We Are Feminists: A Student Perspective

A big thank you to Saffron Rain, a current English Literature student, for this ‘We Are Feminists’ blog. An earlier version of this post first appeared as ‘Future Feminists’ on her own blog, Storm in a Teacup.

–Amber Regis

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I’ve always been a strong believer in feminism. This was due to my upbringing and the household I’ve been accustomed to, so studying the subject at school and university has simply reinforced these values. But it seems that in today’s society, feminism needs a revival. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s feminism was at its peak; it was acknowledged by the vast majority and capable of bringing about change. But has society kept its pledge of equality between the sexes? We’re constantly told this is the case, but to what extent is it actually true? Women account for just 5% of editors at major newspapers, just 4% of  CEOs in Fortune 500, while at the Bank of England women are under-represented at all managerial levels and all four governors are men[[Edit: The Bank of England appointment a woman to the position of Chief Operating Officer on 1 July 2013.]] This doesn’t appear to be equality. Just because we believe we’re doing something doesn’t mean that we are. This isn’t change.

Paper doll graffiti in a public street - RomeExpectations of women can still be pretty traditional. For example, maternity leave provisions are still more generous than those allowed for paternity leave. And it is still more likely that women will work part time, or not at all, after having children in order to take responsibility for childcare. I’m not arguing against this decision, but rather I’d like to question why this responsibility is still perceived to be (for the most part) women’s work. To what extent does societal influence determine the balance of responsibility within the home? Is it still a common presumption in our society that women will take greater responsibility for children and domestic labour?

My main issue at the moment is the media’s emphasis on the way women look. Women as a target audience are constantly bombarded with ‘ideal’ images: fake tan, make up, hair dye, beauty products, heels, dresses, nice clothes, etc. All these things alter appearances. The media implies that in order for a woman to be considered beautiful she must meet certain ‘standards’. This can be seen most clearly in advertising. For example, Coke Zero’s 2012 advertising campaign used ‘ideal’ women in hot pants accompanied by the slogan, “The Possibilities are Endless”. For me, this attempt to market a drink by ‘selling’ the sexualised image of women’s bodies is haunted by spectres of sexism.

feminismThis is where I seem to contradict myself in my views. I believe in equality and I think there’s more society can do to achieve this goal. Yet, at the same time, I also take pains over my appearance (but I do not use fake tan!). Today I’ve been to get my hair cut, coloured and styled. I’m really pleased with it—partly for myself, because I like to look good, but also (I fear) because I seek society’s approval. I want to be seen as someone who is responsible and in control of the way she looks.

And this is where the problem lies. Am I sticking to my feminist roots, empowering myself by crafting my self-image? Or have I become another victim of the beauty industry and society’s expectations? I think it’s the former. Image and way you present yourself is a huge part of daily life for both men and women. I also have ambitions. I want to be a writer; I want to change that 5% figure and find my place in the editing world. But the issue is whether women are being prevented from achieving these goals by societal structures.

I am a feminist. I am someone who believes in equality between men and women. I support equal opportunities. The problem I have with society now is that progress appears to have stalled and outdated attitudes seem to be reappearing. I worry when I see misogynistic attitudes being held by members of young generations. Feminism needs a revival.

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