Recently, I’ve been re-watching one of my favorite series, The West Wing, a political drama that began in 1999 and lasted for seven seasons. In its first season, the series won nine Emmys, and in all seven seasons, it won 27 Emmys. In 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, The West Wing won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. It has been one of my favorite series for years, although I did not start watching it until it was in the fourth season.
In the second season, the season I mostly recently finished re-watching, a new guest actress joins the cast for several episodes. Her name is Ainsley Hayes (Emily Proctor), and she is almost the complete opposite of those in power in the White House. Ainsley is what they call a “blonde, leggy Republican,” and people often assume that she is “ambitious, mean, and stupid.” However, immediately after she enters the picture, she easily defeats one of the main characters, Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), in a battle of wits on the hypothetical political debate show Capitol Beat. The President is impressed by her and asks her to serve by joining the White House staff as Associate White House Counsel.
Sam and Ainsley actually become quite good friends after she joins the staff, despite their differences in the beginning. She has a lot to teach him during her stay on the show, and he unwillingly learns from her, even when it comes to such touchy subjects as feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Ainsley openly shares her view on the subject of feminism, not scared to voice her opinion to the opposition and argue her point very well.
As a Republican, she believes in having only laws that are necessary. She considers the ERA to be redundant, as the Fourteenth Amendment clearly states that every citizen of the United States is equal under the law, and therefore, the Equal Rights Amendment is unnecessary. As Sam argues with her though, she slowly builds up momentum to the true reason behind why she opposes the ERA, as explained in the second season episode “17 People.”
In the third season, Ainsley shows up again in the episode “Night Five.” During the course of the episode, Sam compliments Ainsley on her attire, and a woman who is working as a secretary for the week feels insulted by Sam’s choice of flattery. Ainsley, however, was never offended by Sam’s words and later explains to the woman what feminism means to her. Ainsley’s feminism of choice: something called lipstick feminism, which says that a woman is not weakened by her sexuality but empowered by it. She explains:
Lipstick feminism is part of the third wave of feminism that claims that women are empowered psychologically, socially, and politically by wearing makeup, dressing provocatively, and being sexually aloof, and it states that women are NOT demeaned by sexual advances because of those things. Some feminists, like the woman Celia in the video above, are offended by this because they feel that the lipstick feminist is sexually objectifying herself and therefore succumbing to the patriarchal society we live in.
Stiletto feminism, which the character Ginger mentions in the video, is a bit more radical. It says that the idea of being sexual does not contradict feminism as a whole and that such activities as public flashing, strip teases, and lesbian exhibitionism are not un-feminist because they are done through the personal choice of the woman. They are not forced to do anything they don’t want to do, and that makes them stronger.
Whether you agree with lipstick, stiletto, or a less radical version of feminism, Ainsley is right: If a woman is offended by something, she should voice that opinion, not keep quiet. However, that does not mean that all women should be offended by this.
Ainsley is exactly the strong kind of feminist we need in this society, willing to voice her opinion and not care that others disagree. She is strong, capable, and yet still feminine.