Fashion, Feminism and Astrology
Yesterday found me flicking through a copy of the relaunched Company magazine looking for emergency blogpost inspiration (or “inspo”, as they call it). I was thinking I’d bash out a quick snarky post about the tyranny of the women’s mag and how they are warping the minds of young women etc etc.
But as I turned the pages, I found myself snarkless. There were no relationship advice pieces, or sex tips. No weight loss articles, or sly ‘how many lovers is too many?’ slut-shaming. No soul-searching cod psychology telling you to be yourself by following a set of detailed instructions. Instead, there were an impressive number of successful, independent, creative women featured, and none of them were asked if they have a boyfriend.
But I knew, I knew this radical refit wouldn’t part with that ageless women’s magazine staple, the horoscopes page. And there it was, tucked in at the back amongst the plastic surgery ads. However this is astrology with what I suspect Company‘s writers would refer to as ‘a twist’ (or perhaps a ‘twiso’). You can find out what the fates have in store for your fashion sense as well as your career and love life with Company‘s Fashion Forecast: ”Librans are very good at mixing up soft and hard trends and finding the right balance. A tip for Librans is to finish off a statement look with some equally statement eyes to match.”
Balance! Like scales! I see what you’ve done there, clever astrology lady. Must have missed the bit about Libran’s skill with hard and soft trends in the Dendera zodiac.
There’s a snippet of fashion fortune for every sign, of which myself and other Scorpios get the short straw (again – our ruling planet Pluto isn’t even a planet any more) via being warned to “choose clothing in lemon and lime.” Gee, thanks. Hopefully my typical Scorpio charisma and piercing gaze will get me through a month dressed as a Starburst.
These suggestions sit a bit oddly beside the commanding tone of the usual astrological edicts to “be patient with those around you” or “make sure you keep an open diary” or “rain vengeance upon your enemies until the fields run with blood” (I made one of those up). The Fashion Forecast assumes a little of the same mystical authority. When my boyfriend (a Virgo) is advised to “don some trinket style jewellery” I hear an unspoken “Or else…”.
Women and astrology
You can probably sense that I’m not a true believer in the influence of the stars on our daily lives. But I think for the most part it does no harm. It gives people a symbolic system which helps them make sense of the baffling experience of being alive. I don’t believe in fate, and there are plenty of people I’d like to take more responsibility for their decisions and choices, but I can also see that lots of people just aren’t equipped to shoulder that burden. In short: life is hard, any port in a storm.
I can’t remember ever reading a fashion / beauty / shit psychology magazine aimed at women which didn’t have horoscopes, and astrology is generally held to be a feminine pursuit. A 2005 Gallup poll found that 30% of women in Britain claimed to ‘believe in’ astrology compared to 14% of men. But then 13% of both men and women said they believed in witches so the common argument that women are more susceptible to believe in magic and the paranormal is hardly watertight. Alarmingly 20% of men in the USA said they believe in witches. Guys. C’mon.
While researching this post I had an interesting exchange with @stfumisogynists on twitter who suggested that women’s interest in astrology might be linked to a wider belief in fate or destiny arising from social conditioning.
@stfumisogynists @sajarina maybe appeals due to a sense of lacking agency? Or at least did, but it now just standard practice. Plus there is something about ideas of women/girls somehow getting ‘saved’ by fate or whatever (often delivering a man), cf. pretty much every fairytale ever.
There’s also something to be said for women claiming and reclaiming a symbolic language and ideas of the sacred separate to the patriarchal power of organised religion. There is a long, proud history of women’s mysticism or participation in magical or occult societies, often bringing women a freedom and license denied to them in traditional belief systems.
Feminism and astrology?
I also happened upon this bizarre ‘Sisterhood and the Stars‘ article by Ophira Edut, one half of the Astro Twins. A feminist former writer for Ms. magazine and horoscope writer for Elle and Teen People. Credit it to her, despite the incredibly irritating habit of dropping people’s starsigns into the piece whenever they’re mentioned, she clearly has a sense of humour and seems to genuinely see astrology as having the potential to empower women and help them to succeed.
She writes “When you know yourself, you can make quick, clear decisions instead of wasting time second-guessing yourself, a huge psychic burden” which I find difficult to argue with. And given that my starting point is that the movement of the planets has no effect on our behaviour or personality whatsoever (until they start exploding or crashing into the sun of course) perhaps astrology can offer an indirect route to self knowledge or at least self improvement. The language makes me feel a bit queasy (“There was so much I could teach them about unity and self esteem from the stars”) but where’s the harm?
Well, I don’t think astrology deserves to be at the top of any feminist’s hit list, but it’s not all fluff. Edut approvingly quotes J.P. Morgan saying that “millionaires don’t use astrology; billionaires do”, a quote which I initially read as negative – because they’re so utterly detached from anything resembling a normal life they need to try and establish some sort of meaning to their existence no matter how absurd and implausible?
But Edut adds “How’s that for an antidote to the seventy cents women earn to each man’s dollar?” It’s a joke, but that’s where I think the harm is. Self knowledge and individual success is grand and I’d say the identification of astrology with the feminine isn’t any more damaging than the other qualities, interests and traits that stick to gender identities like old chewing gum. But women’s magazines peddle spiritual power alongside beauty and sexual power ,and none of them are a substitute for equal pay; bodily autonomy; freedom from violence; status, authority and representation. Reading your fate in the stars might be reassuring, but you might be missing a chance to change the world.