Feminism – the dirty word

– Tamsin Bickley contributed with this report

Read this word and think about it: Feminism.

What images come to mind? Men-hating, bra-burning women, with not a shred of make-up but plenty of hair on their legs? The negative images that the term feminism conjures up are why many young women will not openly identify themselves as a feminist.

Twenty-two-year-old Roseanna Sunley doesn’t class herself as a feminist despite holding the same values that are at the core of the feminist movement: “I believe that I should be treated as equal and if I want to go out and work, I should be allowed to do that. If I want to stay at home, I should be allowed to do that as well,” says the pole dancing studio owner.

Since women have had equal rights and moved out of the kitchen and into the office, the once raging feminist fight has almost disappeared. But why?

“Women assume they’re equal, that the fights over, we’ve won”, says thirty-three-year-old campaigner, Michelle Hardy. “But in fact the fight is only just beginning.

“Yes women have the vote, and yes women have careers now, but that doesn’t take away the fact that only 19% of partners in top UK law firms are women, or that female executives earn an average of 22% less than men in the same jobs. If young women knew the facts, they would fight once again for their rights, their equality,” she explains.


Why are so many women afraid of calling themselves feminists? Photo: Jay Morrison

But what exactly is a feminist today? “A feminist is someone who believes that women should be treated equally to men, and have the same rights and opportunities as a man does,” according to Michelle.

It’s safe to assume that just about all of us would say we believe in these principles, but most of us would still feel too embarrassed to say we are feminists.

Take Sian Welby. As Channel Five’s weather presenter she is a successful, independent young woman. Even though Sian is living the career-driven kind of life that the bra-burning feminists of yesteryear fought for her to have, she doesn’t see herself as one of them:

“I definitely don’t consider myself a feminist, as I always think of those middle-aged extremists, with their Princess Di haircuts. I do however, believe that I stand for strong career minded women,” she says.

Modern-day feminism is far more liberal than the radical feminism of the last century. Many women are becoming increasingly successful in their careers, but understand that using their sexuality to their advantage can give them a ‘leg-up’ in what has, until now, been a man’s world.

Blonde Sian isn’t fooled when it comes to whether it was her good looks or talent that landed her dream job: “It would be naive to say it was just my talent that got me the job, as in my case I was spotted initially on an advert, for my looks, but then later it was my ability that got me the job. I think the two work in harmony,” she says.

“It really doesn’t bother me that I am being judged by my looks… Now my foot’s in the door, I want to make sure that I become famous for being talented and earn that respect. I think that’s really important… I know I will be replaced by a younger, more attractive presenter one day.”

Sian is right to be worried about the security of her job in the long-term. Once women in TV get older, their looks fade, wrinkles appear and many of them find that they are out of work.

In 2009 there was uproar from women everywhere when experienced Strictly Come Dancing judge, 66-year-old Arlene Phillips, was sacked and replaced by Alesha Dixon, less than half her age at just thirty.

When it comes to women in television, it seems that youth and sex appeal are the most attractive things they can have on their CV.

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