Feminism | Posted by Hannah R on 09/19/2011

Youth and Feminism: Ignorance Is Bliss

Emmeline Pankhurst, anyone? ANYONE?

Emmeline Pankhurst, anyone? ANYONE?

Today’s youth culture encourages females and males alike to embrace their sexuality and allows a freedom of expression. But it seems this freedom of sexual expression has ended up glamorising the idea that females are nothing more than sexual objects. Or at least, it seems that’s what girls our age think.

I have to wonder – how have girls our age not heard of the efforts made by Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes at the beginning of the 20th century? Or the women’s liberation protest demonstration at the 1969 Miss World beauty contest?  I have discovered that there are very few teenage girls out there who fully comprehend the feminist movement and its effects on society, and, more importantly, its hopes and aspirations for the future generations of women.

I wanted to see what our generation really thinks about feminism, and why they feel they have to be sexual objects, so I pinned up questionnaires about feminism that I had written at school for my peers to complete on a voluntary basis. However, I unfortunately received only a small sample of responses which were completed primarily by females. It soon became apparent to me that even amongst 17 and 18 year olds in my own sixth form, a stigma existed regarding feminism, as there was a serious lack of interest in my questionnaire, especially amongst the boys.

The single male who did answer my questionnaire was clearly influenced by the echoes of a hundred out-dated attitudes as he referred to feminists as “petty, whiney, naggy, desperate,” and that feminism was “more sexist than what they stood against in the first place.” This is the voice from the present generation, a young man who, though he was the only one to answer the survey, is definitely not alone in this attitude.

Any evidence of conscientiousness of feminism that I detected only came from female respondents and even then very few had heard of Third-Wave feminism. This lead me to believe that there is a significant level of ignorance about feminism amongst young people which will prevent any continuation of the feminist movement unless something is not done now.

I also picked up a contradiction on the question of whether pop stars such as Rihanna and Beyoncé promote equality between the sexes. A third of my questionnaires stated that they agreed that such pop stars do promote equality between men and women and that they also “sing songs about female empowerment and being proud of being successful women.” Indeed, there is nothing I love better than punching my fist in the air as I sing along “Who run the world? Girls!” to Beyoncé’s new single but there is no denying that Beyoncé and her fellow female pop artists promote little more than ‘Bimbo feminism’, which Maureen Dowd defines as “giving your intellectual pretensions to a world where the highest ideal is to acknowledge your inner slut.”

Feminism is alive, but it has taken a new form. It seems dungarees and hairy armpits have been replaced with fake tan, hair extensions and fake nails because young girls are linking sex with success, a proposition that couldn’t be further from the intentions of women like Germaine Greer.

After all, would Beyoncé still be ‘Queen B’ if it wasn’t for her notorious booty shake?

But I’m not talking about hairy armpits verses vajazzling, I’m talking about the increasingly dominant pressures in society which are felt by young women and young women only: am I pretty? Am I sexy? Am I fat? We live in a media-ruled world where magazine headlines everywhere are declaring what is and isn’t sexy, what you should and shouldn’t wear. And it doesn’t stop with girly magazines such as Cosmopolitan or Glamour. Lad magazines are just as guilty, arguably more so. Have you ever seen a guy’s magazine feature and promote feminist values?

The media has created an obsession with sex and as a result, there is now a right and wrong, how to be and how not to be. The media has encouraged the belief that to be a feminist is to be a radical, an anarchist, an untouchable. If society and the media continue to brainwash the generations of young women with such empty prejudices, us girls are going to have to get angry again, fast.

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  • Alexa @ at 11:50 am, September 19th, 2011

    If it makes you feel any more hopeful, I most certainly know about the 1969 Pageant and Emmeline Pankhurst! But also, I do frequent this blog, so it’s accepted…

  • Emma E @ at 3:46 pm, September 19th, 2011

    Guilty as charged. :/ I’m in ninth grade and even though I’m active in today’s feminism, I don’t know much about the past, which I really should. This article has actually inspired me to learn more about it, so that’s good, right? :S

    Also, I agree with your other points…the line between liberation and objectification is something I’ve always struggled with. And that Beyonce song is so unfeminist, it’s not even funny. It could’ve been a great girl anthem, (I know I was excited when I heard the title) but then it just…wasn’t.

    Grr. Anyway, great article. :D

  • Ruth @ at 5:10 pm, September 19th, 2011

    Yep, I know very little about the feminist/suffragette movements in America, though I’ve read about ones in my own country (Ireland) – the most interesting of which was the “contraceptive train” in 1971. The story is here: http://www.irishtimes.com/indepth/sisters/sowing-the-seeds.html

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 5:27 pm, September 19th, 2011

    Great article. Just ftr it was the Miss America pageant that feminists protested in 1969, not Miss World.

    It was actually women’s history that got me into feminism, so I know all about this stuff :) But I’ve also said that the oversexualization of society has led to a quasi-feminism in today’s girls. Like, there has to be a point – we shouldn’t all be prudes, but there’s a point where it’s just not appropriate anymore.

  • Georgiana @ at 7:05 pm, September 19th, 2011

    I still am fairly uneducated about the history of feminism and I hate that what I do know has been self taught entirely because I didn’t learn about it in school or from anyone else. I once dated a guy who insisted I wasn’t feminist because he was positive feminists were all man hating, frigid bitches and I was reasonable in my opinions about sex and gender. I just wish feminist wasn’t considered a dirty word and that people were more informed about what feminism actually is because I’m tired of assuring people that I don’t actually want to castrate mankind.

  • The K. @ at 3:27 pm, September 20th, 2011

    Nice post! I don’t know much about the Herstory of Feminism, but I get the concept pretty well. However, I have a question: Who runs The Media?

  • Hannah Rye @ at 6:44 am, September 22nd, 2011

    Wow thanks guys! Its great to get some feedback and hear from people that share similar opinions to me – indeed it makes me feel very hopeful that there is a community out there trying to promote modern feminism and fight against the prejudices! :D I originally wrote this article as part of my Extended Qualification Project I’ve been doing during my A levels this year and I only came across blogs such as fbomb through my research. I’ve always felt passionate about being a feminist and being a teenager living in the rural countryside of England, you dont have to search far to find anti feminist attitudes! And I firmly believe this is the result of sex sells and the domination of mass media which, as ‘The K’ has rightly suggested, is the result of public interest. However perhaps if we encourage the education of the importance of feminist values and feminist history we can change that? Its a massive assumption I know, but hey! This is what revolutions are all about, and we all know, that feminism is finished yet.

  • Plop @ at 1:54 pm, September 23rd, 2011

    Nice post !
    I totally range in the above description. I spent years trying not to be too good at class (i’d be mocked by both boys and girls, so i didn’t work and hid my quotes), and wondering what i could do to make friends, love reality shows, be passionate by fashion and gossips…
    I had no idea what feminism was, and i really thought it was something boring !

    And now, i’m still a good student (i’m almost only with guys in my field), i still don’t like reality shows but i begins to understand feminism !
    And the first insights i had were from my grandma !! Because she earned the right to vote when she was 40, couldn’t become an architect because she was in a girl’s school, etc. So my advice is :

    Tell the teenagers to go and ask their grandmothers ! They KNOW what feminism is. Almost every old woman knows !

  • The K. @ at 2:43 pm, September 23rd, 2011

    Thank you,Hannah,for your reply! But a few more questions; Who controls “Public interest”? Why does sex sell? Do Women buy things because other Women are being objectified? Being in the USA, I don’t know what England is like, in terms of Media and their Operators’ tactics, but it seems to be all the same.

  • Vanessa M @ at 9:48 am, September 26th, 2011

    I have mixed feelings.

    I’m glad that I’m not the only girl who thinks that the world of genders are messed up (well, I have two feminist classmates and a whole lot ot sexist ones), but it makes me really sad to be reminded once again that young people aren’t being taught about what’s important. I mean, what’s math for if you’re a non-empathetic person who believes everything the media says? :)

    You’re right… I’m going to go on a “feminist rampage” now (in other words, make my mom a feminist). Awesome article, by the way

  • Hannah Rye @ at 5:14 am, October 6th, 2011

    Oh yes I completely agree that women control the public interest when it comes to womens magazines – as does any audience for a particurlar genre of media, I just want to suggest that its time for a wake up call because too many young women are getting hurt by the pressures. I think looking back to the previous waves of feminism is the perfect inspiration: we can make social change happen. We can help women realise its not all about what you look like :D
    thanks for the fab feedback!

  • XP19 @ at 4:50 pm, October 7th, 2011

    This is a great post but, unfortunately, I’m one of those many clueless young women that have no knowledge of feminism and its accomplishments throughout the years but, I strongly believe that the media is slowly but surely diminishing the number of unique, independent, all natural young women. All you see in the media these days are young women with fake tans, tons of make-up, voluminous dyed hair, bras that make them look two full cup sizes bigger, size two jeans, lip glosses that make their lips plumper, and sadly the list goes on and on. It’s definitely time for a change that puts a halt to this inclination of women objectifying themselves and promotes liberation from all these social pressures.

  • Connor @ at 8:31 am, October 8th, 2011

    I completely agree that young women do get hurt by the standards that America’s society has set as the “perfect woman.” I have seen this first hand as a high school student as well as a college student. When insults go from “stupid bitch” to “fat ugly bitch,” it’s pretty obvious that appearance is a major factor in the minds of America’s young women. I, for one, may be a little heavy, but certainly not overweight and there are certainly plenty of young women who are larger than me, and I can’t even count the number of times I was called fat through out highschool girl fights. When two girls are fighting over a guy, most of the time the guy chooses by the girls’ looks, not by their personality and what really matters. Now, granted, I wasn’t really involved in feminism until I started a Women’s Studies class at my college, but now that I’ve been introduced to it, I see how interesting it is to me. I read one article by an Asian woman who talked about the differences between teenagers of different ethnicity. She explained that, from her point of view, white women seemed to conform to the view of the “perfect woman” while those of other ethnicities don’t focus on their outer beauty as much as their inner beauty. I wish American teenagers could transfer to this view because it would have made my high school years a lot less “girl-fighty.”

  • Erin @ at 11:03 pm, October 9th, 2011

    Great article! I agree completely when Hannah R said that in our society there are few teenage girls who understand “the feminist movement and its effects on society, and … its hopes of aspirations for the future generations of women”. It is annoying, to say the least, that as the years continue more and more people are becoming aware of the increase in the attention the media is putting on the “look” of women, but nothing is being done to change this. It would be hard to implement this kind of change on our society, because this is how we have evolved and become accustomed to. It seems as if not until everyone is educated about this conflict will something be done to fix this.

  • Ella @ at 10:19 am, June 20th, 2013

    Hannah, you have articulated my thoughts completely. Two years on and I’m doing my very own questionnaire on people’s interest and understanding of feminism. I’m finding it hard to keep it unbiased, but this has given me an idea of what to expect! haha great read, thank you.

  • lee @ at 10:12 am, August 14th, 2013

    as a man, i always thought that feminism was whatever the indiviual WOMAN wanted it to be. you know, the RIGHT to make YOUR own choices regardless of how you came to your descision!!!!

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