November 19, 2013

Is it finally mainstream to be a feminist?

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Right! Where do I start? During the past few weeks I have been VERY feminist. (I know there aren’t levels of feminism but you know what I mean.) To elaborate  I have been hanging out in the foyer of advertising agency Mother London, who have recently become my shiny beacon of light for all sources of inspiration and discussion. (First it was Project Bush, and now this = heaven).

Last night was the much anticipated #ELLEfeminism debate. A panel of intelligent young women (including Ruby Tandoh from the Great British Bake Off and The Vagenda girls) braved the audience armed with champagne to talk about hot topics. I was about to call the topics ‘controversial’ but actually – there was nothing massively controversial about the debate – it was a discussion about equality. If equality was still thought to be controversial – the world really would be a sad state of affairs. 

Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of ELLE magazine chaired the discussion, and although the questions were quite direct, the arguments remained quite light, with most of the panel agreeing with each other which was rather pleasant.

ELLE had recently briefed Mother to come up with a new advertising hook – it’s what they do best. They launched a tool in which you can compare your salary to a male doing exactly the same job. 

Obviously we were all voicing our anger at the current pay gap, and all in favour of women’s rights and equality. Everyone in the room was on the same page and just wanted as many different voices to be heard. The main question that echoed the room was the question on most journalists lips right now: “Does feminism need a rebrand?” Do we really need to think differently about feminism? Isn’t it the same story – and why would we want to move away from all the things we’ve done so far? 

Half the panel thought yes: Yes – it does need a rebrand, because lots of young girls and women think that by declaring themselves a feminist it is synonymous with a big scary lesbo in biker boots. Most kids do not want to go around saying it. But the word ‘rebranding’ also conjured by a bad taste in people’s mouths – to rebrand suggests that feminism can be shoved in a tin can and sold. I agreed with the quote by Jo Swinson that is ‘doesn’t need to be rebranded, but reclaimed’. Reclaimed is a nicer word.

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Comedian Sara Pascoe opened the evening armed with a glass of vino and quite a few strong opinions. My absolute love of comedy definitely comes from the fact that in this arena you can address a few ‘sore’ topics of conversation and instead of getting egged, you get laughs. The only slightly tense moment was when Sara started laying into glossy women’s magazines – the fact that they are “literally just about women getting dressed”. The fact that these women’s mags are basically like flow charts “Hi ladies, do you A) hate your face or B) hate your body? If you chose ‘A’ then here’s some expensive make up to cover it up. If you chose ‘B’ then go to the gym and look in the mirror – are you sure you don’t also hate your face?”. We all laughed merrily at the expense of the women’s media industry and how evil their content can really be – after then shutting up and remembering the event was being sponsored by the almighty ELLE. 

Don’t get me wrong – I love ELLE magazine and I have been more than happy to hand over my hard earned cash for a monthly subscription. I just love the feel of the pages and that wedge of fashion sitting on my bed whilst I make a big tasty cup of tea on a rainy Sunday – nothing brings me more joy. But I hate to say that I felt a little taken aback with ELLE decided to mussle in on the feminism debate. Lorraine Candy’s ‘billion years’ of experience lead her to admit that she wanted to cause a stir. If people hadn’t disagreed with her sentiments and ideas around ‘rebranding’ then there would have been no debate.


Then I had to give myself a reality check: by getting involved, ELLE magazine is making feminism conversation mainstream. This is a brilliant thing. This means that those University groups calling themselves ‘FemSoc’ and waving handmade flags won’t be seen as ‘weird angry women’ anymore – it will be normally to believe in feminism and equality and abolishment of casual sexism. 

This slight disconnect was posed as an interesting question: can you be a feminist and also feminine? This is where Lorraine Candy got fired up and impassioned. She discussed the fact that you can indeed be a feminist and want to celebrate your feminity. I’m just glad she didn’t say ‘celebrate your curves’ (sorry – my pet hate with women’s mags). She’s totally right though – I am a feminist if I want to look at fluffy bunnies or wearing ridiculous heels or coo over the latest Marc Jacobs handbag, then LET ME. Lorraine ended on a really nice note, which was this: “there are no rules”.

Thank you Mother London for inviting me – thanks ELLE for getting the word back on the street and sounding cool again. 

One Response

  1. Jenny C says:

    Interesting post! I guess it all depends on how you define feminist, right? There are some people who believe it means complete equality, some people who think it means celebrating the differences between men and women fully, etc. etc. Thanks for sharing!

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