Feminism and Popular Culture

Sarah New explains how anti-feminist ideas are utterly pervasive in modern culture today, and calls for a fresh wave of feminism to counter this backlash.

Sarah New, 5 November 2005

Although feminism has always existed in one form or another, gender expectations and roles were not questioned extensively until the last century, particularly in the social revolution of the 1960s and 70s in which many young women rejected the role as housewives and baby-making machines and worked towards a utopian society which valued them alongside the males of the species. During the 1980s and 1990s feminism took a different approach and witnessed the rise of "Girl Power", pioneered by the Spice Girls and in the style previously embraced by bands such as Salt and Pepper and Sisters With Voices. We also saw the rise of the intelligent, mature, and affectionate "new man". During the last few years, however, feminism in popular culture has declined dramatically, leaving many women and girls feeling embarrassed and ashamed of both their feminity and feminism itself.

This was particularly evident in the year 2002 which saw the launch of the new-look Nestle Yorkie bar which insisted "It's Not For Girls" and advised women to "Save Your Money for Driving Lessons". Nestle insist that all their Yorkie "communication is meant to refer to the product size and chunky format that suits mens' needs and it is too big and challenging for women", although it is difficult to see what size and chunky format has to do with the slogan "Save Your Money for Driving Lessons." Since this misogynistic advertising campaign started, sales of Yorkie have soared by up to thirty per cent; coincidentally the same percentage of people who believe that violence against women is a natural and acceptable part of life, as revealed in an official poll by the UK branch of Amnesty International as part of their "Stop Violence Against Women Campaign."

Save Your Money for Driving Lessons

Society's current obsession with the belief in male superiority is also reflected in the increasing number of lewd and explicit magazines for "men" (in fact catering for the average pre-pubescent male). The banally repetitive front covers depict women in suggestive and submissive poses, often tied-up and handcuffed and surrounded by adverts for cheap (in more ways than one) gang-bang fantasy videos and headlines promising photographs of real-life murder scenes; I once saw a copy of Nuts which included a picture of blood all over the floor and walls of a room.

This degradation of women is also superimposed onto television programmes such as the NGA, more commonly known as "No Girls Allowed" and the recent BBC 2 series "He Says... She Says". Originally I tried to avoid this programme due to the advertising, which portrayed a biased view of feminity as being an incurable disease almost impossible to understand. However, I eventually decided to watch it just once to see if it was as bad as I thought it would be. The aim of the series was to provide a valuable insight to understanding and interacting with members of the opposite sex by the use of a case study in which a heterosexual couple were shown interacting in different scenarios. One of these scenarios involved an embarrassing scene in a restaurant where the woman pretended to order a main course and kept changing her mind about what she wanted to order a number of times. When she finally came to a decision she then declared that she would have to change her starter to suit her main course. During the meal her partner told her a "joke" to which she laughed in an overstated high pitched falsetto manner and snorted loudly. In between these scenes we had Rick Wakeman telling us how he could never understand women and asserting his views on how men have been assigned many skills unheard of in womankind.

feminism is now seen as a source of comedy

Consequently, feminism is now seen as a source of comedy, with pioneers of feminism affectionately referred to as "feminist nutters" or "femi-nazis," despite the obvious contradictions between feminism and the anti-feminist right-wing views of the Nazis. Conversely, male members of "Fathers 4 Justice" are widely heralded as heroic freedom fighters by participating in bizarre acts such as climbing on to roofs of shopping centres dressed in superhero costumes, and spreading jam on dual carriageways.

I have also experienced the current trend of sexism on a personal level in recent years. On one occasion I attended a careers fayre where I expressed my wish to become a part-time feature writer. The neanderthal-minded careers advisor was appalled and astounded that a woman could possibly believe she could do that and arrogantly advised me to find a more feminine-minded profession as I would come across a lot of sexism since women were not capable of such a task.

I have experienced sexism on a personal level

Similarly, being a female sufferer of a form of autism known as Aspergers Syndrome I have had to face barriers and barrages of insults from people who are convinced that my difficulties and restraints are due to my femininity. Every error I make seems to be followed by remarks such as "typical female" and "women can't do anything right." This is ironic considering that autism is caused by a genetic error which results in an extreme version of the male brain.

The current masculinist movement ignores the fact that the world of sport is completely dominated by males and women are paid only seventy-five per cent of the wages that men are paid for doing the same job (reported in the Southern Daily Echo). Additionally, it is a little known fact that only men are entitled to plead provocation and private and public defences and women are more likely to be convicted and receive a harsher sentence than men (see Justice for Women). Women are also barred from the Marines, the Royal Armoured Corps, and cannot work on submarines (this fact sheet from the MOD gives more detail).

Consequently, it is evident that all the issues addressed above need to be thoroughly publicised and there is a need to assert a fresh wave of feminism that is relevant and appealing to all sexes in contemporary society.

About the author

Sarah New

Sarah New, aged nineteen, is an undergraduate studying classical civilisation and history of art at the University of Reading. She campaigns tirelessly for other human and animal rights issues alongside feminism and hopes to pursue a career working for a non-governmental organisation helping people in developing countries.

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