As the mother of a teenage daughter I struggle with her reluctance to call herself a feminist. When questioned on education, equality, women’s rights, abortion, equal pay, women bishops etc etc, she wholeheartedly agrees with everything I say. But when it comes to using the actual word feminist she shows resistance. “Honestly mum, you’re such a feminist” she says with disgust, when I get on my high horse about a particular subject.
She’s not alone, her group of bright, sassy friends are all the same. Today’s 16 year olds think they 100% have the right to be whatever they want to be and that feminism is something that concerns their mum’s generation.
Is this because they haven’t got to the age where feminist issues effect them and don’t yet feel its necessary, or is it that they don’t feel the need to be labelled and want to live in an age where women are simply allowed to be women and embrace all that goes with it?
Perhaps the word feminist needs to be re-branded and move on the from the preconceived image of women in dungarees, marching on Greenham Common. Thank God for those women, had I been a generation younger I would probably have joined them and thanks to them and other passionate campaigners and radicals of the 60’s and 70’s, women’s lives changed changed beyond recognition, allowing us equal opportunities, sexual freedom and political and social choices beyond a life devoted to domesticity and marriage and while we realise their significance, I’m not sure the younger generation do.
Books such as the Feminine Mystique, The Female Eunuch and Fat is a Feminist Issue, were essential reading for all self respecting feminists of our age and they changed the way we saw ourselves and our mothers. We grew up vowing we would never turn into the subservient housewives we saw our mothers forced to be. If we had children, we would also have good jobs and have equality in our relationships. We strived and fought to be the generation that had it all and for a while we felt like we did. Then some of us had children and discovered that perhaps this wasn’t always possible, or easy and that having it all, in some cases, meant doing it all and maybe that wasn’t so great after all.
We need feminism just as much as we always did and the younger generation will hopefully, like us, come to realise that in their own time. But perhaps what we do need, is to re-think the term feminist and what it means in the 21st century.
Do we need to be more realistic about the way women live their lives and embrace the things we love as females. Is it ok to read Grazia and call yourself a feminist, can we fight equal pay and love baking, are we shallow and unintelligent to care about fashion? Maybe its no longer ok to dismiss things as irrelevant just because they are seen are overtly feminine. Perhaps its time to celebrate the qualities and interests we have, that make us different to men.
If the younger generation are growing up vowing not to be as confrontational and overtly feminist as we are – maybe we should accept that and move on to find a new ways to fight our battles. Perhaps its time to utilise our female qualities such as empathy and intuition – that make us so good at conflict resolution – to make our point. Perhaps it’s time to stop fighting, judging and bitching between ourselves and embrace the fact that we are all different.
Some of us like make up, some don’t, some care about fashion, other couldn’t care less. If we love baking and craft, so be it, or if carpentry and car mechanics is our thing, that’s fine. Maybe we don’t all want to be CEO’s or politicians and actually enjoy spending time with our children, knitting or shopping with our friends.
What we don’t need is other women making us feel bad about ourselves because of the choices we make. Maybe the new feminism is less about fighting and more about creating a feeling of solidarity and sisterhood, based on the freedom to be a feminist what ever your politics, lifestyle choices or the colour of your lipstick.