The Devil Helps Women: Anna Wintour as Feminist Icon
Will Ragozzino, Getty Images
She is the reigning queen of New York's fashion week. She likes to be gifted with one-offs from the most exclusive designers. She prefers employees with three names whose parents are linked to oil, art or billions. She demands that the people around her look impeccable -- and if they don't they will be sent away so as not to offend her senses. She loves to embody elitism and can hold a grudge for a simple slight like no one else.
So how could this woman (and if you haven't already guessed this woman is Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour) -- who upholds and demands a standard of beauty that most women will never attain – also be a feminist icon?
Recently I got into a fight with my friend, a founding editor of a prominent women's Web site, over Anna. I was explaining to her how, despite all of the above, La Wintour was the epitome of a post-modern feminist. My friend was aghast. "How can you say that?" she exclaimed. "Look at what she does for women's self-image! Look at how badly she behaves. She's a monster."
Feminism is about promoting women, seeking equal or greater women's rights -- especially in business -- and building women's power, I explained. Wintour has done exactly that for the people who work for her.
Let's be clear. I have not worked for Wintour, nor likely will I ever. I may live on the same NYC Street (Sullivan) and wear YSL (sometimes), but I'm not her preferred type. I'm from a middle class family in Ohio and Northern Kentucky. I don't have three names and my shoes are almost always comfortable. But I still respect the hell out of the woman who said in "The September Issue," the documentary about Vogue's phone-book thick fall book that debuted last year, "[My greatest quality is] I'm decisive." Anyone who has had a pusillanimous boss can appreciate that.
As the former deputy editor of Page Six -- the notorious gossip column of the New York Post -- I wrote my fair share of articles chronicling Wintour's behavior and idiosyncrasies. But frankly, that's all skin deep -- and boring. If you take a closer look, Wintour is not a mono-chromatic being, a caricature of excess. Here is a woman who has forfeited a large part of her personal life to become not just the editor of Vogue, but the most powerful figure in the fashion world, controlling the flow of billions and a mini-conglomerate ... all on her own.
Nobody picked up the phone and got her a job she didn't deserve. She got them on her own. And while she may have sacrificed a marriage (she divorced ex-husband David Shaffer after getting caught in an extra-marital affair with current boyfriend Shelby Bryan), she didn't sacrifice her children. Charlie, 25, and Bee, 23, are, by all accounts, well-rounded, hard-working, properly-parented people.
If anyone is lucky enough to work for her and not leave after a year to write a nasty but highly successful tell-all like one famously former assistant, they will learn at the foot of a master. They will also be promoted to an enviable position within the magazine. And, if they ever leave Vogue and need another job, Wintour will help them get one, and it will usually take about a day.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff left Vogue as the director of special events last year. This year, after Lincoln Center's president Reynold Levy met with Wintour, Winston Wolkoff was installed as the center's first fashion director. Wintour also promotes the careers of her former employees, and cultivates their creativity.
Claiborne Swanson Frank, a former assistant turned photographer, told refinery29.com, "The best thing I ever did was work at Vogue and be under the mentorship of Anna. I found her to be totally brilliant and extremely fair and supportive." With Wintour's support, Akris, the chic Swiss fashion house, held a photography exhibit of Frank's work on Fashion's Night Out last Friday
And let's not forget the careers of female fashion designers, such as Stacey Bendet (Alice + Olivia), Donna Karan and Miuccia Prada, amongst many others, who would be floundering without her support.
Another thing people miss: The woman is funny. When PETA was in full protest of her support of fur several years back and protesters were working themselves up into a paint-spattering furor outside her Conde Nast office, she sent white-gloved staffers out to greet them with silver platters of rare roast beef. When the book "The Devil Wears Prada" was adapted into a film, Wintour showed up to a screening with Meryl Streep ... wearing Prada.
So yeah. Wintour's elitism may put some people off. But that still doesn't take away from the fact that this woman in a position of unrivaled power in the fashion and magazine industries nurtures and supports other women.
Now, tell me: Why she isn't a feminist icon?
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