Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about where I fit into society, what is my identity? Checked boxes on a questionnaire might describe me as “white British”, “18-25”, “female”, “graduate”, “single”, “employed”, “Christian”. All labels, and none that make me unique, but that mean I belong to a certain category of the population. The last year of emerging from the student bubble into the world of work has made me think more about my role in society, and especially as a young woman. What does it mean to be a 20 something girl in Britain right now?
These are confusing times for young women; we have more opportunities than ever before and access to an incredible education, yet still we are pummelled with the idea by the media that it is our appearance that counts for the most. And the so-called “ironic” lad-culture that pervades our culture doesn’t exactly help. It seems hard to know what to aspire to sometimes, we’re told that we can have everything if we go and get it. Would wanting to change my body make me a superficial person? Or is that empowerment – taking control of the way I look in some way? Should I strive for a high-paying job because if not, I’m not taking full advantage of my education? Or does that mean I’m succumbing to society’s pressure and really my degree would be better spent doing something much less well paid that I enjoy more? Should I be so ambitious that I tread on people’s toes, or allow myself to be walked over in order to be “nice”? Does liking romance and going on dates make me less of a strong and independent woman? Or does not feeling like I need those things make me boring? The mixed messages that fly at us create a minefield of confusion. Enough to make even the most secure and grounded of girls question themselves.
Earlier this year an interview with the popular X-factor contestant Ella Henderson made headlines when her publicist refused to let her answer the journalist’s question of whether she was a feminist or not. Seemingly, feminism would create negative associations not appropriate for the mass market appeal of a teenage pop singer. In an interview with the wonderful Mary Berry, the feminist cause was again shunned when she claimed that she doesn’t want women’s rights “and all that sort of thing”. Now I love Mary Berry but sorry what? Like the right to vote? Berry also cited feminism as a dirty word, which unfortunately it does seem to have become for many. In 2013, the word “feminism” seems to conjure up visions of militant, man-hating, hairy legged women, an off-trend movement that can lead women in the public eye to back off hurriedly from any association with it.
I’m trying to figure out society’s mixed messages as I grow, shaped and moulded by my own experiences as well as those of others and their opinions. What I am clear on however, and would like to focus on here, is that our rights as women are of utmost importance, and not to be downplayed. I think the source of a lot of the confusion comes from the question of a woman’s role and unhelpful messages from our culture that promote bodies over brains. And I believe that downplaying feminism and its importance for us as part of society is a mistake. The aforementioned negative connotations of the word are far from the true meaning of feminism, which the Oxford dictionary defines as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. That’s it, pure and simple. Being a feminist means that you believe in equal rights for men and women. It does not mean that you hate men, or think that women are better. It does not mean that you are a bra-burning crazy person, or that you can’t wear make-up, like shopping, or indeed, shave your legs. It does not mean that you reject chivalry or believe it’s wrong to cook a man dinner. Nor does it mean that all women should be high flying business women and that staying at home after having children is a crime.
What it means is believing that if a woman wants to go back to work after giving birth, she is entitled to. It means believing that men and women should have equal pay and equal opportunities. That women should be able to live without fear, that they should be free from violence, that they should have an equal voice in society. That they should have all of the same rights as men. That is being a feminist, whether you’re male or female. I’m unsure about a lot of things, but I’m certain feminism is a cause to believe in.
This blog is also available to view at http://www.the-dutiful.blogspot.co.uk/, a collaborative blog with a fresh take on feminism.