Do consumerism and feminism mix? Our daughters are embracing a curious kind of bodily autonomy, and we parents need to know how to cope.
The young women of today are fabulous feminists. Most of them know that women still don’t have equal rights in terms of bodily autonomy, safety, wages and career prospects. It’s great they know their rights and many are very aware of discrimination and equality. It’s fantastic they strive to be strong and fierce.
At the same time, they are growing up in a hyper-consumerist culture that has turned feminism into another product you can love heart on Instagram and buy on a $60 T-shirt. Your mum might have burnt her bra, but your daughter considers it her feminist right to “free the nipple”. Young feminists are “body positive” and, while that sounds lovely, when it combines with consumerism (and doesn’t it always?) that can lead to a generation gap we’re calling “Kardashian feminism”. Kardashian feminism means you will hear arguments such as “I need these fake nails and $80 foundation because it’s my right as a woman to look how I want and your judgement is sexist and oldfashioned feminism.” Or, “You have to let me post frequent bikini shots because it’s my body and you are being paternalistic and slutshaming me.” What looks like commodification of the female flesh to you is empowerment to her. What seems like dressing for the male gaze to her grandma is her notion of “bodily autonomy”.
Girls mature faster than boys and this sometimes leaves the boys feeling baffled about expectations. We’ve heard of relationships when girls demand chocolates on weekly anniversaries, a ring after a month of dating and a bracelet at three months. Hopefully, that’s rare – because money can’t buy you love, babe – and, besides, that level of expense isn’t easy for a young boy or girl who’s dropping leaflets for real estate agents for $5 an hour. The boys get confused that girls are rating hot guys in undies on Instagram, but if they did something similar they’d get burnt. (This is, of course, probably far less common than boys’ sexist behaviour and rating girls, but it’s an interesting development.)
At the other extreme, teen boys are watching YouTube videos made by young Incels – angry creeps and sexist cretins who tell other young men that feminists want to kill them, that society hates men and that they need to hate women back. Sexual politics is a minefield for them. Adults struggle with it, so, of course, they will too.
Encourage your daughter’s feminism into effective solutions towards equality. Encourage your boys to behave with decency. Talk to boys and girls about objectification, sexualisation, sexism, shaming and their behaviour. They might be getting information at school that is helpful but can also be confusing. Watch your own behaviour and how you talk about women and men and sexual politics. Explain to them what the #MeToo movement actually is, not what they might have been told it is.
Extracted with permission from So… You’re Having a Teenager by Sarah Macdonald and Cathy Wilcox, published by Murdoch Books RRP$32.99, also available as an ebook for any computer, laptop, or tablet.