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Thursday, 5 May 2011

Empowerment - that bloody word again

I really hate the word empowered. Like resting for actors, it’s a word that’s slipped its ken and is used as a stick to beat us. Any kind of dubious activity or product that involves the endless commoditisation of the female body – you just slap a variant of empowered on it and any protest reduces you to a hairy arsed feminist with no sense of humour. Pole dancing? So empowering. Playboy pencil cases for six year olds? Pre-teen empowerment. Abstinence only sex education for girls but not boys? No . . .not the swivel eyed lunacy of right wing fundamentalism, Nadine Dorries, but empowering girls.
Someone from a documentary company rang me the other day. BBC4 are exploring how ‘women see their bodies’ throughout all stages in life. 'It’s particularly relevant since the presenter has just had a baby so she’s talking to women – real women. And they would be interested in wondering how my attitudes to food and body image have affected The Girl. It would be quite (all together now!) empowering,' she says.
We have a little chat and of course it soon becomes apparent that what they really want is a woman who dislikes her body intensely, is obsessed with calorie counting and is passing this self loathing onto her daughter. How can that be empowering I ask? 'Because the woman would be aware of what she’s doing.' How marvellous.
I point out that a dinner lady at The Girl’s school told me that there’s a five year old girl who has to have her food separated on the plate. So peas can’t touch the potatoes which in turn have to be kept away from the chicken. An eating disorder in the making. At five. ‘Can you give me her number?’ the researcher asks, trying to keep the eagerness out of her voice. She is very disappointed when I tell her that I don’t have the number.
I put the phone down feeling depressed. Surely a better way would be to talk to women who don’t live their lives with the spectre of the scales looming – they are out there. Women who (whisper who dares) actually enjoy their food and who want their daughters to enjoy it too. Women who despite the billion pound industry which informs us that we are nothing without the impossibly sculpted waist, the fat free thighs, topped off by space hopper tits have actually managed to retain a sense of self. That would be really empowering.


Anne Kenny said...

Hmm - think I fought a losing battle against the forces of that billion pound industry today as I tried to persuade a group of girls to engage their minds, that it might just improve their life chances, that they really do need at least a C grade in English. They knew better. Appearance is far more important. It really is necessary to peer into a small mirror (think budgerigar) and preen, check that your eye make- up is still there and if not then apply a thick coat of something resembling black tar which will ensure that your eyes look like you now have gigantic spiders where you once had eyes. Then there is always the important matter of HAIR to discuss. How early they dye these days – ‘I started when I was eight’ says one, recounting her personal disaster. Shouldn’t an eight year old be too busy playing games and climbing trees to worry about her hair colour? No, apparently not – obsession about appearance comes earlier these days and it’s obsessive and distracting and it stops girls from achieving and it distorts their sense of who they are and what’s important. However, these girls had plans – they didn’t need a C grade they assured me: they were going on next year study ‘Hair and Beauty.’

Anne Kenny said...

Oh... and 'target' is my least favourite word - but that's a whole new can of worms.

Jane said...

@Anne, I salute you anyway. But a girl of EIGHT worrying about hair dye? I'm speechless.