Eleanor Doward

Women’s Rights: The New Black

I love feminism. I love girls, I love being a girl, I love girls being able to do, say and act how they want. I’d love ALL girls to have the choices and the rights that men enjoy. Equality is a beautiful concept and I’m sure if you were to ask people if they liked the sound of gender equality, you’d (hopefully) get a resounding yes.

Baring all this in mind, I also love boys, makeup, false tan and a bit of light shopping from time to time (student budget notwithstanding). In my view, women can be feminists without burning their bras, harbouring a passionate hatred for all men, wearing all black or refusing to shave an inch of pubic hair. Feminism promotes a woman’s right to choose, and a girl should be able to proudly call herself a feminist no matter if she shaves her legs or maybe likes to buy posh underwear from time to time. But feminism and fashionable are two things that, in my experience, do not for most people go hand in hand. It isn’t considered remotely sexy. Every girl I know wants to feel sexy and feeling sexy can be empowering, but what actually constitutes sexy in our culture?


Sexy seems to be the domineering, controlling Christian Grey, who overpowers the young, innocent Anastasia Steele until he effectively owns her (for example; forcing her to take his last name when they marry, dictating what she wears, etc.). Sexy seems to be the brand new Agent Provocateur advert, written and directed by Penelope Cruz. The advert features a man who puts on his special (slightly pervy) Agent Provocateur sunglasses which allow him to see through the clothes of multitudes of unrealistically gorgeous women in strange poses, modelling very fancy (slightly stringy) underwear sets. Sexy is Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, where the models dance, naked and passive next to the smug singers in sharp suits, surrounded by imagery and unsubtle visual metaphors that make the models appear as children, or even animals. Is it true, as a friend of mine claimed, that sexy is subservience?

When I mention feminism, I get a lot of raised eyebrows, a few groans of despair. Feminism. Is there anything so uncool? Or unsexy? Well guess what – it’s not sexy to be anti-woman. Because if you call yourself an anti-feminist to appear fashionable or sexy, anti-woman is exactly what you’re being. Feminism is about choice and rights for women and more people need to understand this. S&M can be sexy when it’s fully consensual and not abusive and for me, 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t present it in quite the right light. Of course, the books don’t help themselves with the constant comparisons they make to Hardy’s Victorian novel Tess of the D’ubervilles, which is (put very simply) a novel about rape. Provocative, fashionable lacy underwear can be very sexy, but Penelope Cruz chose to market it at men, instead of women, surely the target audience as the main consumers of Agent Provocateur’s products. I think if I bought a fancy underwear set from Agent P, it would be to make myself feel sexy and empowered, and it certainly wouldn’t be to stand around the kitchen holding a cake and allowing other ladies in similar attire to lick icing off my finger all for a strange man with x-ray sunglasses.

Feminism – women’s choice and women’s rights – needs to become the new black. Absolutely it should be able to go hand in hand with concepts like ‘fashionable’ and ‘sexy’. For me, the imagery I see all around me every day of women as passive, degraded and debased is unsettling, yet I’m constantly told that it’s somehow ‘sexy’. Nope, not for me thanks.

A friend of mine told me that I’d ‘never find a man’ if I carried on with ‘all this feminist s**t’. Countless times I’ve been asked if I’m a lesbian, a prude, frigid, just for speaking my mind about women’s rights. But I’m not going to shut up because it’s somehow more ‘fashionable’ to do so, or because I’m somehow made less appealing by my preoccupation with feminism, and I hope people reading this feel the same. No matter how threatened people feel, or how ‘unsexy’ it makes me, I’m going to keep speaking out. For me, feminism can and should be fashionable and our society’s ideas of ‘sexy’ need to catch up with the trend, because it isn’t going anywhere.

Here’s the Agent Provocateur advert if you’d like to see what all the fuss is about.


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