Journalist Mark Rice-Oxley published an aricle for the Guardian on Tuesday 21st November which explores the vitally important issue that men also face oppression, not to the extent of women as Rice-Oxley highlights, but it has to be acknowledged if we are ever to achieve gender equality. This is such an important article to read in understanding feminine and masculine as social constructs (see link for it at the end of this review).
Rice-Oxley’s article is centred around the discussion of fatherhood in the 21st Century, arguing that we are treating stay at home fathers as an ‘oddity’. Some men have spoken out about their own experience as stay at home fathers for this article and it is so important to hear their perspective on the judgment they feel for it. It is not wrong for men to want to spend more time with their children.
“Dr Alpesh Maisuria has experienced this first-hand. The 37-year-old London-based academic says that even in more “enlightened” parts of the economy, bosses are not always understanding. “My value as a bloke in this country is to do with my productivity and output, much more than being a father,” he says. “I would suggest in many instances, even as an academic, the fact that I’m a father might be a hindrance to my bosses.””
Whilst women are striving to be respected in the workplace, we must also recognise that maternity leave is accepted as a traditional thing very easily in our society whilst men are facing judgement for paternity leave or wanting to stay at home on a permanent basis. Rice-Oxley also refers to Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’, published in 1963, which explores, to generalise, the depression women faced as stay at home mothers in the 50s and 60s. Rice-Oxley argues that ‘The question is this: 50 years later, are men facing their own “problem with no name”, a “masculine mystique” which imposes rigid cultural notions of what it is to be male – superior, dominant, hierarchical, sexually assertive to the point of abuse – even though society is screaming out for manhood to be something very different?’. We need to be exploring more about how men are feeling a sense of ‘emasculation’ for choosing to be a stay at home father.
The issues of class and the gender pay gap are also mentioned as being inextricably linked as is it is usually ‘middle-class’ families who can afford for the father to stay at home or at least work part-time whilst less well off families need the man rather than the woman to work in order to have that extra money that would not be earned otherwise.
Rice-Oxley clearly and brilliantly explores how societal issues of the burden of tradition, class and, the workplace amongst others are all intricately linked and need to be picked apart in order to understand how as a society we can decode the social constructs of masculine and feminine in order to progress towards gender equality.
This article was written to advertise the ‘Being A Man festival[which]addresses the challenges and pressures of masculine identity in the 21st century.’ It is taking place at the SouthBank Centre between 24th and 26th November 2017.
I always love seeing editorials celebrating every shape and size and Marie Claire has done this brilliantly in the July 2017 issue. We are increasingly seeing that the fashion industry is becoming more accepting of using larger women in campaigns such as the Be Real Body Confidence Campaign (UK) which launched November 2016 (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/london-fashion-week-body-confidence_uk_58a5c870e4b045cd34bf3fa1). I love how Ashley Graham stated for Cosmopolitan.com in April 2016 “I don’t like the term ‘plus-size.’ It’s just not helping women. I’m ready to get rid of it. If you have to label me, I like to be called ‘curvy – sexylicious.'” Women should not have to be put into a category called ‘plus-size’ – everybody has a unique body shape and we should celebrate that.
Then again, Haley Hasselhoff who is featured in this editorial told the Daily Mail in January 2015 “‘I embrace [the label] for what it is,’ she said. ‘I look at plus size as more of an industry word, but it doesn’t bother me, I love it.'” Whilst I admire Hasselhoff for embracing her body shape, I do believe that what Graham says stands true as everybody is unique and we can’t categorise that.
We are seeing the fashion industry embracing larger women, but rather than focusing on the fact that we are all unique in shape and size, we are instead categorising women. What about women who just don’t fit into the categories of ‘curvy’ or ‘slim’? Maybe they are both? Maybe they are slim but with small curves? How do we measure this? Hasselhoff reinforces this idea by stating that “‘it does seem like people will always want to criticize the fashion industry. They are upset when plus size models aren’t featured in campaigns, but then when they are, they’re upset because they aren’t plus size enough.'” (Daily Mail). We can argue the same when we think about how curvy we have to be to fit into the curvy category.
It seems to me that women are uniquely beautiful and we shouldn’t use categories to define the way we look. If you think you are curvy, don’t let others tell you otherwise, just embrace it, you know your own body.
Moreover, the other problem we have connected to this is that in every day life some women are shamed for being too slim. Some women are naturally very slim and are called anorexic which can have a damaging affect on how they perceive their body. There are so many factors that play into how we look – medical history, hereditary factors….so how can we judge someone for being a particular body type when we know nothing about them? And frankly, why are we judging anyway? So again, we cannot label, judge, and categorise body type as every woman’s body is unique.
Emma Woolf, author of The Ministry of Thinness, shared her experience for The Guardian of being hurt by comments directed towards her for being very slim:
‘A few years ago when I worked in publishing, we’d gather for weekly commissioning meetings in the boardroom. There would be platters of pastries along the table. A senior colleague – a lovely woman in her 50s – would always urge me, loudly, to have a croissant. She would prod me in the side, in a friendly manner, and say: “Look, she’s nothing but skin and bone!”
The fact that I was deeply anorexic and that she was overweight is irrelevant. She was drawing attention to my size in a way that would have been unacceptable had I done the same to her. I’m aware I’m skating on thin ice: what could be more irritating than a thin person describing another person as fat? And yet – for a moment – think about how we describe thinness: skinny, angular, emaciated, bony, skeletal, lollipop-head. These terms are batted about in the media quite casually, without the caution we must now use in our references to fat.’ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2013/aug/05/skinny-shaming-fat-size-appearance (my bold highlighting)
Woolf’s work colleague did not know she was anorexic, therefore like Woolf says, it is the critical comments about being slim we need to focus on when talking about how we perceive body image because for all Woolf’s work colleague knew, Woolf could have been naturally very slim and was being judged for it. As a society we appear to be judgemental of women and men whatever shape or size, further reinforcing the fact that we cannot categorise people into ‘slim’, ‘curvy’, ‘plus-size’ etc.
Furthermore, Rachel Moss, Lifestyle Writer for the Huffington Post UK, argues that we should be careful when asking slim women how they stay so skinny as we do not know what they are going through ‘personally’. Moss states that she had a cough when she was young and went to see her GP who thought she wasn’t being fed enough at home. This was in fact quite the opposite. Moss also says that:
‘when friend’s parents said things like “you get skinnier every time I see you”, “if you turned sideways you’d disappear” and “have more cake, you need fattening up”. I knew these remarks weren’t made in malice, but I still found them insulting.
In secondary school, it seemed the question “why are you so skinny?” was suddenly okay to ask. Teenage girls, not known for their subtly, tended to approach it in the form of: “Oh my God, are you anorexic or something? Like seriously though, are you?”
‘I am 20 years old, in the middle of my degree with the realisation that I will leave university next year and face a world on my own, where women are seen by some as lesser than men; Incapable because they are women – not measured by ability but by gender.’
The quote above was written by myself and I uploaded it on my Instagram on 25th January, a few days after the Women’s March and the day I finished by first semester university exams. I had been dipping into the news of the reaction to the Women’s March during my revision and the end of my exams was my chance to fully absorb what was happening to our world. I suddenly felt overwhelmed and defeated. Then I realised I needed to get my voice out, I needed to say something.
In 2014 Emma Watson stated in her speech for the launch of HeForShe with the UN: ‘If not me, who. If not now, when.’ I turned 20 at the beginning of this year; a year that began with Donald Trump’s electoral win which felt like hope for gender equality had plummeted. But it also started with the Women’s March and recently the Women’s Strike.
Feminism is more important than ever before. The sheer fact that we need to ask such basic questions as ‘Why are women sexualised in the workplace?’ and ‘Why is there still catcalling?’ is shocking. I have grown up in a society where equality legislation has been in place since the mid-1970s and yet we still have to fight the same battles – I find this baffling for a society which appears to champion individuality. What changes have been made? It certainly feels like there has been progress with the apparent increase of women progressing in the workplace and more men choosing to be stay at home parents, so why are we still talking about the need for equality?
At 17 when I started my second year of college the HeForShe campaign kicked off with Emma Watson’s empowering speech on feminism. For the first time I was told that equal rights was a human rights issue. Men needed equality too. I started to discuss this with people around me, asking questions such as ‘Why are men told nursing is a female career?’, ‘Why is being a full-time dad by some deemed feminine?’
Gender stereotyping from my own experience seems to be ingrained into children from a young age. A significant moment for me was when at age 14 I walked over to the Topman tills with my parents. I was buying a jumper. The woman on the till asked me ‘Is this a present?’ My mum just replied ‘No it’s for my daughter’. The look on the woman’s face was surprise. I remember feeling conflicted. Why was it assumed that a 14 year old girl could not wear a man’s jumper? From this point I began questioning gender stereotypes.
Still aged 14 I started the school year with a leather black and white box shaped sports bag; the new trend in my high school. But there was a colour divide. The girls would have pink, green, blue and yellow. You know, colourful. The boys would have black, white or grey. My black and white bag received some funny looks and my girlfriends were confused. They would say ‘Why have you got a boys bag?’ Or the outright, ‘Your bag is so boyish’.
My parents did not push me to be more feminine because I was a girl. They let me make my own assumptions about what my sexuality means. Therefore it was my outside influences that were telling me that I couldn’t dress in a masculine way, revealing to me the gendered stereotypes.
I have many interesting conversations about gender stereotyping with my friends. One time a friend and I went out for a run and we started talking about why running as a young woman feels so empowering. One of the reasons we came up with was that traditionally sports are deemed masculine, especially running. But in the last decade or so more and more women are running or taking on these ‘masculine’ sports. We wondered whether we felt empowered because we were doing something rebellious, you know, against the patriarchy. This makes sense when women regularly get catcalled – because women obviously need men honking on their horns when driving past?? We hear stories all the time of women getting catcalled for wearing tight jeans or a short skirt but a friend once told me that she got catcalled for wearing joggers and a baggy t-shirt…so we get catcalled because we are purely women, it’s not just because of what we wear. It is so objectifying, we should be allowed to wear what we want without feeling self-conscious that we’ll get a ‘hey beautiful’, a honk of a car horn, or a pathetic whistle. But then we thought, if sports hadn’t been stereotyped as masculine, we would still feel empowered because running just feels so freeing and clears your head. The conversation ended with just feeling like these masculine and feminine stereotypes are so confusing and are hindering progression for gender equality.
Last week I got the role of PR Officer/Radio Co-ordinator for the University of Liverpool Feminist society. I am so excited to work with an amazing group of people to spread awareness of the need for gender equality. With the election of Trump , but with an increase in women in government and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making his cabinet ‘equally balanced between men and women’( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/04/canada-cabinet-gender-diversity-justin-trudeau), it is such a crucial time to be pushing the discussion of feminism. However, still ‘Globally, there are 38 states in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of June 2016, including 4 chambers with no women at all’ (http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures). We have a long way to go but progress is being made which is something we need to celebrate.
International Women’s Day this year was celebrated in incredible ways. A few companies got in touch with me after I posted a tweet, asking what people were doing for IWD. The PR team at Wix.com, a leading web development platform wrote to tell me that they created ‘t-shirts for women of the company stating ‘These boots were made for leading’; gave flowers to the staff; as well as paid tribute to a significant woman who worked in the company (Vered Avrahami).’ The fabulous t-shirts can be seen in the article they wrote for their blog (https://www.wix.com/blog/2017/03/celebrating-international-womens-day-around-wix/). The article highlights the important point that as we celebrate IWD it is important to remember that we are striving for gender equality. Wix wrote ‘Did we mention the gentlemen we work with are pretty fabulous, too? To us, International Women’s Day represents a celebration of equality for everyone.’ I also love how they celebrated globally – ‘San Francisco to Kiev, Wix got together to take a moment and celebrate girl power!’ – recognising that we need to unite across all cultures and countries to fight for gender equality.
Hayley Smith also got in touch with me. Smith runs the campaign and told me that ‘Flow Aid… campaigns to provide free sanitary products to homeless women. I spent IWD collecting and distributing sanitary products to homeless women and local charities and shelters we are connected to.’ You can find more information about his incredible campaign on their website http://flowaidproject.wixsite.com/girlshaveperiods/single-post/2016/05/10/Our-biggest-development-yet
ReeReeRockette did the simple gesture of giving her staff flowers at her salon, showing that even he simplest of gifts of appreciation can be some of the most loving and beautiful. You can find ReeReeRockette on twitter at https://mobile.twitter.com/ReeReeRockette.
Emmeline Pankhurst famously said ‘We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.’ This quote was sent to me by Ellen from elfeelgoodsvintage.uk. Ellen told me ‘This quote for me is very inspiring because it’s calling for women and men to work together for equality’ and I couldn’t agree more. This quote has also become very inspirational for me too.
So on reflection, despite the need to keep on fighting for gender equality, we have come a long way, especially in the last 50 years or so. I am currently reading Gloria Steinem’s ‘My Life on the Road’ and ‘The Feminine Mystique’ by Betty Friedan, as well as some feminist writers for my academic study. It is heart-breaking to read about the sheer amount of oppression women experienced, but it also makes me feel so grateful to be a young woman in 2017, a time when progress is really being made and where I am able to have a career and make my own choices with greater freedom than ever before.
Joan Whedon powerfully and brilliantly stated: “Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality. Kind of now.” (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/155424-equality-is-not-a-concept-it-s-not-something-we-should).
I find that when I wake up I am instantly on my phone, checking instagram, twitter, you name it. Have you watched the the youtube video ‘Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace’? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU). A friend sent it to me and it basically made me re-think my whole attitude towards social media. For a while my housemate and I had been talking about the socially damaging affects of it. For example it is so easy to appear brave and confident online, but in person could be painfully shy. We can put a mask on who we are…it seems almost unnatural? I often find I reach for my phone for no apparent reason but to start scrolling through instagram without purpose. Sometimes I would come across images of women who looked amazing, they seemed to have the perfect life, but no one can be perfect. We see glimpses of their day, not every second, not every emotion they felt or experience they had.The Guardian published an article called ‘Is social media bad for young people’s mental health?’ which mentions David Baker, ‘a trainee clinical psychologist at Lancaster University’ who stated that ‘people who compared themselves with others online were more likely to feel depressed’ (https://www.theguardian.com/mental-health-research-matters/2017/jan/20/is-social-media-bad-for-young-peoples-mental-health). I remember uploading a particular image of myself revising in a coffee shop once and it seemed relaxing, fun. Clearly I had had a great day? But I had actually had a day filled with anxiety over an exam and was in tears by the evening. Social media can be a great tool but also very deceiving if we lead ourselves to believe that it can tell us everything about someone.
The same friend I were in a coffee shop once and we were talking about how you can be sat in a restaurant and see people on their phones, not talking to the person they came out for lunch or coffee with. That moment we both realised we had our phones on the table, lighting up with notifications….guilty as charged.
I’m not saying social media is bad as it provides endless possibilities for communication etc. My Dad lives abroad and so having tools like Instagram and WhatsApp is a very easy and extreme useful way to keep in touch. The same article by The Guardian also presents social media in its positive light by mentioning Ashleigh Ponder, a 17 year old girl who had anorexia. From this experience Ponder created an Instagram page called ‘balanced not clean’ (https://www.instagram.com/balancednotclean/?hl=en) which promotes how to eat a healthy, balanced diet. At the time of publication, The Guardian stated that Ponder had 23,000 followers on Instagram (now 24,000), showing that social media can be used to help others and connect with people across the globe. (https://www.theguardian.com/mental-health-research-matters/2017/jan/20/is-social-media-bad-for-young-peoples-mental-health). I also love Instagram pages like SimplicityCity (https://www.instagram.com/simplicitycity/?hl=en) as I learn a lot about fashion history and style. This provides me with endless inspiration for the Fashion / Art Reviews section of this website (you can find a review of SimplicityCity in this section).
But, the fact still lies that social media can be used in the wrong way which can be hurtful and can damage real life conversation. The first rule I gave myself was to not check my phone on a morning before I had said hi to at least one of my housemates. I haven’t always followed this rule but it has made the initial wake up feel more refreshing – it definitely clears a lot of headspace.
So, 2017 is my year to be more in touch with the world, learning more about it, but not just through social media – instead through developing relationships, having experiences that I don’t feel I need to document every second of.
I’ll be writing another post in a few months to update you on this social media cleanse 💫
Last week I finished my exams, thank goodness! I have still been active on Instagram, trying to keep online in the midst of stress and all the inevitable feelings exams bring. I had been on and off with my blog since last September until I re-created it over Christmas – during exam revision (slight procrastination?) But I’m back now in full swing and looking forward to getting into a routine. Before I get into the details of when I will be posting, I would like to explain my plans for the moment about where I would like to see this blog going.
With the inauguration of Trump and the Women’s March, I have realised that I have been trying to fit the role of a style blogger and forgetting that my writing needs to reflect more of myself and therefore the passions who make me who I am. Now of course I love styling and fashion photography, it’s why I created this blog. However, my passion for feminism and my interest in culture and society needs to become a part of it. I posted this on Instagram last Wednesday;
‘I believe in equal rights for men and women. I believe this is a human right. I am a feminist. I am 20 years old, in the middle of my degree with the realisation that I will leave university next year and face a world on my own, where women are seen by some as lesser than men; Incapable because they are women – not measured by ability but by gender. I want to be treated as an equal. I want gender equality.’
I had been trying to keep up with the news about the Women’s March whilst revising for my literature exam. During my first evening of exam freedom (which was a lifetime coming), I started to properly read the signs people were carrying in the march such as a sign which said ‘I can’t believe I still have to carry a sign!’
Furthermore, a group of 26 women learnt the song ‘can’t keep quiet’ through Skype and had never met before the day of the march. In addition, young children, both boys and girls were fighting for gender equality; showing that generations to come are concerned for their future.
I was feeling very low thinking about what society is becoming, why we still have a misogynistic attitude, why the political world appears to be crumbling around us. I admit I am very naive when it comes to discussing politics, but I do know that change needs to be made and I want to, as a young person, make myself more informed about the issues which are going to affect our future.
So my blog will now include an opinions section whereby I will be sharing what I am learning about feminism and spreading awareness of issues that I believe are important. However I don’t want to overload page with lots of different types of issues. For now I will limit it to feminism, the fashion industry and certain campaigns I want to spread awareness about. For example, last week a campaign was launched by MQ: Transforming Mental Health about spreading awareness of mental illness in young people. They are a new charity supporting research in mental health. I shared this on Instagram last Thursday;
‘When I was 7 my mum had to hold my hands by my side so that I would stop obsessively washing them before I ate. When I was 13 it became more apparent that I had mild OCD. I would constantly repeat things such as walking in and out of a room because I felt I hadn’t done it ‘right’. I started to isolate myself from my friends and family. When I was 14 I saw a doctor because I was underweight from restricting my food. I was obsessed with how food looked and whether it was healthy enough. My habits were becoming physically noticeable and I couldn’t see it because I tried to normalise them. It feels like no one truly understands the ‘thoughts’ that tell you to repeat things. Fortunately I had extremely supportive family and friends but this isn’t the case for everyone. The anxiety and stress it causes is damaging. ¾ people don’t get the help they need. Let’s help spread awareness. Let’s fight mental illness. #WeSwear @mqmentalheath’
Mental illness is therefore something I suffered from and something that will always be a part of me. It’s something I have to control. The ¾ figure is astounding. I shared this on Instagram as I believe my experience during my early teenage years is one which I need not hide from. It is one which I want to share to help people know they are not alone and it is very common.
Last Thursday I also shared this on Instagram;
‘So excited to read these books! Inspired by Emma Watson’s book club @oursharedself, and the millions of inspirational women who participated in the women’s march, I am starting to build a personal reading list of books centred around feminism. As a fashion and culture writer and someone who is passionate about gender equality, I feel this is really important for me to do and to translate the importance of feminism in modern society through my writing. Due to having a mum who is passionate about women leadership in her career, the importance of a woman’s independence has been something I have been constantly aware of growing up. This has translated into my love for literature and now as I am creating my own small space on the internet, I hope to be one of the millions of voices to spread the importance of feminism in a way which is personal to me.’
Consequently the last few days have been very challenging in terms of making me re-think what I want this blog to be about. The main features of the blog will therefore be:
News and Opinions – Feminism and spreading awareness of campaigns whether these be issues such as mental illness or within the fashion industry.
Culture – passion of independent coffee shops and bars.
Fashion – style, fashion photography, what is happening within the fashion industry including articles that have inspired me.
I hope you enjoy reading this blog and I would love to hear from you.