Over the summer, I read British columnist Polly Vernon’s book, Hot Feminist. It wasn’t really an eye-opener as much as a validation of everything I had learnt from my Hot Feminist mum over the years.
The most important message of the book is this: if you believe that women and men are equal and should have the same rights and opportunities, you are a feminist. If you waste a lot of time worrying about being a bit fat, going on silly fad diets and spending more money than you should on hair products; if you planned your Christmas party outfits in November; if you love men – looking at them, fancying them, flirting with them – and you also believe that women are equal to men, you are no less of a feminist! You, my sexy friend, are a Hot Feminist. And there’s no shame in that game.
It’s a sad truth that women can actually be each other’s worst enemies and are often the biggest challenge to overcome in the fight for equality. We limit ourselves passively and each other aggressively. Many women with feminist beliefs are quick to judge other women on how pure their feminism is and how much they portray its traditional opinions. So much so that we’re all quite confused as to what feminism means, whether we qualify or, indeed, whether we even want to.
While heroes like Emma Watson and Patricia Arquette have spurred a sea change with their public support for women’s rights by speaking out publicly on the fundamental credentials of feminism, celebrities such as Marion Cotillard, Katy ‘I-kissed-a-girl-and-liked-it’ Perry and Lady Ga Ga have all denounced the cause.
Even Beyoncé, who apparently ‘runs the world’, has skipped nervously over whether she is a feminist or not, recently saying “That word can be very extreme... I do believe in equality... but I’m happily married. I love my husband.” She is just one of the many confused women who’s not sure what feminism means and whether they want to be labelled as such.
Judgement and confusion about what constitutes feminism is hampering the latest wave of support for the cause. Male-dominated, mainstream media would have us believe that feminists are angry, hairy, silly, man-haters. (And who wants to associate with that?)
More dangerous is the latent implication that we already have equality; that this Spice Girls and Sex and the City generation of ours ‘has it all’ and should be happy. In fact, what we have is more pressure than ever to outperform, more opportunities to be judged and we often have to work twice as hard as male peers while taking only half the glory (and the salary).
Yes, a woman is running for president of a world super-power, but she is also being attacked almost daily for her trouser suits and her ‘bad’ hair. That’s a Sex and the City version of equality – women, you are welcome to try to play the power game, but you’d better look immaculate while doing so.
Don’t believe that because we can earn our own pay cheque, drink cocktails with our friends and date whom we like, that we are enjoying equality. We have a long way to go.
I’m not asking you to protest in the streets – keep your bra on for now. But have a think about what feminism means. It means that you believe men and women are equal, and nothing more. Don’t be scared of it. Being a feminist needn’t affect your manicure addiction, or your secret crush on your son’s soccer coach. But for our daughters’ and sons’ sakes, if you think we are equal and deserve to be treated so, let it be known. And be proud of that belief.