FEMINISTS CAN FLIRT (and Other Noughtie Ideas); Forget the Man-Hating, Bra-Burning Stereotype - Being a Feminist in 2009 Is All about Having Choices, Says Author Ellie Levenson. This Exclusive Extract from Her New Book, the Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism, Explores 21st-Century Girl Power - Looking at Everything from Careers to Marriage, Make-Up to Ready Meals Illustrations ADAM NICKEL

Article excerpt

Byline: Ellie Levenson

When I asked my friends whether they are feminists, many reacted with horror. There was a sense that saying yes would mean no more short skirts or make-up, and that they would have to vote in a particular way. But for noughtie girls, feminist demands are based less on political ideologies than on the experiences of our day-to-day lives. For me, feminism is about having real choices - from influencing who runs the country to choosing whether I wear high heels or flats.

The truth is that, however much we might aspire to act in a feminist way, most of the time we fall short. I love it when a man buys me dinner. Sometimes when I have wanted something I have flirted my way shamelessly to getting it. Not only that, but I like pink and especially glitter.

Feminism is about acknowledging that we are different while shouting loudly that we are equal. We may not all act in a feminist way all of the time, but if we think we are feminists, then we are. Unless you are the woman who, when I asked her if she was a feminist, responded: 'I asked my husband and he said I'm not.'

Marriage versus singledom

A former colleague told me: 'I didn't believe in marriage -- until I met the man I wanted to marry.' The same happened to me. In a few months I went from vehemently anti-marriage to happily married. I fell in love and we just wanted to.

Traditionally feminism and marriage are not seen as necessarily compatible. But women do spend a lot of time searching for the right man, and it's not anti-feminist to feel that life is nicer when it is shared with someone.

I remember the sheer relief, once I found a partner, of not having to look any more. I no longer had to be constantly witty and interesting and wonder which of my bad habits to hide. Sometimes women are criticised for trying too hard to catch a man. I'm not saying that life without a partner is worthless, but given that for many of us a partnership is so pleasant, why shouldn't we do all that we can to get one? A friend of mine, mid-30s and single, asked me what relevance feminism has to her. She doesn't have to worry about who does the housework or who looks after the children. But she still has workplace issues regarding pay and promotion, decisions to make about dating and sex and contraception, and she too must decide whether to wear make-up and what clothes to go out in.

More than that, if she's not filling the roles historically regarded as women's most important -- wife and mother -- then feminism for her should be about ensuring that she is not seen as a lesser person for this, either by other women or by men.

Female friendships Love it or hate it - and I loved it - Sex and the City did help to explain to the world just how important female friendships are. Our female friends are the ones we turn to when our hearts are broken, when we are excited about a date, when we need wardrobe advice.

Sometimes we don't like them very much, as we compete to be the alpha female within our friendship circle. Yet despite this, female friendship is the essence of our lives because we can truly be ourselves with other women.

My friends and I have an all-female book group. It means we can admit we don't understand something without it being because we are female, and we can draw literary parallels without being worried we're being too clever. With only one gender present, we no longer conform to gender stereotypes. Instead of being women, we are just people.

Beauty politics Noughtie feminism is perfectly compatible with aspiring to external beauty. If we want to wear make-up or attractive clothes, we can. But at the same time we know that to judge someone by the clarity of their skin or the jiggle of their bottom is not remotely feminist. Some women are so beautiful that they don't need to cultivate any other good qualities. And then one day, when they are no longer beautiful, they spend their time remembering 'I was beautiful once'. …