'Imagination will take you everywhere'
Feminism (noun): The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
Ever since Emmeline Pankhurst and her clan of suffragettes adopted the ‘Deeds not Words’ approach and then marched, rioted, chained and starved themselves, feminism has been seen as something of a taboo. Think mad, aggressive, sensitive, impassioned women who grow their armpit hair and burn their bras. Yes, their campaigning eventually enabled women to vote (something we are incredibly grateful for) but the negative stereotype of feminists has taken more than a century to shake off. Now the feminists of today use words not deeds – the written/spoken word is their weapon and the world is their audience.
There has been an increasingly prominent uprising of feminism in our modern age; blame it on the surge in social media, blogging and online forums such as the Everyday Sexism Project, as well as publications such as The Vagenda Magazine, which has contributed to a tsunami of fourth-wave feminism. But mostly it’s down to an undercurrent of cool, intelligent young women who are using the internet like the suffragettes used a soapbox; as a digital amphitheatre in which their voices are hungrily consumed. How many women now describe themselves as feminists on Twitter? No longer is feminism something to be ashamed of, associated with man-hating and angry suffragettes. People like Caitlin Moran, Laura Bates, Leyla Hussein, Grace Dent, Hadley Freeman and Lena Dunham are the new ‘IT’ girls of our society – forget models and actresses, the new role models for girls are wholesome, smart, witty and strong-minded: standing up for their beliefs and equality – a refreshing change amidst a youth culture obsessed with appearance. But best of all, they are influencing the next generation of both girls and boys to become empowered egalitarians.
The Queen of this feminism surge is undeniably Lena Dunham – AKA, Miss “I’m going to live until 105 and I’m going to show my thighs everyday” – the American writer/director/actress, famed for creating and starring in the hit HBO series, Girls. Whose upcoming book, ‘Not That Kind of Girl’, is distinctly similar to the premise of her TV show; depicting the roller-coaster highs and lows of girlhood. Dunham describes herself as “a girl with a keen interest in self-actualization, sending hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle.” Unlike the modern celebrity, she doesn’t hide behind a façade of glamour and false pretense – she’s honest and says it straight. Which is precisely why she’s been dubbed ‘The Voice of a Generation’; young girls admire her for her down-to-earth humour, while older women love her blunt truthfulness – recognising their own awkward transition into adulthood with all the joys and pitfalls that entails. Dunham is an expert in translating real life on to the screen, or into a book – which is why it’s so addictive; because everyone can relate to it.
It’s no surprise then, that Dunham’s upcoming UK book tour has sold out (alas I was too late) – expect hoards of fan girls not dissimilar to the ones which greet pubescent boy bands, along with single women, mothers and grandmothers. Her following and global reach is astounding. She is renowned for her witty one-liners and strong opinions – both out loud and on Twitter, which has garnered her 1.73 million followers and counting.
Recently Dunham used Twitter to vent her revulsion of iCloud-gate – which saw a hacker leak naked photos of female celebs – immediately showing her support for the wronged women (which include Jennifer Lawrence and Kristin Dunst), telling the Twittersphere: “The way in which you share your body must be a CHOICE. Support these women and do not look at these pictures.” Not only does she stand up for women around the world, but she can pull off a platinum bowl-shaped haircut and still look hip. Who doesn’t wish they were Lena Dunham?
Striving for unattainable perfection is something Dunham doesn’t care for: she embraces her flaws. The film-maker, Miranda July, says “Very few women have become famous for being who they actually are, nuanced and imperfect.” When Dunham’s fuller figure graced the cover of American Vogue in February, she was praised for subverting the stereotypical cover girl: womanly curves replaced jutting hipbones and bony limbs. A proud and confident declaration of femininity: I am a woman and I am happy with my body. Surely this is the best motto to advocate to young women?
But this isn’t just a love letter to Lena Dunham; there are plenty more determined women who are blazing the way towards gender equality – or at least shouting about it. Coincidently, the Times columnist (and feminist extraordinaire) Caitlin Moran, also has a forthcoming book, ‘How To Build A Girl’, which delves into the adolescent years of a fictional girl who’s a bit lost and therefore changes her name and tries to build a new, more interesting identity. It’s a period in life that we all go through – the clichéd ‘discovery’ of ourselves during that overwhelming and vulnerable epoch known as puberty. The book’s cover image says it all: ripped tights and Doc Martens, which obviously equals rebellion and adventure (plus a lot of sex). Both Dunham and Moran’s books are similar in that they are both a confessional ‘warts and all’ portrayal of growing up – complete with plenty of mistakes, heartache and disappointment – which crucially destroys the notion that all girls must be ‘Little Miss Perfect’. But they both also prove that women can achieve anything they want to and shouldn’t be oppressed by other people’s expectations of how they should behave.
After Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, was repeatedly treated as a piece of meat at acting auditions, she decided to do something about it and #ShoutBack. In doing so, she created a digital phenomenon. It’s slightly ironic that the proliferation of media which has given feminists a platform is also the vehicle of one of the contributing factors to modern gender inequality. Exploitive pornography is easily distributed online, which has unequivocally changed the way men view women. The success of the Everyday Sexism Project has exposed both the small and large issues that women face in terms of reaching gender equality. Looking through the posts from women all over the world, it’s easy to feel angry towards the opposite sex. And yet you can’t deny that – despite the shocking revelations – this project has done a lot of good. Not only has it brought a huge amount of attention to gender inequality in the 21st century, it has also given women of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities, an opportunity to express their experiences of sexism – thus acting as a metaphorical ‘middle-finger’ to the assailant, as well as making the victims feel as if they have ownership of their bodies after being violated. It has made women more vocal and unaccepting of sexist behaviour – as well as made some men realise that it’s just not acceptable. Not only has Bates now published a book, but she also gives talks in schools and universities, as well as lobbying MPs, which – according to The Telegraph – has raised the reporting of sexual assaults by 25%, although in an ideal world, there should be no sexual assaults to report.
I wonder when – if ever – there will be a time when feminists become extinct; when both men and women will be treated as equals. I’m sure Emmeline Pankhurst thought it would have happened by now. Despite that, I hope Mrs Pankhurst is smiling down on us fourth-wave feminists and thinking ‘You go girls!’
Originally published on ALT Magazine