Pictured above is actress Keira Knightley and singer Jessie J. But this article isn’t just about them. We’ll get to thee beauties in a bit. We’re actually talking about everyday women in the UK who have stepped up to the plate for a cause and are setting a great example of modern feminism in action.
We’ve spoke about some of these examples before, but today they are a powerful combination attacking three specific forms of inequality: sexism, female genital mutilation and child marriage.
First up, Elle Magazine UK commissioned three young female students and 3 advertising agencies to come up with ways to “rebrand” feminism. The idea came about because they wanted to get rid of the negativity and complications surrounding the movement. To have a major fashion publication lead the charge on this from a media point of view is important, as it takes all voices joining together.
In 2012 we spoke to Object! a human rights group based in London who are adamant that the representation of women in media needs to be reevaluated and tackled in a new way. One of their main campaigns is against The Sun newspaper as they want them to abolish their Page 3 section which literally features scantily-clad and naked girls just for the hell of it. Yep, smack bang in the middle of the daily news and other relevant columns is a huge dose of unnecessary objectification, and it needs to stop.
Page 3 again. Aren’t beautiful young women more attractive in at least some fashionable clothes? Your opinions please.
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) September 10, 2014
While it hasn’t completely been abolished, it shows that speaking up and being persistent can have a massive impact.
Still on the topic of sexism, you may have heard about a project called Everyday Sexism, started by British Woman Laura Bates. She initially created a blog-type site where she wanted to share her stories of being harassed and objectified on the street, and encouraged other women to write to her and share their stories also. Since 2012 when it began, she has had over 80,000 entries and it has become a startling reminder to the UK society that this is not just a small issue that can be overlooked.
Laura has since become the target of vicious threats and negative remarks (not surprisingly) but she is standing her ground because clearly what she is doing has hit a nerve. In an impassioned TEDx Talk she speaks about how since launching her online project, she has worked with local government and police to help shape new legislation based on crucial information gathered from her many anonymous stories.
While negativity can be difficult to rise above, use it as a sign that you are doing something important and don’t back down. Just look at how anonymous hackers threatened to leak nude photos of actress Emma Watson after she spoke boldly about feminism and gender equality at the United Nations not too long ago!
The other two subjects being tackled in the UK are FGM and child marriage. Two crucial laws have been implemented by the government, one which allows UK nationals both at home or abroad to be prosecuted if they are found to be organizing, taking part in, or possessing knowledge about the forced marriage of underage girls.
At the launch of the very first Girl Summit held in London in July this year, chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron and his home secretary Theresa May, they announced another law which would see the same type of crackdown on female genital mutilation by UK nationals either at home or abroad.
They stressed the importance of education and awareness about FGM being the key to ending this worldwide epidemic. Contrary to popular belief, FGM is not religion-specific, it is a cultural practice, one which could be abolished if the younger generations pass on facts to their elders of how harmful it can be on a young girl’s body.
It is not just the UK government who are in charge of making changes happen, but everyday people. The Guardian newspaper have enlisted the help of school girl Fahma Mohamed to be the face of their Anti-FGM Campaign. The idea behind it is to coerce then-education minister Michael Gove to make it mandatory for schools across the UK to teach about the dangers and complications of female circumcision (as it is often referred to) in the hope that these students will pass on this valuable medical information to their parents, grandparents and communities who still insist on practicing FGM for “purity” reasons.
Fahma was just awarded Good Housekeeping’s outstanding young campaigner of the year award for her work, which garnered a lot of success. Michael Gove ended up writing a letter in favor of the campaign to all the schools in the UK before he changed positions in the Conservative Party to become chief whip (think Kevin Spacey’s character in season 1 of ‘House of Cards’), Fahma’s Change.org petition garnered over 230,00 signatures and even got the backing of Malala Yousafzai and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself!
So why are we talking about these campaigns? To show the power of everyday people to make a difference, and to give kudos to these organizations and men and women who are putting emphasis on one of the greatest crimes of modern day society: gender inequality. It is not just up to governments and people in positions of power to make a change, we can play our part also. If you have a voice, use it.
Now onto Jessie J and Keira Knightley. Where do they come in? They are women using their celebrity status as currency to speak up about feminism in way that reaches hundreds of thousands of people in one go.
In an interview with Huffpost Entertainment, the ‘Bang Bang’ singer said she is absolutely a feminist because equal rights should be a normality.
“I believe in making sure that I understand my responsibility of being a woman, and what I should stand for, and being confident and not standing down for any ego or suit,” said Jessie J, real name Jessica Ellen Cornish.
The woman who also wrote Miley Cyrus’ hit ‘Party in the U.S.A’ said for her it was seeing blatant sexism in the music industry which forced her to realize the fight is still real.
“Anytime there’s anyone I feel is being spoken to in a certain way, or treated differently because they’re a woman, I will step in and go ‘Hold up. Wait a minute’. [Sexism] does exist, which is sad. So it’s important to speak up on it.”
As for Keira Knightley, who has previously spoken up about the need for more female directors in Hollywood for representations of women on screen to improve, playing the role of Joan Clarke in ‘The Imitation Game’ has opened her eyes even more to the struggle of women over the past 70 years, one which she claims has not improved much.
“The actual Joan Clarke, what she was fighting for was a place at the table and equal pay and I think those are still the two main things that feminists today are fighting for and there’s still inequality in that,” she said.
The film follows the real life story of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) who was recruited to work at Britain’s top secret code-breaking centre Bletchley Park during the darkest days of WW2, leading a team which worked to crack the German’s elusive Enigma code. Keira’s character Joan Clarke experienced her own exclusions. She was forced to masquerade as a secretary as women weren’t deemed fit to take on such important work as code breaking. Keira said in the same interview that Joan’s fight for feminism and breaking boundaries inspired her as a woman and an actress.
What these groups and celebs prove is that feminism is not just a woman’s fight, nor is it just one group’s responsibility. There are so many areas to be tackled and discussed, and it starts with creating dialog. With the increased amount of discussion (and arguments) about the relevance of feminism both online and off, we all have an opportunity to share what is important and how effective feminism can be.