The F Word

Feminist.

There I said it. Yes, I am a feminist. Surprised? Anyone?

For the record, no, my legs aren’t hairy (although I am in need of a new razor); yes, I’m single, no it’s not because I can’t get myself a boyfriend, or because I prefer the ladies (I do like the ladies, just not in that way); yes, I own several pairs of doc martens along with several pairs of stilettos, some other shoes and more than a few handbags … what? I need them …

You all know this, of course, so why bother saying it? Because every now and then, it just needs to be said.

Ok, the real story? There isn’t one … there are several …

It starts a few weeks back with a guest blog post Kathryn did about the first book that helped her realise she was a feminist. Her dad, Joe, emailed us all back with the quick retort ‘what about Little Miss Strong then, or Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes “…she whipped a pistol from her knickers….”‘. He was absolutely right, it may have not been Little Miss Strong for me, but it was definitely the heroines of Roald Dahl. I even remember at possibly 6 or 7 doing a version of it as a class drama with me as Little Red Riding Hood and Rewi Elliot as the Big Bad Wolf. Ok so I didn’t actually whip a pistol out of my knickers, but I do remember Rewi’s best impersonation of leery wolf and me staring into his eyes thinking, damn Red Riding Hood is so cool, I want to be just like her! She kills wolves! And … er … pigs … She gets a gun! Of course I can still recite the first half of Dahl’s Cinderella “I bet you think you know this story. You don’t, the real one’s much more gory …”. After her, I guess, came Princess Leia (bold, bolshie, just plain awesome and kick arse …), not to mention some awesome female characters from literature – yes Galadriel is in there as is Arwen, but there was also Nancy Drew, Mrs Pepperpot, Susan from the Half Men of O and … er … The Babysitter’s Club (hey at least it wasn’t Sweet Valley High, I do have some standards) …

We discussed this a few weeks later and we acknowledged that our feminist awakening didn’t just lie in literature, it was because of our upbringing. We were taught from day one to be strong, smart women, to work hard and expect the very best, to not put up with any sort of bullshit that says we accept less than our worth because we are of a different gender. I remember Mum oft telling me the tale of her battle of wills with her father to get a watch – her younger brother got one, so why couldn’t she (Mum was wise to pick and choose her battles, when it came to her brother getting a bike, Mum reasoned that it was far more sensible to catch a bus to school … especially when it was raining …)? Yes Cynthia Heimel’s book Sex Tips for Girls was faithfully given to us as required reading for 15 and 16 year olds by Kathryn, however it was Joe who bought it in the first place (Joe also taught me how to use a knife in a fight … it’s a long story …). I wonder if going to a high school like Wellington East Girls College also helped, especially as we were there when it was the year of the suffragette – I remember a whole year spent on celebrating Kate Sheppard and how NZ women were the first to give women the vote (it also helps that some of the men in power saw it as effectively giving men two votes, as they would most likely tell their wives how to vote … NZ politicians, will do anything to get in power, since 1893), or how Miss Campbell would, at every year end assembly, ask us to all go on to bigger and brighter things (usually with a mention of Oxbridge), be successful and wealthy … and to remember the school when we’re famous …

We grew up, proud to call ourselves feminists, believing in equality and still forever loving the men in our lives and wanting them to succeed and be just as brilliant as us.

So far, so empowering. So what’s the big deal?

Well, there seems to be something in the water … over at Tamasha’s blog she did a post in which she mentions the sexualisation of Halloween costumes, within a week of Lou’s blog on where she mentions the sexualisation of young pubescent women on a prime time, family oriented, talent show. And hell, it bugs me. It bugs me big time.

Kathryn, Rebecca and I came to the conclusion that while we may like to dress up clothes that make us feel confident (and if confidence also includes the word sexy then so be it), we resent being told by someone else (read: people who want us to sell us stuff) as to what constitutes attractive. Here in the UK, women who get their top off and pose lips slightly parted, hair tousled all of the glory of page 3 of some trashy tabloid are called ‘Glamour Models’ – what kind of euphemism is that? Of course, this has become a well tread path to fame here and there are plenty of young girls who aspire to get exactly that.

Or try a drama on telly here called Secret Diary of a Call Girl, a limp, tepid drama about a prostitute who, gets this, does it because she loves sex (for an excellent portrayl of women in prostitution see David Cronenberg’s film Eastern Promises). It doesn’t help that the publicity for this involved posters of Billie Piper posing in lingerie or S&M gear being plastered all over the tube, bus, buildings, free papers … you couldn’t avoid it if you tried.

You’re a young girl becoming woman and aside from the usual media-fashion vicious circle of body image bombardment you also have popular entertainment ganging up against you – what’s the average demographic for the Pussycat Dolls? Apparently the same as that for Bratz, 6 – 9 years olds.

And in what name do they do this all in? Why, feminism of course! Didn’t you hear? It’s all about Empowerment!

No it’s fucking not!

You are pushing products to girls who haven’t even started puberty! And then you’ve done a film of one of my favourite female heroines and have taken away her spunk. I hate to think what you would have done to Princess Leia – oh, wait I already know what you would have done because you turned Leia’s mother into a woman who dies of heartbreak over her man, rather than sticking it out long enough for her son to have never known her and her daughter to remember that she was very beautiful but sad (sheesh!). Yes, she wore the slave girl bikini that launched a thousand adolescent sexual awakenings, but there was no way she was ever going to be someone’s bitch, no jiggling and gyrating to fool Jabba into handing over his set of keys – she’d rather choke him to death.

And yet in the same breath, you will say that feminists like me who disagree with your ideas of Empowerment are taking away all of the fun. Because of course, aspiration to image is far more important that say, being able to afford it or, I don’t know, survive.

You know what, you seem to be succeeding because what I haven’t told you is that the email Kathryn received to do the post was worded thus:

as one of the three women in the office who would call herself a feminist, would you mind writing a few sentences about the 1st book that helped you realize you were a feminist

Yes, it seems that there are so few of us, proud to be called feminists that we can be counted on one hand (it was the same in my film class at uni. In class of around 50 with a ratio of about 60:40, female:male, only two of us raised our hands when asked if there were any feminists in the room. The lecturer (a feminist) was shocked … she wasn’t expecting so many).

So today I say it. I reclaim the F word from the sellers, from the marketing gurus, from the people who think that an audience of children who are yet to start their menstrual cycle would be aspirant to be strippers and take it for myself.

I am a Feminist.

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6 Responses to “The F Word”

  1. Don’t underestimate the Sweet Valley girls! Liz was academically high-achieving, and less socially skilled than Jessica, but was still popular with her schoolmates and boys. The books also tackled issues such as drink driving, and – um – other stuff I can’t remember… oh yes, I think one of their friends was physically abused by her boyfriend or something like that. And there was a profoundly deaf character. And they did voluntary work at a hospital. My point was, it certainly was no ‘girls are stupid and just want to read about cheerleaders and boys and other silly stuff’ series of books.

  2. Yes, ok I’ll take back my Sweet Valley High comments – I have honestly never read them, probably because the covers said to me ‘girls want to read about cheerleaders and boys and other silly stuff’ … yes I know, I’m judgemental about book covers …

  3. Don’t worry – I am too.

  4. SVH wasn’t as bad as you’d think. I can vouch for that. 🙂

    Actually I’ve been thinking about that lately. Hmm.

  5. Whilst I was a big SVH reader, let’s pray they never make a tv series or film out of it. Unless it was made by the types who gave us such subversive treats as Mean Girls and the old tv series Popular, it would be 1,000 times more hideous than the Nancy Drew adaptation sounds.

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