Feminism has come a long way. I feel immensely thankful and privileged to live in the UK at this point in history. I’m a strong-willed mama who wouldn’t be at home in 1916 Britain and it’s disgusting that in many places across the world, women are still openly oppressed and repressed. Here in the West, our lives as women have improved vastly and in many circles of life, we can feel that sexism doesn’t exist. I’m pleased that so many men are now standing up and declaring themselves as feminists (RIP Alan Rickman!) but unfortunately, #everydaysexism still exists. There are multiple examples throughout our social media newsfeeds (such as trolls who threaten to rape women who express an opinion) as well as throughout our day-to-day lives (we’ve all seen the catcalling videos).
And then there’s the media in general. The age-old “sex sells” (I didn’t realise I was a prude until I saw this article) and the fact that women who want to be famous (a goal I will never understand) can stand a better chance if they lose weight, dye their hair, get breast implants, botox injections and basically get their kit off.
Does it have to be this way? Am I being too much of an idealist? Do men actually feel the same pressures? Is this the world I want to raise my kids in?
A close friend of mine recently had a bit of a social media rant about the lack of strong, female role models for little girls in her favourite 80s movies. She, like me, was a scrappy little kid who could give as good as she got on the playground. We reminisced about the films we watched as children (some of them not necessarily intended for children to watch, but hey-ho) and it quickly became apparent that the vast majority of them contained male heroes, and that the female characters – where they existed – were passive, weak, objectified by men or just not fully fleshed out characters in comparison to their male counterparts. Who were our favourite characters in The Goonies, Star Wars, The Neverending Story, Flight of the Navigator or Indiana Jones? Who stood out? Who saved the day?
When a film dared to break the mold, we took notice. We may have been too young to watch them but watch them we did: Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, we salute you!
Fast forward to the 21st century and everyone’s wetting themselves over Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And rightly so! I love that Rey is strong, feisty, talented, and not at all overly sexualised. With clothing that wraps her slim frame in such a way as to make her almost androgynous, she is a true role model for those scrappy little girls who don’t want to grow up to be a pink, sparkly, fairy princess. The last time I got so excited about a female lead was when I watched Kill Bill – but maybe that’s not one to show my girls until they’re older!
I’m a bit of a Star Wars heathen because I actually didn’t watch the original three films until I was an adult. I enjoyed them (but I didn’t love them), and one of the first comments I made to The Hubs was that they were rather male-centric as the only main female character was Princess Lea and she seemed rather wishy-washy half the time (sorry fans!). I feel that the new film has burst some of the barriers wide open; from the fantastic female lead to the likable and non-backstabbyLando Finn.
There remain barriers to be broken when it comes to the media-saturation my kids will experience. I still hear people say that female comedians, for example, are not as funny as male comedians. I have to admit that in my experience of the comedians I’ve seen – both live and on TV – this has been true. But I doubt very much that there is any genetic truth in this; I believe, instead, that for a multitude of reasons, fewer women have aspired to become comedians, and that of those who have, fewer have been able to break it into the mainstream. Therefore, what we have seen so far is unlikely to be the full extent of women’s talent in this regard.
I want to be able to tell my girls that they can be anything they want to be, if they work hard enough for it. What I don’t want to have to tell them is that they’ll have to work harder than men to get there, or that when they do, they’ll be expected to do or say things that a man would not be expected to do or say. And yes I am an idealist, because I believe we’ll get there. Let’s just hope it’s some time soon.