I don’t know if like me you have mixed emotions about the modern day Blind Date format that is Take Me Out, aired on a Saturday evening on prime time TV. My first impression was one of sheer horror at the blatant objectification of women as they stand behind their podium in tiny outfits. Hair blow waved and straightened to within an inch of its life, all high heels, red lipstick, pouting and preening in the hope of securing an exotic date to the Isle of Fernandos with one guy who gets to choose who he wants to take out. And yet, despite my horror I have since found myself glued to the screen in an almost compulsive manner and have even, dare I admit to it, tuned in to ITV2 for the additional gossip and interviews with the contestants from the show.
Yes, I hang my head in shame at my collusion by default of the wholesale media consumerist image of what women are or should be. Especially as I had been asked to pull together a workshop for the CCU to celebrate International Women’s Day (8th March) in which we would explore the history of women’s journey to where we are today and creative ways in which we can continue to connect and inspire young women for the future. And yet whilst indulging in my Saturday night guilty pleasure I justify my interest in terms of trying to understand the impact programmes such as these have on the current and next generation of young women. Just what have we achieved in the western world when it comes to inspiration and aspiration? Is it the case that young girls want only to look good and meet Mr Right (Mr Right with celebrity status and suitably padded bank balance!) or do the majority of young women out there still recognise their independence, personal skills and abilities and have the desire to walk their own path in life?
I think the answer truly lies somewhere along the continuum. Today’s generation of young women are living at a time where gender inequality is less recognised as an issue of concern. Historical fact or familial anecdote about oppressive female roles within both the family and the workplace appear too distant for young girls to make relevant connections to their own situations. From my own experience of many women in the UK they generally consider themselves empowered with equal access to careers, disposal incomes and life opportunities. They do not register the media driven materialistic and image conscious concept of what it is to be female but repeat the mantra that they do not act and dress in a particular way to satisfy men but for their own pleasure and their right to do as they please. Admittedly amongst my own generation (I’m fast approaching 40 this year) there seems to be some recognition of market and media forces encouraging a look, previously more suited to pornography, onto the high street and into our bars and clubs. But for young women in their teens and early 20s not a thought is given to their ever increasing sexualisation and objectification.
Of course I cannot deny that over the past few decades there have been many positive shifts in attitude and opportunities for women that previous generations could never have contemplated. For myself, if born just a few decades earlier I may never have had the same educational and employment opportunities and the economic and social independence that I have enjoyed to date. But this aside I am still conscious of the reality that women are not paid equally to that of their male counterparts (men take home higher pay than women in 370 of the UK’s 426 job classifications, while women earn more in only 53 categories, according to data supplied by the Office for National Statistics – Guardian 08.03.2011) and that women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics. And on a global level women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. I’ve shared this link before on our facebook page but feel the need to do so again as the imagery and messages are just so powerful.
As for the workshop I was preparing, unfortunately there were not enough participants booked on for it to go ahead. I’m sure there are so many reasons for this which are linked to everyday pressures at work or home and the need to prioritise what we commit our increasingly precious time too. But a part of me wonders whether it is because as women we often forget that there is a need to celebrate, continue the debate, raise awareness and connect with young girls to inspire them for their futures. In the meantime, the consumer world drives ever forward and the “Take Me Out” format becomes the acceptable norm. For those of you who have seen it you’ll know what I mean when I say that this particular prospect makes me want to turn my light off – “no likey, no lighty”!!
Happy International Women’s Day