I was flicking through the Sunday supplements the other day, when something in The Times magazine caught my eye. It was an article by Clover Stroud entitled 'Stand by Your Man' with the background image of a 1960s style woman who had the blankest expression I have ever seen.
As I read through I realised that Stroud had created a feminist argument against the 'surrendered wife' - something she feels is becoming a rising trend rapidly overshadowing female ambition. She used the examples of Kim Sears (Andy Murray's loyal girlfriend who appears at every match he plays, therefore placing his career before her own), and Kate Middleton (the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William's devoted wife - in Stroud's eyes a mouthpiece more for her husband than for herself following her first public speech earlier this year). Stroud argues that the immaculately dressed Kim and Kate are no more than 'perfect ponies'; sexually non-threatening and subserviently putting their man before themselves, cheerily surrendering themselves to a life of wifely servitude. She compares these two demure ladies to the feisty, independent music stars like Rihanna and Lady Gaga, leaving the reader wondering just which is the better role model...
As a literature student, I am all too familiar with this word feminism. I've read the works of Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir and Marilyn French - I understand the struggles women used to fight against, and I wholeheartedly thank those suffragettes for where we are today. I'm glad about how many bras they burnt to enable us to vote, hold successful careers whilst still having a family and more simply, allowing us to wear jeans.
But I'm also aware of the groan the f-word produces in young women now. Too many girls believe that feminism entails moaning about the slightest difference between the sexes, campaigning arduously over issues of inequality that to them, don't even matter. They won't rush to call themselves a feminist; almost oppositely they'll be wary of such a label, believing feminists to be a load of men-hating women moaning about any tiny little inequality they can find under their highly tuned spectacles. 'Women are worse at parking than men - it's spacial awareness, scientifically proven! Quit whining and accept it!' they say.
Sorry girls. But you've got this feminism thing totally wrong. Clover Stroud tries to show this in her article but it's not quite as clear as the words of Caitlin Moran in her book 'How to be a Woman'. She quite rightly says that if you say you hate men, you're not a feminist. You're just an idiot.
'...we need to reclaim the word 'feminism'....What do you think feminism IS ladies?
What part of 'liberation for women' is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right
not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? 'Vogue' by
Madonna? Jeans? Did all the good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES?....Without feminism,
you wouldn't be allowed to have a debate on a woman's place in society.' (p.80-88)
Whilst I most certainly wouldn't be allowed to write this. She correctly states that feminism is merely the belief that women should be as free as men. It's not about moaning for little, irrelevant things to change, it's not even about winning that women drivers argument, it's about maintaining and agreeing that the change the suffragettes created was good. In this country at least, the life of a woman as it currently stands is pretty hard to complain about. If successful, famously independent women like Beyoncé actually think that girls run the world to such an extent that they write a song about it, there's not an awful lot we can complain about. Believe it or not, feminists do know this. They don't always whine.
But, if you still don't agree and still refuse to call yourself a feminist, you might as well get back in that kitchen, bin the work of every single female music artist you have, swap your jeans for a long, unsexy, ankle covering skirt and get baking, humbly obeying every command any male deems it appropriate to shout at you.
Feminists are for equality for both sexes. It's about mutual respect; a realisation that we can both hold successful careers, we can be both be inspirational and neither of us should be held back. Which is why this article so stuns me.
Have women really begun to ask 'Would I really be happier proving myself with my own career? I don't think so'? Do they really believe that? Stroud refers to Cherie Blair in her article, who pointed out that an increasing number of women are thinking 'why do I need to bother, why can't I just marry a rich husband and retire?' Well... you can, but they have a term for that...
I just don't understand why women are seeing a career as merely a way to 'prove' yourself. It should be so much more than that. It should be exciting, progressive, inspiring...it should be about doing something for yourself rather than relying on other people, just as you did when you were 3 years old pleading with your Mum for an ice-cream. By aspiring to be a wife relying solely on a husband for everything, you're merely swapping that ice-cream for a pair of heels, for example, and your Mother for a man. Our feminist bra-burning ancestors would be outraged by this lack of motivation to do something for ourselves.
Scarily, I can believe that such a trend of subservient women is growing. In my generation I've noticed a sweep of girls, in their early twenties like me, who have become content to settle down, get engaged and even have kids - in either a solid relationship or as a single Mum. By the age of 30, they aim to have all those boxes ticked. But then what? With their youth gone, and everything done, what then? Then is it time for that aspirational career? Unfortunately for the majority I doubt it.
I think Clover Stroud's article has a point. Okay, using Kate Middleton as an example of a subservient wife was a little unfair - she will appear as a mouthpiece for William not only due to his regal status but also because, if it wasn't for him, we'd never have heard of her in the first place!. But I do agree that this trend of 'surrendered' women with their disturbing lack of dreams, aspirations and desires to do something for themselves is not something we should be proud of.
Girls: ambition is sexy. Settling down at twenty into a domestic role, gormlessly catering to someone else's every demand is not. But I disagree with Stroud's belittling of a loyal, supportive wife. So I propose a compromise. Why not combine the role models of Kate and Rihanna, creating a woman who is not only supportive and loyal but still sexy, feisty and independent.
It can't be that hard can it? (Just look to Beyoncé for inspiration...)