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The world of hipster sexism Welcomes you

It's empowering to be objectified. Especially wearing lace panties and an apron whipping up a pisco sour in the kitchen, while your fully clothed man waits outside.

I spy this scene in an open edition of Stab surf magazine at a hipster coffee shop (ironically, owned by two sassy young women). "Do you want sugar?" the barista asks. "No," I say, glaring at the cover, "a spoonful of sexism is more than sufficient."

Welcome to the world of hipster sexism: the brother of surfer sexism; cousin of liberal sexism; and son of retro sexism. Under the umbrella of "self-aware sexism", this is the use of mockery, irony or satire to say, "Look, we're in the post-feminist era, so it's safe to pretend we're back in the 1950s."

A screenshot from a video on the Stab website, directed by Beren Hall and featuring surfers Alana Blanchard and Jack Freestone.

Old-fashioned objects and ideas are rebranded as hip and cool. Like a guy calling his wife "the ball and chain". If you criticise it, you're a harpy with no sense of humour. (The barista barely conceals an eye-roll.)

Some shoots in modern magazines "mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past", writes Anita Sarkeesian on her website, Feminist Frequency - like the aforementioned fashion spread featuring pro surfers Alana Blanchard and Jack Freestone. The couple are also shown on the cover. She is in bikini bottoms and stilettos, kneeling in a wading pool. He is fully clothed, forming a fountain with a garden hose and looking disinterested.

In the issue, Blanchard is lauded for her looks; Freestone is touted for his talent. She's "one of surfing's loveliest muses"; he's "dialling in some of the best airs and turns we've seen".

The editor claims the mag is aimed at "sophisticated men" and "empowered women". The Stab website features a link to a video clip featuring the "still stunning" Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira almost drowning - in which she says it's "more acceptable for a guy to die doing a crazy sport and pushing the limits and doing his thing, than a woman". The opening statement from a "guest" on the page's online commentary section: "No girl ever drowned baking in the kitchen!"

"Sophisticated" readers? Enlightened irony? I think not.

Scratch the surface of the retro sets, edgy graphics and '60s font for the ugly truth: it's still sexism. Cultural historian Judith Williamson called hipster sexism "sexism with an alibi" to "keep women in their place".

As American author and journalist Alissa Quart writes in New York magazine, "it can only reinforce the basic problem, which is that women are paid less and (degradingly) sexualised".

Remember the Roxy promo video starring surfer Stephanie Gilmore? It went viral a few years ago. The six-time world champ is filmed in her bed wearing undies. There's not one shot of her surfing: sexploitation at its finest.

Ocean-lover Olive Bowers, then aged 13, confronted this culture in a 2014 letter to "surfers' bible" Tracks magazine: "These images create a culture in which boys, men and even girls reading your magazine will think that all girls are valued for is their appearance."

A famous example of "hipster sexism" was a 2010 ad featuring the ex-CEO of American retailer American Apparel, Dov Charney, sitting on a mattress with two female creatives, captioned "In bed with the boss". He has since been the subject of several harassment lawsuits.

New Statesman columnist Eleanor Margolis, noted that in the name of "cool", we may excuse men like Charney: "With their 1970s porn star aesthetic seems to come this notion that they're only subjugating women ironically." She also suggested we "be wary of the culture of misogyny creeping into our notion of cool".

Surely part of progressivism is treating women like human beings instead of objects? As Kelsey Wallace, a lecturer at the University of Oregon, writes on the website Bitchmedia, "It's okay to make jokes. We just need to find ways to laugh that skewer sexist notions instead of fortifying them."

Well, I'd better get back to the kitchen. Hubby's home soon, and that pisco sour won't fix itself.

Tag(s) : #Asia-Pacific

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