Let's Put the Fun Back in Feminism; Forget Burning Bras and Germaine Greer. What Feminism Needs Now Is Cheryl Cole

Article excerpt

Byline: by Hilary Hazard

I HAVE always loved being female. As a little girl, I got away with things my brothers could only dream of. I was the one who got free sweets at the corner shop while they just got suspicious glares. I was the one who got the praise and top marks at school.

And now, as I celebrate having a job I relish and a rich and varied social life I adore, I'm convinced there's never been a better time to be a woman.

All the statistics prove it. Last year 53 per cent of start-up companies were led by women. In education, 58 per cent of girls achieved five or more GCSE grades A* to C, compared with 47 per cent of boys.

Even four of the final five in this year's The Apprentice TV series were female. And that's why it's so astonishing that feminism has become a dirty word. Young women seem to believe that we no longer need feminism.

But where on earth would we be without it? And -- more to the point -- how much damage are we going to do ourselves by putting our feet up now?

Statistically, women might be doing well. But, in reality, attitudes haven't caught up. Inequality is still rife and if we let feminism fade into obscurity we risk halting the progress of women for ever.

The first wave of feminism in the early part of the last century had a clear goal. Women were second-class citizens and were desperate for equal rights in society, politics and the workplace.

Feminism peaked again in the Sixties when women fought for a more complex set of principles. Second-wave feminists demanded that women have the opportunity to abandon the kitchen and take their place at the top of the power pyramid, which men had hogged for far too long.

Rosie Boycott, as editor of the iconic feminist magazine Spare Rib, and American Betty Friedan were key players, urging us to rip off our aprons, burn our bras and fight for access to the contraceptive Pill, equal rights at work and recognition that we could be just as successful as men.

The results were staggering. In its first five years, the Equal Opportunities Commission received 50,000 complaints from disgruntled women.

It's awe-inspiring to look back and see just how hard our mothers and grandmothers campaigned. It's even more impressive to see how much they achieved.

But their success has proved a double-edged sword for our generation. Women have come so far that it's easy to think we've reached the end of the road. The burning sense of injustice that fuelled feminism through the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies has given way to apathy. And that's dangerous for us all.

The indifference among young women is staggering. For example, earlier this year, feminist activists staged a placard protest against the Miss University Beauty Pageant which invites London students to parade in front of judges and answer simple questions about themselves.

The feminist banners read 'We all want to be judged for our intellectual merit, not our bodies'.

Hear! Hear! But instead of rushing to join the protesters, most of the female students simply wondered what all the fuss was about. Last year's winner, dentistry student Shiva Jasseb, huffed: 'It's just a bit of fun. It's about students getting their make-up done and putting on a show in front of their friends.'

The mind boggles. And the sad part is that we've only ourselves to blame. We're the ones chipping away at feminism. We're the ones buying into a culture which still downgrades women.

Women are still being exploited and patronised. But now it's worse because we're doing it to ourselves -- and actually paying for the privilege.

For all our spending power, women are more obsessed by image than ever before.

Our mothers and grandmothers gave us the chance to focus on our brains. …