause. (Although indeed, Beckham's role represents only one part of the struggle for women).
But it was a very welcome shift in perspective from a former antagonist of women’s rights. As she said so herself, Beckham has an impressive influence. If she starts calling herself a feminist, that really would be game-changing.
Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS appoints Victoria Beckham International Goodwill Ambassador. Photo: UNAIDS. Top photo: AFP.
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