Lipstick feminism is a school of third wave feminism in which women support the belief that it is possible to be a feminist while also displaying femininity, being sex positive, or engaging in other displays of sexuality which earlier generations of feminists once condemned. In the literal sense, lipstick feminists believe that it is possible to wear lipstick and still be called a feminist, since feminism is about much more than how you dress. Some feminists have criticized the lipstick feminism movement because they believe that it is contradictory to engage in displays of sexuality while advocating for equal rights for women.
So-called “third wave” feminism began to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, in response to a perceived failure by second wave feminists. Second wave feminism was marked by extremely radical activities, and a focus on correcting social inequality for women as well as legal inequalities. Second wave feminism empowered many women in the 1960s and 1970s, but it also generated a backlash in some regions, stimulating stereotypes about feminists, feminism, and what it is to be a feminist.
Lipstick feminism is simply one part of the third wave movement, and it is hard to make generalizations about lipstick feminists. Some women, for example, find sexuality empowering and they believe that being positive about sexuality, pornography, and sexual deviance is an important part of the feminist movement. Others would not go that far, but they would say that they do not see a conflict between wearing makeup or dressing up and holding feminist values which include a desire for equality between the sexes.
One aspect of lipstick feminism and the third wave movement in general has been the attempt to reclaim words which were once used to insult women, like “slut” and more aggressive phrases. Some people call lipstick feminism “slut feminism” in a reference both to the desire to take the stigma out of these words and in a nod to the sexual behavior of some lipstick feminists. For a classic example of lipstick feminism, look at people like Madonna, a well known performer who embodies “girl power” for many women.
Lipstick feminism is a topic of intense debate. Some women believe that lipstick feminists are simply playing into age-old ideas about women's sexuality, and that displays of sexual power actually just play right into a patriarchal system which objectifies the female body. Other women argue that by taking control of their sexuality through everything from wearing short skirts to pole dancing, they are empowering themselves and women in general.
One of the more serious criticisms of lipstick feminism is that lipstick feminists tend to focus more on legal challenges and issues for feminists, rather than social challenges, especially the portrayal of women in the media. For example, critics of the movement suggest that it is hard to criticize sexualized displays of female bodies in the print media when a woman sexualizes her own body.