Was Bettie Page "Really" a Feminist?

She undoubtedly represents and contributes to women’s empowerment, but does the F-word apply to the Queen of Pinups?

bettie money final sharp 30.jpg


Bettie is often hailed as a feminist icon – and rightly so. As I wrote in The Little Book of Bettie: Taking a Page from the Queen of Pinups, she earned a bachelor’s degree at a time when less than 4% of women were college graduates, and she was the rare woman of her time who lived independently and supported herself. She unintentionally blazed a trail as a key figure in the sexual revolution and one of the top supermodels in history, despite having been rejected by Ford Models for being too curvy. She survived numerous traumas and other hardships throughout her life and has inspired countless women to live fully and freely in many respects.

Some folks debate whether she was “really” a feminist… she’s not on record as saying so definitively either way, but in an interview with Playboy, she was asked directly if she was a feminist. Her answer: “Women should have equal employment rights. A woman who does the same job as a man should get the same money.” Alas, women today make only about 80% of a man’s wages, on average, and this rate is even lower for women of color.

So, Bettie clearly had feminist leanings but then goes on to say: “As for women who don't want men to be courteous, to give a girl their seat on a bus, I don't go in for that. I think women should enjoy those niceties and courtesies from men.”

To each her own, but my thinking on this is that people of all genders should be equally courteous to each other and to the elderly, pregnant women, etc. I believe an able-bodied person in general should hold doors for others and give up their bus seat for an elderly or ill person. I also think it has to do with intentions and whether the gesture is rooted in gender stereotypes… For example, if a man is giving up his seat or helping a woman because he thinks she is inherently more fragile and in need of protection, that constitutes “benevolent sexism,” a practice that researchers have linked with rape culture and victim-blaming, gender inequality in the workplace, and even cardiovascular disease risk in women.  

And guess what else? Benevolent sexists will be chivalrous and adoring as long as you correctly perform your gender as they believe women should, but will reject you when you step outside those lines. So, benevolent sexism can be sneakily harmful in ways that are harder to discern and confront than with hostile sexism.

Side note: As for whether Bettie was “truly” a feminist, I believe that someone can contribute substantially to a cause (in Bettie’s case, feminism and while we’re at it, body positivity) even if it isn’t intentional and even if they don’t call themselves a feminist – although I highly recommend it, of course!

What do y’all think about all this? Comment below or on this post on IG or FB.