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Does the 'F' word scare you ung women? Emma Pinch discovers if feminism means anything at all to the current generation.

Byline: Emma Pinch

STEPHANIE GENZ cleans, irons and cooks, and admits to a weakness for celeb mags - unusually, she's also a card-carrying feminist. Stephanie, a lecturer in Media and Culture at Edge Hill College sees among her students every day just how far young women have distanced themselves from the F-word. Where their sisters in the 70s were burning their pointy bras, chopping off their hair and closing the gender gap, their noughties counterparts seem bent on the reverse. Young women, if they recognise the ter m Feminism at all, seem to regard it as obsolete - the very antithesis of the pneumatic, kick-ass girls they aspire to be. In a street survey in Liverpool, Katie Price and Cheryl Cole were the most popular modern-day female role models.

Take, for example, Danielle, an 18-year-old Health and Social Care student from Huyton on the subject. "I've got to have my hair and make-up on before I go out the door. Is that Feminism?" she queries. Or Abie McGee, 15, from Wavertree, who frankly acknowledges: "I haven't got a clue what feminism is." "Feminism has become the F word in as much as femininity was the F word in the 70s," explains Stephanie, who has just written a book, entitled Postfemininities in Popular Culture. "I see it with my students every day. It's not a word they want to claim. If you look at my students in their early 20s, they grew up with a negative stereotype of what a feminist is. "We've had the idea of feminist as anti-femininity, ugly, hairy feminists, completely created by the media, and it's a challenge as a theorist and lecturer to dispel the negative connotations in such a loaded term."

So has feminism been trampled to death under the spikes of a million pairs of ankle-wrenching Manolos? Are we, in fact, regressing? Stephanie examined how attitudes to femininity have evolved since the 1960s. "Femininity has been historically a method of subjugating women," says Stephanie. "Why did women wear corsets? It was because they weren't meant to be mobile." After we'd junked trappings of femininity and women were climbing the ladder of Government, and started to take equality for granted, the backlash began. The women we saw on TV and film were contradictory. Bridget Jones, Ally McBeal and Sex and the City, showed women with jobs, without marriage or children, but who enjoyed pretty things, and had messy, imperfect lives women identified with. It signalled that women felt confident enough to admit having it all wasn't all it had been cracked up to be. Now it's gone further.

Being a stay-at-home mum, like our 50s counterparts, is seen as a privilege - because it's a choice. And hyperfemininity has arrived. Millions of girls aspire to the comic exaggeration of femininity, as employed by the likes of Paris Hilton and Jordan. According to Stephanie, it's all part of the new individualised form of feminism, of women feeling empowered to pick and choose what they see around them. Clearly Jordan and Paris have the last laugh, and are far from being exploited. But what about their young imitators? "I don't object to Jordan and Paris Hilton as role models," says Stephanie. "You can see how they are very powerful and have made themselves independent. "Women are doing it to feel good about themselves. but at the same time it's an inherently sexualised thing," says Stephanie. "Who is to say this is empowering or disempowering? Why do young girls wear T-shirts with Porn Star or Touch Here on them? They're quite degrading, but they seem to wear them with pride."

The real danger lies in only having very sexualised, overtly feminine women as visible role models, says Stephanie. "We have very sexualised, powerful entrepreneurs and we don't see any other role models being pushed by the media and that's very worrying. Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair, for example, have been criticised for their lack of femininity. "It's a dangerous and reductive message to use your sexuality and think that's all you have to do in life." But campaigning feminism isn't an anachronism. "The 1960s and 70s forms of feminism, in the West at least, that rely on collective activism, have given way to more individualised, mainstream types of feminism that embrace femininity and consumer culture. "I tell my students, if you believe in equality, that's what feminism is, and you don't have to relinquish femininity," adds Stephanie, a member of the Feminist and Women's Students Association.

"It's ridiculous that it's redundant. In Britain, there's still a pay gap and domestic violence. "The global story has prostitution trafficking and even worse than that." Nowadays, she says, women describe femininity using terms such as empowerment, that can clearly be related to feminism. Danielle, a Cheryl Cole and Jordan fan, sums up her feelings on the matter. "I'm not bothered about feminism, to be honest," she declares. "I'd rather live my life. I do what I want and wear what I want, whatever anyone else thinks." POSTFEMININITIES in Popular Culture is published by Palgrave McMillan, and costs pounds 50. Tel: 01526 302866 to order. What do you think? Email us with your views at, or write to us at the address on Page 8


Cheryl Cole - seen as a strong role model Millions of girls aspire to the comic exaggeration of hyperfemininity, as employed by Katie Price Stephanie Genz feels today's young women have grown up with a negative stereotype of what a feminist is
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 22, 2009
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