Girlpower / Young and still feminist
struggle, observed in horror by the old crew.
TROUW, 9 oktober 2001
By Marjan Agerbeek
translation from Dutch: Jan Haverkamp
After years in which nobody dared to speak out the F-word, twens again gain interest in feminism. With bare belly-buttons and push-up bra`s, girls fight their own struggle, observed in horror by the old crew.
The meeting "who is afraid for the F-word", organised last winter by the feminist magazin LOVER, drew a lot of young women. That was a surprise, because young people long time avoided the women`s movement. But the tabu on feminism seems to fade out. Maybe because the second feminist wave is for the present generation something from far history. They were toddlers or not even born when the wave already ebbed away.
That feminism is in again, not only is proven during well attended feminist meetings. In Amsterdam, the interest for women`s studies is increasing again, a subject that was developed by women from the second feminist wave and for years threatened with close-down because of too little enrolments. During the last five years, the amount of students increased from twenty to sixty.
Young feminists also speak out. Sanderijn Cels wrote "Grrls", a book about a generation of unattached, selfconscious girls between twenty and thirty, that don`t want to be grown-up yet and take the liberty to get to happiness and (sexual) self-realization. They want to be called `post-feminist`: counter to their predecessors, they don`t talk about the equality between men and women anymore but take it for granted, and take care that they are also treated that way.
According Cels, there is a reason why girls want to enjoy their freedom. "Their parents are all two-earners that work themselves to pieces. They want to postpone such a life as long as possible. That has the advantage, that you then know better how you want to design your life. Disadvantage is that you still did not make a carreer when you are thirty and you may be too old for the top."
Girls can be found above all in cultural and media circles. That is inevitable, because the girls- movement in the USA also started in the music world. For girls, Madonna is the figure head. The mentality shared by those girls is "girl power". Or "Grrl power", named after a stream of feminist punk musicians that calls themselves riotgrrls.
There must be quite a lot of those girls, judging from the target group of Starstyle, a new glossy magazin for girls aroud 25 years old. The profile of the expected 100.000 readers makes one think very strongly of `girls`: young women that don`t complain, look for practical solutions and walk carefree and optimistic through life.
The students in women`s studies Karlijn Blécourt (27) and Rinske Bijl (24) recognize themselves in the powerful image of girlspower. Blécourt: "That strong part, I wished that someone had approached me that way." But when confronted with women`s problems, they believe - different than girls - in collective action, like the older generation of feminists that educate them at women`s studies.
Just like in the seventies, sexual freedom is an important theme in the young women`s movement. Cels describes in her book the still prevailing double sexual morale: Boys can experiment, but when girls are wild, they are no good. "After the seventies something remained that looks a lot like a pre-historic role play: the man is the hunter and the woman sits and waits with Bambi-eyes."
That role play was, according Cels, strengthened in the eighties by the aids-campaigns, in which adolescents were confronted with moral lectures on how dangerous it was to sleep with different partners. Besides that, the New-wave and punk had a dressing code that covered as much as possible of the body. Girls that showed off their female forms were "sluts" and "Barbies".
The means with which girls chose to gain sexual freedom are symbols and play, according to Cels. "Sexual freedom goes for girls with exiting clothing. For them the push-up bra is a sign of the new appreciation of sexuality, their tight pants are a sign of self confidence and their bare belly a contemporary symbol of a revolutionary kind of femininity."
These symbols belong to the power game. Cels quotes Marion: "When I go out, I have no shame. My friends and I scream through the bar. And when we spot a nice guy, he won`t get rid of us for the whole evening. You can see them duck and think: No, not me! Not me! And sometimes we drag him home, when he is really nice."
The ambition of sexual freedom goes for the young women hand in hand with the struggle against sexual violence. Women that believe in collective action, try to do so with demonstrations. The students Bijl en Blécourt recently organised a "witch night". Blécourt: "It failed in Amsterdam already for three years, but it is a tradition in which women go by night through the streets and make nois with pots and lids. This is a symbol for reclaiming the street." Also Groningen and Nijmegen had their witch nights.
Karlijn de Blécourt also thinks that illegal actions are allowed. A few years ago she was assaulted. To air her anger, she went by night through town and sprayed billboards with scantly dressed ladies. After a few years her rage cooled down and she decided to study women`s studies.
Girls don`t like Witch Nights or spraying billboards with women in underwear. They have other methods to fight sexual intimidation, Sanderijn Cels shows in "Grrls". She quotes Tatum, one of the fifty interviewed in her book: "The whistling and hissing in the street is something typically male. What I did once was to hang out the car with a couple of girl-friends and we did the same thing with some exaggeration. Things like: "You want to have a nice fuck?" with a nice nasty voice. It scared the wits out of them and they ran away."
The struggle against sexual violence does not only come from the wish to be sexually free. Sexual intimidation, especially by boys under eighteen, is increasing. From the Emancipation Monitor 2000 of the Dutch Social and Cultural Planning Agency (SCP), it appears that the amount of registered rapes doubled between 1980 and 1998 to 2.500. Registrations of assaults increased with a third. This increase can be explained partially with a larger preparedness from the side of victims to register. From a report of the expert centre E-quality, it appears that one out of three women has been sexually abused once or more times before the age of sixteen.
Also sexual intimidation in the working place happens a lot: The Netherlands are number five on the world list. Almost eight percent of working women has once been submitted to sexual discrimination or unwanted intimities on the working place. Above all young women and lower educated ones are amongst the victims.
Young women, whether they believe in activism or not, do not get a lot of support in their struggle for sexual freedom and against sexual violence from the feminists of the second wave, who are now around fifty years old or older. That generation is entrenched in institutes like the university or the monthly "Opzij", where they criticize the emancipatory level of government policy. They also engage in debates about new women`s subjects, like headscarfs. But they do not feel attracted to the themes of the youth.
During the LOVER-debate on the F-word, girls pushed for actions to fight against nude women on billboards. That initiative was directly played down by editor in chief Cisca Dresselhuys of Opzij, who presided the session: that was really something of the past. This hurt the girls really. Rinske Bijl: "It was really horrible. She cut everone off and was very negative. We wanted to discuss and go into action, like her generation also did. But obviously that was not on her agenda. Why? Can`t old feminists lend a helping hand here?"
After the debate, Dresselhuys regrets that things went this way: "I must have gotten accustomed to these posters with naked women too much. But well, I also did not hear yet from women that chained themselves to such billboards in protest."
The older generation also doesn`t like the methods of the girls. They didn`t burn their bra`s in the seventies and refused to shave their legs and armpits, to hear now these girls with bare bellies and painted toe-nails calling themselves feminists? Saskia Poldervaart, co-ordinator of women`s studies in Amsterdam and former `Dolle Mina` [radical feminist]: "Girls are too much oriented on their appearance to be feminist. And they do not want to change the existing ideas on men and women."
Joyce Outshoorn, professor in women`s studies in Leiden, does not think girls are feminists, because they lack collective aims. "Women have a backlag in the social-economic area. They earn less than men, are not always economically independent, there is still a lot to do. But you don`t hear anything about that from Cels."
Dresselhuys, however, thinks that girls do chose feminist themes. "But that they want to flitter around until they are thirty, collides with our ideas. Because what happens, we ask, when they are flittered out? I am concerned about that."
For Cels, the resistace of the older generation does not come as a surprise. She also provoked it by reacting strongly against these women. OK, she is grateful to the older feminists for the freedom that they fought for. And they are right when they say that the position of women still leaves a lot to wish. But that complaining tone! And that call for action!
Cels: "Those feminists of the second wave don`t understand how much success they had. Feminism has been so successful, that girls even don`t think in differences between men and women. But the women from the second wave want that when we are twenty, we bother about now difficult it`s going to be later, when we have kids. I think that a very unhealthy way of educating young people. They should think in terms of chances, not in barriers."