Dear teenage girls: please don’t hold out for a hero

Feminism.jpgWRITING to newspapers is a feminist act. It’s public, it’s free and it only takes a few minutes. It’s a feminist act because the letters pages of almost any newspaper are a reminder that gender inequality isn’t just about equal pay, anti-discrimination and reproductive rights. It’s about women being seen and heard in the public sphere, feeling empowered to express an opinion about the issues that matter to them.

Wednesday’s edition of The Herald carried 11 letters from men and just one from a woman, while The Scotsman on the same day had 10 from men and two from women. Some may suspect bias on the part of letters editors is at work here, but the stark truth is that women simply do not write to newspapers in anything like the numbers men do. And despite the huge role of women in the grassroots indyref campaign, The National is no exception.

So it was with delight that I opened our mailbox on Tuesday to find a trio of missives from female readers. Up the women! But joy quickly turned to dismay when I realised each one was expressing a variation on the same view: down with feminism. The catalyst was Vicky Allan’s profile of the children’s author Lari Don, whose radical position is that female characters should have agency and adventures rather than merely being prizes for male characters to win. The word feminism didn’t actually appear once in the piece. There was no mention of romance either. But our correspondents read between the lines.

It’s probably a sign of middle age that when I hear young women’s off-hand dismissal of feminism, my first desire is to give them a good shake and a bit of a row

It’s probably a sign of middle age that when I hear young women’s off-hand dismissal of feminism, my first desire is to give them a good shake and a bit of a row. But that’s swiftly followed by a stronger and utterly sincere desire for dialogue. So if you’re reading, you passionate, articulate and unwittingly feminist teenage girls, can we pretend just for a minute that I’m not comfortably old enough to be your mum? Can we just talk, young woman to young(-ish) woman?

Your letter made my heart hurt. It made me well up a little, which I probably shouldn’t admit because, you know, gender stereotypes and all that. But I still love that you wrote it. And I’m happy you enjoy being girls. We hear so much negativity about what it’s like to being a young woman in the 21st century – worries about body image, bullying, sexual harassment, exam pressures and more – that it’s a breath of fresh air to hear from you that being a girl is pretty great.

I know you think I’m no fun, and that’s the part that stings the most. Fun, for me, is laughing with friends until we cry (and sometimes snort). It’s dressing up and going out on the town. It’s dancing until our feet hurt then taking our high heels off and dancing some more. It’s a movie night with freshly popped popcorn and even fresher gossip. It’s doing arts and crafts with a friend’s kids and going mad with the glitter. It’s a game of netball with only eight players and no referee.

Feminism and fun are not incompatible, and neither are feminism and femininity

Feminism and fun are not incompatible, and neither are feminism and femininity. Have you see what Germaine Greer looked like in her 1970s heydey? Her eye make-up was, as I believe you would say, on fleek. She wrote a book called The Female Eunuch, which I know probably sounds like no fun and even kind of gross, but it’s actually all about loving your body and enjoying sex and the “freedom to run, shout, talk loudly and sit with your knees apart”. Please do give it a whirl before dismissing her as a boring old dungaree-wearing killjoy. And remember you don’t have to sit with your knees apart, any more than you have to go off slaying dragons or tackling burglars. But there’s no harm having the option, is there?

It might seem like we’re worlds as well as years apart, but we’re not. I remember piling into the cinema with my girlfriends to watch the latest romantic comedy, and it was escapist fun watching beautiful Americans with bright white teeth fall in love. I’m not trying to stamp on your dreams, or ruin your favourite films. Romance is great, but it’s a bonus. It’s the cherry on top of the ice-cream sundae of life. It’s never guaranteed, and if you pin all your hopes on finding it – and then achieving the even harder bit, keeping it alive – you risk missing out on everything else life has to offer.

Romance is great, but it’s a bonus. It’s the cherry on top of the ice-cream sundae of life

Boyfriends aren’t white knights with the job of rescuing damsels in distress: they’re people, just like you and me. They love, laugh and care but they also feel sad, scared and insecure, just like we do, and in any healthy relationship they should be able to do so without judgment. Look at Andy Murray, who kick-started #BoysDoCry this week to raise awareness of male suicide and show there’s nothing unmasculine about showing your emotions. He’s not bad boyfriend material, is he? I’m guessing his super-glam wife doesn’t think he’s wimp.

I know 1980s pop references are probably lost on you, but please don’t hold out for a hero. Be your own hero. And please keep writing us letters. I promise I won’t call you the F word again.

A version of this article first appeared in The National.

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