By Leanne Patrick

31st October 2013

I’ve been asked on a number of occasions if I am a feminist and I find the answer difficult to pin down. At some point or other, it’s a question all women are confronted with either from another person or from within. I don’t think I’m alone in finding this a difficult subject to get into and, as a woman, to know where to place myself. Growing up I always believed that I wasn’t and that feminism was a bit of a joke, women seemed equal to me and I have always felt empowered despite my gender. It wasn’t really until fairly recently, as a 26-year-old mother of two, that the doubts started to creep in.

By Leanne Patrick

31st October 2013

By Leanne Patrick

31st October 2013

What would feminism be trying to achieve for the modern woman in 2013? The answer, it would appear, varies greatly. From those seeking to tackle gender disparities in the western world to those who hope to tackle the oppression of women further afield, to those who are simply interested in fairness and equality for all; there are as many different feminist philosophies as there are feminists and each has a different agenda.
But Feminism in the western world would, to the casual observer, appear to be almost entirely redundant. After all, we have the vote; we can choose to work in whichever field we like; we work in positions of authority and are educated to the standard of our choosing and ability. We have freedom and we have choice. So, what’s with all the feminists?

On the surface, it would appear that there is little, if anything, left to achieve. But it doesn’t take much digging to reveal the obvious disparities between men and women and it begins at a very young age. With each gender being assigned their own toys and parents freaking out about their child looking too much like the opposite gender or, heaven forbid, a girl with a boy’s name we’re setting children with a gender role from birth and their natural fluidity is still something society seems to fear. There’s no denying that men and women are different and stereotypes almost always have some element of truth to them, but the rigidity with which we assign our children their genders is proving problematic when we don’t allow our children to express their individuality.

Property
And then we move into society’s obsession with sexualisation. Though it is impossible to sexualise a pre-pubescent child with no concept of sex; clothes designers, parents and young girls are constantly hounded for their choosing supposedly “sexy” clothes. In doing so, we make young girls’ bodies the property of society. We allow people to comment on their appearance, to judge their choices and we invite the media to exploit the situation. We weaken the position of little girls and women by even suggesting that they can be passively sexualised rather than being in control of their own choices and sexuality. Instead of considering that the problem is in the eye of those who consider children to be sexy in whatever they might be wearing, and statistics show that “sexy” clothes are actually off-putting to potential sex offenders, we happily criticise young children for the shape of the pieces of fabric they liked the look of and the parents who empowered them and gave them that freedom. Whilst it can be argued that such clothes should never have been designed in the first place, they exist because there is a demand. Young girls and women do not find themselves wearing revealing clothes for attention simply because the clothes exist, they come from homes where their bodies are controlled and they are not valued. They seek worth because it was taken from them.

It’s a lot like saying that women who are raped are partly to blame for wearing suggestive clothes. Though, once again, the available information shows that the profile for victims who are raped by predatory strangers are almost always modestly dressed. We take some of the responsibility away from the attacker and lay it at the feet of the victim. This is a common belief most feminists share and one that is important and valid. However, where I find myself distancing myself from the common belief is in the idea that men need to be taught not to rape. I think this is fairly offensive to men, as though they are unaware that attacking women is not OK or that they are incapable of controlling themselves. It also misunderstands some of the most crucial elements of rape cases and of the nature of sex offences. At best, it is misguided and, at worst, it’s deliberate lip service for the sake of making a point which I feel harms the cause as much as the general ignorance of society.

Misunderstood
A lot of that ignorance seems to centre around understanding women. The most recent example of this I found in a facebook meme in which former Guns N Roses band member Slash is said to have slated One Direction and the teenage girls who follow them. He is quoted as saying “Their […] career is fuelled by obsessive musically illiterate teenage girls” and “their songs too are meaningless and repetitive and meant to be for teenage girls. Whilst I have been unable to find any further information on this quote, it seems unlikely that it came from Slash whose following in his heyday was predominantly teenage girls, it still represents an existing stereotype within society. Teenage girls are by far the most misunderstood and misrepresented demographic and, as such, it is little wonder that they suffer the highest percentage of mental health disorders. Drawing from this quote specifically, what society seems to overlook is that the music industry and its aggressive marketing tactics are primarily responsible for the seemingly obsessive nature of teenage girls. They are a naturally romantic demographic who become passionate about their interests and whilst the lyrics of One Direction might mean little to most people, to a young girl with a crush they can mean everything. This isn’t an inherent weakness in teenage girls, it’s a positive trait that is repeatedly exploited. The success of One Direction is a testament to how passionate these girls can be and, sadly, to how successfully their marketing team have capitalised upon this.

Role models
It’s this exploitation and the casually enforced gender roles of childhood that has led me to believe that women aren’t yet realising their full potential. I don’t see many women who smash the border between beauty and brilliance. I don’t see many role models for young women. I’m seeing a lot of beautiful women writhing around on men (read, “the real talent”) in music videos; I’m seeing girls out in clubs putting themselves in a position whereby they allow men to take advantage of them whilst still seeing other women and I’m seeing the brilliant female minds of this world looking a little aged and frumpy. I’m seeing too many women handing over their power and too many women reaching their true potential far later than most men. So, my heroines might seem a little unconventional. I can’t say that I think all that much of the incredibly beautiful and talented Nigella who only walked away from an obviously long-term abusive relationship when the media caught wind of it, nor do I think anything of Trinny Woodall for enjoying a date with Nigella’s abuser a few months later in the exact same restaurant he publically humiliated his wife. I don’t think much to feminist icon Germaine Greer and her passionate distaste for everything that I believe makes women strong and beautiful. You’re unlikely to find me supporting supposed feminist Sinead O’Connor who recently tore into Miley Cyrus for daring to compare her recent emotive performance in the music video for her most recent single “Wrecking Ball” to Sinead’s iconic tears in her 90’s hit “Nothing compares to you”. Her crime, apparently, is that her overt displays of sexuality are apparently the result of industry pimping. Not exactly the most empowering response, even if the comparison is a little cringe-worthy. You’re much more likely to find me championing the likes of 23 year old Australian recording artist Iggy Azalea who, as a Caucasian woman, has successfully broken into a world dominated almost exclusively by African-American men. She is not only beautiful, but she is successful, articulate and politically active. She follows her interests, no matter how shallow or frivolous they may appear to her critics and she is proud of her body and happy to bare all like it’s nothing. Because it isn’t. It’s not for titillation; it’s to make a point.

Don’t get me wrong; beauty isn’t everything. In fact, it isn’t even important. But, those who smash the border between beauty and brilliance are far too few and they are achieving something important. They are empowering women to realise their full potential, to realise their true power and to enjoy being beautiful for their own sake, not for marketing tactics of big industries or cheap thrills of others. There’s nothing wrong with being beautiful, or believing you are beautiful despite the commonly accepted ideal, and it has no bearing upon the potential or intellectual capacity of the woman.

The problem
Whether or not feminism has achieved great things in legislative terms recent years, it’s easy to see that society is still a little slow on the uptake. Sadly, women often play a large role in current disparities. The next steps, however, are less about feminism and more about the consciousness of society. The problem is in our ignorance and refusal to open our eyes to the fact that we are all a part of the problem and this stretches far beyond the realms of female inequality and into our unquestioning acceptance of authority. Much of that, naturally, begins with parenting.

So, if you were to ask me if I am a feminist I would probably still say no. I’m conscious of the inequalities faced by women and passionate about empowering women, but I see the problem as being much more complex than something so simple as a male-dominated society. I’m passionate about parenting and the power we hold in building the future generation and, as a result, the problems they will inevitably face.

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