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17th Jul 2015

OPINION: “Telling Women To Be More Like Men Is Counter-Productive To Fighting Sexism”

Feminine traits are NOT the enemy.

The notion of feminists as man-hating aggressors who don’t wear bras or shave their legs has for the large part been debunked.

But there is another trend emerging that I feel could be just as dangerous and just as counter-productive when it comes to fighting the big fight against sexism.

Women who fight sexism by shouting that we shouldn’t have weddings, we shouldn’t change our names, we shouldn’t cry, we shouldn’t be stay-at-home mums or housewives, are in essence saying – we should be more like men.

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There is a reason feminism exists in the world. It is a narrative that we can’t deny.

The fact is that women have had to fight for the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to practice safe sex, the right to run for political office, and the right to receive equal pay.

Granted – we aren’t quite there yet when it comes to the latter, but we have fought and succeeded in deconstructing the major limitations put on us by society.

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Now that many of the larger hurdles have been overcome, the emphasis has shifted to the more subtle ways our equality is threatened in the form of casual, everyday sexism.

Girls and boys receive these sexist messages all through their lives and they are just as destructive and insidious as the bigger issues such as equal pay.

Phrases like “you run like a girl”, “man up” and “he’s the man” are some of the more obvious examples, and the target of many anti-sexism campaigns.

All through our lives it is reinforced that girls are either stupid, passive, and weak or attention-seeking, bossy and manipulative.

I don’t fancy our odds, do you?


However, what I don’t think is useful, is telling little girls to be more like little boys in an effort to close the gap.

This is circular reasoning at it’s finest, and by aspiring to be more like men, we underscore the fact that we ourselves believe women are the weaker sex.

Last week, I attended the Always #LikeaGirl Confidence Summit in London – a fantastic event all about celebrating girl power.

As part of the campaign, a survey found that a whopping 72 per cent of girls feel held back by societal expectations of them and almost 88 per cent feel pressure to conform to the way a girl is “supposed” to feel and act.

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While I love the thrust behind this campaign – breaking stigmas and teaching little girls that they can and should choose to be offended by everyday sexism, there is one aspect of this issue that jars with me.

I imagine myself as a little girl in a classroom, learning about the campaign.

The campaign states:”‘Girls can’t be brave’ and ‘Girls can’t be strong’ are limiting phrases from a bygone era”.

Immediately, 5-year-old me is thinking ‘what? I didn’t know this. How come this isn’t said about boys? I should be more brave, I should be more strong, I should be more like a boy.’

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Campaigns like these have the potential to be quite divisive – in an effort to close the gap between male and female, we unconsciously widen it.

I’m not denying it’s a tricky path we are trying to weave, and I LOVE the idea behind this campaign and think it is so worthwhile, but sometimes I worry that the idea of celebrating our differences gets lost in the mayhem.

Of course, I believe women are strong. Our emotional strength is incredible. We SHOULD use this word in relation to women more often and strip it of its male connotations – absolutely.

But not, I believe, at the expense of the words that already have female connotations.

Why not reinforce phrases like “girls are nurturing” and “girls are smart”.

I know they don’t pack as much of a punch (literally) but that’s partly because these feminine words are loaded with a narrative of oppression that just doesn’t exist anymore.

We don’t want to be judged on our appearances, but let’s not say being beautiful is a bad thing, or girls who choose to wear makeup and dress in pink are stunting the cause.

We don’t want to be limited to being housewives and mothers – of COURSE – but why deny that those are things we are very good at as well.

They are our domain, historically and biologically, and now that we have the choice not to limit ourselves to them, why continue to fight against them?

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Feminine traits and strengths are NOT the enemy. They no longer hold us back. We can choose not to have children. We can choose not to marry, not to take our husband’s name, to have casual sex.

We can choose to pursue physical achievements and we can choose not to.

I’m all for fighting back against everyday sexism. I’m all for choosing to be offended when someone calls me attention-seeking or manipulative.

But I also choose to embrace the fact that I enjoy girly frivolity, I choose to wear makeup and take pride in my appearance. When the time is right, I will probably choose to try and have children. The key here is choice.

We don’t want to be the same as men, we just want the same choices.

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