In 1968, feminists staged a protest outside the Miss America pageant. In 2003, a women's studies major will compete in it.
This confused state of feminism doesn't surface only at beauty pageants. I have sat beside the lake at Wellesley College in Massachusetts with some peers and have been surprised by their comments. These women tell me that the battle for equality has been won. They are respected and feel confident they can get any job they want. Yet they still bemoan the fact that they can't find boyfriends.
When I decided to attend Wellesley more than two years ago, I was staggered by the amount of derision directed my way by peers and some of my parents' colleagues. They sought a rationale to explain my decision to waste my "college experience" at an all-women's college. Even today, a Harvard boyfriend counts more to some than a Wellesley education.
I'm perplexed. Women's studies teaches that the root of feminism is equality for the sexes, both locally and abroad. Feminism has never been about the individual, but about an entire group working for a common goal.
Yet lately, the symbols of feminism resemble the old badges of patriarchy. On screen, female empowerment is exemplified by legions of well-coifed heroines - like Elle Woods of "Legally Blonde" - who save the day without breaking a nail. The new feminist role models value midriff-baring tops, ankle-twisting stiletto heels, and the whistle of male peers.
Nancy Redd, the current Miss Virginia, is a women's studies major who graduated from Harvard with honors. She has the women's studies department's full support for her dreams of possessing the coveted tiara. "This is what third-wave feminism is all about: Be a career woman, be a stay-at-home mom, be Miss America," Ms. Redd told the Boston Globe. "You are in a swimsuit and heels one time; the rest of the time you are out there representing yourself as a sophisticated, intelligent person."
Redd missed the point. She shed a quarter of the 158 pounds on her 5-foot-5 frame to compete for the crown, conforming, in the process, to current notions of beauty.
Perhaps what's being reclaimed by feminists who embrace beauty pageants and impractical shoes is not feminism itself but femininity. Take the resurgence of the color pink, for instance. For decades, pink was associated with everything negative about being a woman. Now, pink empowers and graces everything from Venus razors to Elle Woods's Jackie O-inspired ensemble.
Why are women reclaiming traditional roles and colors? Perhaps some women want to ignore the inequality that persists in our society by coating it in pink frosting. They can strap on those Jimmy Choos and pretend that there is no glass ceiling or rape or sexual harassment.
When I return to campus, I will revel in an environment that embraces my individuality, intellect, and ability and teaches that I am united with women all over the world.
• Elizabeth Nesoff is a junior at Wellesley College.