Category Archives: feminism

The new feminists

I’ve finished the book! (Cue happy dance with triumphant knee-slide across the living room floor). Yes! I’m taking the time to savour the moment and not entertaining the thought of agent and publisher rejections. No I will not think about that. Bugger, I’m thinking about that. But I’m also celebrating the achievement. It’s only when you reach the end of a book (well the draft that you’re going to send out) that you wonder how on earth you did it.

So here is Soul Sister. I’ve uploaded it on this site, if you want to check it out. It’s about a modern day teenager that meets the woman she was in a past life – the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. It’s about souls clashing in one life and meeting in another to make peace. It’s about first love. It’s about being happy in your own skin, standing up for yourself and having a voice.

In my book, I’m exploring what it is to be a girl today. Girls pick up on society’s expectations of them to be pretty, skinny and sexy. It was what, in part, set me off writing this book because it can lead to body image problems, eating disorders, and low self-esteem and I think it’s terrible that we’re doing that to our daughters.  You only have to look at the Protein World advert of the bikini clad woman and the slogan Are you Beach Body Ready? to get some idea of how blatant that pressure is.

Protein World's beach body ad on the London underground

There’s been a huge backlash in London, with women answering the advert’s question by writing their thoughts on the posters on the tube. This is a watershed moment, I think. The moment when women said: ‘Enough! I’m not interested in how you think I should look on the beach. Or anywhere else. I am proud of the body I have and I will take it anywhere I please.’ The suffragettes would be proud.

Girls and women are kicking, quite literally, against limiting definitions and expectations of who they should be and what they should look like and turning stereotypes upside down. imagesLike the nine-year-old girl on Britain’s Got Talent, Jesse McParland, cute as you like, and launches into an amazing, acrobatic martial arts routine to rival The Karate Kid, Zorro and the Three Musketeers put together. Fierce! And totally expressing who she is. She tried ballet and Irish dancing, she said, but she didn’t like it.

And yesterday I read about Danielle Taylor whose Prom theme was ‘Sweet Dreams’, presumably based on the 80s romance books, but anyway likely to be iUnknownnterpreted in pink with hearts. Yes, a school, basically saying, ‘we’ve given you an education but what is really important is being pretty enough to get a boyfriend’. Deciding the prom theme was a giant let-down, Danielle designed her own spectacular outfit based on the hooded DC Comics super-hero, Green Arrow, which, let’s face it, rocks.

I’m seeing a new wave of feminism and strong female role-models. Since I started writing Soul Sister three years ago, Emma Watson has launched the HeforShe campaign to engage men in the movement for gender equality and 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai has won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work as an activist for education. She was shot by the Taliban on her way to school because she believed girls had a right to an education and was writing a blog about it. The Taliban tried to silence her, but her voice is now being heard world-wide and she’s speaking for oppressed girls everywhere.

Teenagers are blogging about feminism and there are fabulous magazines for young women like The Feminist Times and Vagenda, set up by two students in 2012 because they were in fits of laughter after reading out loud excerpts from a weekly women’s magazine whose articles were ridiculous and irrelevant. They decided to set up an online magazine to ‘call the bullshit’ on the mainstream women’s press.

Twenty years ago my friend and I had a similar conversation, lamenting all the ‘how to catch your man’ articles and talked about setting up a women’s magazine for real women with interesting news and features but we did nothing about it.

I’m glad someone has. I love the dynamism and self-assured spirit of young women today. Respect.

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Three cheers for Emma Watson

I am furious, as a woman and on behalf of Emma Watson, actor and UN Goodwill Ambassador, at the threat to publish nude pictures of her and trolls posting under the hashtag RIP Emma Watson, following her impassioned speech on gender equality. It turns out that the threat was empty, but that makes it no less hateful. Seriously, dudes, where are your brains?

She gave a wonderful, heartfelt speech to the UN at the launch of the HeForShe campaign. I honestly don’t understand how anyone can listen to that speech and not agree with it. She’s right that gender inequality has an adverse effect on men too. And for the sakes of our sons, our brothers and our husbands, as well as our daughters, we should all be pulling towards the goal of equal rights for men and women.

Emma Watson totally reflected my views on feminism. I don’t get why some men fear or ridicule it  or why some women want to distance themselves from it. For me, the question ‘Are you a feminist?’ is the same as, ‘Do you value yourself as a woman?’ It’s not about man-hating. It’s not about having a high-flying career. It is about having the opportunity to go for that career, if you want to. A woman who chooses to be a housewife or a stay-at-home mum is still a feminist if she believes in having the choice, the opportunity, the right to live her life as she sees fit.

Both sexes should have the right to an education, to have equal pay for equal work, to have a say in the policies of their country, to be able to parent their children without that impacting adversely on their career, to express the full range of emotions and for that not to be considered feminine and, therefore, ‘weak’.

I agree with Emma Watson that ‘It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two opposing sets of ideals.’

I see it every day. Men who have lost touch with their feelings, who have been brought up not to cry and who therefore suppress feelings of sadness, fear, inadequacy or vulnerability and consider it ‘being strong’. The feelings, of course, come out somehow, usually as anger or withdrawal. It can kill marriages. I see fathers that want to be around more for their children but, like working mothers, find it tricky in the office to convince people that they still take their careers seriously. I, too, know men who have been made fragile because ‘of a distorted sense of what constitutes male success’.

I know many feminist men that want strong, confident daughters and want equality of opportunity for them. I know men that are stay-at-home dads. I know men that have moved country to support their wife’s career. I know women that are breadwinners and their partners are ok with that. And it is good that these people have been able to make the choices they want. But as Emma Watson said: ‘No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.’

I am writing a Young Adult book about a teenage girl who meets a former incarnation of herself. In a past life she was the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who was killed under the King’s Horse in the 1913 Derby, trying to pin the suffragette colours to the bridle. It’s about a sexual awakening and a feminist awakening.

And so I was interested to hear about Emma Watson’s feminist awakening. She says: ‘When I was eight, I was confused at being called ‘bossy’ because I wanted to direct the plays we would put of for our parents, but the boys were not. When at 14 I started to be sexualised by certain elements of the press. When at 15 my girlfriends started dropping out of their beloved sports teams because they didn’t want to appear ‘muscly’. When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings. I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me.’

It is the pressures I see on girls and young women today, to be pretty, skinny, sexy, to be good, to be perfect, that inspired me to write my book. There’s also the pressure to have a great career, to have children, to have it all, and then, goddammit, to look ever youthful. Because it is youth and beauty that is valued in women and the women’s magazines, perversely, promote that. Where is the space to just be yourself? Because it is in that space that you achieve your full potential.

It distressed me to see Emma Watson, who I saw grow up on screen as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, being attacked for launching this inclusive campaign. Harry Potter was written by another wonderful woman, JK Rowling, who was advised not to go by the name Joanne because publishers thought that boys wouldn’t read a fantasy book written by a woman.

But this gender-stereotyping shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we live in a world where a campaign to put a Jane Austen on the British ten pound note, saw Caroline Criado-Perez subjected to rape and death threats on twitter. Why should the thought of a female literary icon on a ten pound note provoke violence?

And so we come full circle and Emma Watson grows up and makes a speech that expresses nothing but love, respect and affection for men, a speech that is all about freedom and humanity, that asks men to join the campaign and these idiots, these online thugs try to tear her down.

It is great to see men as well as women coming out in support of HeFor She and rallying around Emma Watson. I am heartened there has been a tremendous backlash against the online trolls.

I applaud Emma Watson and rise to her call of ‘ If not me, who? If not now, when?’