'I'm not a feminist, but...': Modern feminism from a teenager's perspective

[Photo: Pexels]
[Photo: Pexels]

Is feminism relevant to young people in 2017?

Throughout history women have toiled for gender equality. Today we enjoy the spoils of great women who came before us. In schools, girls are outperforming boys and are more likely to get five decent GCSE’s. A third of young women go on to study at university, compared with just a quarter of men. Young people would be excused for believing the fight for equality is over.

Our teens, all digital natives, have lived their entire lives surrounded by information. The internet is enhancing the movement for gender equality. In wake of post-Brexit Britian and Donald Trump’s America, the feminist dialogue is louder than ever. But away from the noise, what are young people really thinking?

We spoke to 17-year-old A-level student Nina Patel, about what feminism means to a young woman in 2017.

Do we need feminism in 2017?

I think we still need feminism in 2017, given the current political climate we’re facing (especially in the US) and considering things like feminine hygiene products being taxed as a “luxury item”. The message this sends out to me is, “you’re not equal”.

What does feminism mean to you and your generation?

I think feminism means believing in sexual equality in all forms. I regularly meet boys and girls who share this view. We see feminism as a positive and empowering movement. However, a lot of people my age often say, “I wouldn’t call myself a ‘feminist’ but…” because of the negative stigma attached to the label.

Are you proud to call yourself a feminist?

Yes. I believe that being a person who works towards equality in any form is a wonderful thing.

What feminist issues are important to you?

I think the fact women’s bodies are often stigmatised as more “sexual” than men’s is wrong. I also find certain feminist movements in western society slightly trivial. For example, #freethenipple has blown up in recent years on social media. To me, focusing on the ways in which we cannot reveal our bodies isn’t really a priority when female genital mutilation is still commonplace in many countries around the world. In my opinion, eradicating violence against women should be more of a focus right now.

Do you feel there are enough female role models in the curriculum?

I’m fairly satisfied with the number of female role models in the curriculum but I think there’s always room for more. Last year in English literature, I studied Thomas Hardy’s, ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’. The character Bathsheba, is presented as a strong female who doesn’t conform to gender norms, however she’s not necessarily presented as ‘likeable’, which seems to put people off empathising with her. I don’t see why a woman should be likeable in order to be accepted or understood. If a male character doesn’t conform, he’s a ‘roguish’ or ‘brave’; he doesn’t have to be likeable, yet the two are exactly the same.

Although the ways in which we learn about women in schools is improving due to the number of females discussed, I think the ways in which women are presented is equally important. This is where I’ve found the curriculum to have fallen short.

In what ways do you practise feminism?

I’d love to go on marches and attend feminist events but I have school work to do. I spend my free time working to meet the grades I need for uni next year but that’s empowering in itself.

I try to practise self-respect and try to educate people who make sexist comments. Some may think this isn’t enough but I do what I can. Chimamanda Ngosi defined a “feminist” as “a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”, so I believe that as long as I continue to work towards sexual equality in my everyday life and to present these ideals in a positive way, I am as much of a feminist as anyone else.

Some people use feminism, to quote Emma Watson, as a “stick to beat other women with”, banding around words like “feminazi” and generally using it as an insult. What do you think about attitudes like this and why do you think people have them?

I do agree that sadly a “feminazi” culture has been established, which might discourage repel people from the idea of “femisim”, which in my opinion, should be a positive thing. While I find acts of sexism upsetting, I believe meeting hostile attitudes with aggression isn’t the best way forward. Like a teacher in the classroom, if the content is taught with positivity and in a way that doesn’t make students feel belittled or unimportant, they’re more likely to learn.

If people use feminism to mistreat women, I don’t believe they have the right to call themselves feminists. They’re putting women down rather than raising them up; the antithesis of feminist values. Equally, I don’t believe in the idea of “female supremacy”, or using feminism to devalue men. It’s contradictory to the feminist movement, which strives for sexual equality. Neither gender is superior.

Some people fear the ‘stigma’ attached to being called a feminist. What advice would you give to them?

To those afraid of being stigmatised by calling themselves a feminist, I would say, as long as they present feminist ideals in a positive way, without hostility or aggression, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Feminism needs as many advocates as possible and at it’s core, strives for complete sexual equality which can be permanently sustained. If you share this value, educating those who choose to stigmatise feminism is something you’re more than capable of doing, provided you do it positively.

What do you think of the ‘controversy’ surrounding Emma Watson’s appearance in Vanity Fair. Some people suggested she “couldn’t be a feminist and pose for such pictures”. What are your thoughts on this, bearing in Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have both appeared nude in to no such criticism.

The fact Emma Watson was criticised for bearing flesh in a magazine irritates me. Surely a woman proudly displaying her body is a “true feminist”, as she’s not afraid of judgement. The fact she decided to pose nude isn’t something that should be criticised, especially given that her male Harry Potter co-stars have done the exact same thing. Surely by partaking in this act she’s placed herself on an equal level with Radcliffe and Grint? To those who criticise what Emma chooses to do with her body, I would say, that’s nobody’s business but her own.

Are there any feminist role models you look up to? If so, in what way do they inspire you?

I look up to multiple feminists but if I had to name one it would be Beyoncé. She was the first feminist role model I admired. I’ve always been a fan of her music and the fact she’s a strong woman but I didn’t connect with her on a feminist level until I heard her self-titled album in 2013. Her exploration of female sexuality, pride and the idea of women being independent inspired me and made proud and to call myself a feminist.

[Photo: Nina Patel]
[Photo: Nina Patel]

Nina is currently in sixth form studying English literature and language, drama and theatre studies. She’s hopes to become a musical theatre actress in the future.

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