Wednesday, 28 September 2011

We are the generation

This article initially appeared in The Arrow, my school's annual newspaper, in which a variety of political pieces are published each year; I wrote it last year, before YouFem was even a twinkle in our eyes. A few people have commented to me that the article would go nicely on the YouFem blog, it is.

Living in London in the Noughties, a city that currently has a minority ethnic population of almost 40%, where around 250 different languages are in use and your local Chinese does a Halal meal, it would be easy to imagine that intolerance was a thing of the past. And then a Sky Sports presenter opens his mouth.
            It’s no use attempting to build an argument around the idea that sexism is the same creature as racism; the factors involved are so markedly different. The point, rather, is the attitude of the victims. Teenage banter that smeared black people would be socially abhorrent; racism is one step over the taboo-line, and rightly so. Yet somehow when a girl is referred to by whatever genitalia-based slang happens to be in vogue, that’s funny. Even while I’m writing this, there are conversations up and down the country in which boys are talking about girls as lumps of meat to score and toss away, and in many of them, a girl is laughing along coquettishly. The majority of these people aren’t bigots or homophobes or morally reprehensible; they would never viciously insult their black friends, because that would be unacceptable. And that is the crux of the issue: whereas ethnic minorities relentlessly fight racism tooth and claw, this generation of girls have welcomed sexism with open arms. We’re inviting disaster.
            In Britain women earn an average of 87p to every £1 earned by men, and in the top 10% of earners the gender pay gap is a staggering 30%. To put it into perspective, that’s double the 15% average pay gap in the Middle East, an area where there were almost 3500 female honour killings last year. Almost all women would be furious to discover that for every hard hour they worked, they were earning less than their male colleagues, yet a number of these same outraged women have sat blithely by while men indulge in casual sexism. We all expect equality as a human right, and yet so many of us are unwilling to fight for it, or even engage with the issue. Feminism has become a dirty word, and god forbid you declare yourself a feminist. How has the protection of women’s rights come to be associated with being unfeminine? Why are we made to feel somehow masculine for demanding simple respect?
            The problem is a fairly new one, but recently it’s begun to fester. We’re no longer battling an identifiable and society-wide issue; we’ve got the vote, and theoretically our equality is protected. This legal clarity just makes the issue all the more problematic. Without a specific cause to fight, we’re watching as sexism invades everyday life, from the dismissal of past-their-sell-by-date female BBC presenters, to the objectifying of women in the ever-popular Daily Mail, to the daily humiliation and degradation of ‘hip-hop-hunnies’. Sexism is present in our lives from the moment you turn on breakfast radio in the morning (that means you Christian O’Connell).
            My hope is that our generation of women will wake up and realise that we’re being taken for fools. For the sake of securing our own reputation as easy-going, we’re sacrificing self-respect and any claim we may have to respect from others. If we’re not going to act as though we deserve equality, we sure as hell aren’t going to get it, and, more importantly, in degrading ourselves we give the world reason to deny it to us. I’d love to believe that there’ll be a new dawn for feminism, that young women will glory in feminism for what it is and seize the opportunity to demand what is rightfully theirs. We are the blessed educated elite, driven by academic ambition and hunger for success; we are the women who need to lead the way in social change. We are the generation that can turn a mudslide into an avalanche.

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