We’ve come so far, but there’s still a long way to go
Clearly, we don’t need feminism anymore. In 2020, close to 25,000 UoA students identified as female. And 18,000 identified as male. In 2019, the Uni employed 279 female senior lecturers and 278 male senior lecturers. Fields once dominated by men are increasingly less so. For example, 55% of all medical doctors in Aotearoa are female. “She believed she could, so she did”—duh. A female’s ‘success’ is meritocratic… Right? Sorry, let me pick up my laundry, cleaning products, kids, job, and concealer that I dropped in disbelief.
However, if you did think that, you’re not a bad person or anything. We’ve all internalised the patriarchy’s messages to some extent. Just the other day, my mum said I needed to shave my legs.
Sure, many women living in westernised nations no longer need a husband to increase their chance of survival. But, the truth is many of us feel immense pressure to behave and look a certain way, all while doing as many things and achieving as much as possible.
Dr. Eunice Gaerlan-Price completed her PhD in girlhood studies last year. In our interview, she said that the young women in her study described a need to be perceived as ‘supergirl’, someone gorgeous, smart, popular, charming, and well-rounded.
Perhaps you can relate to this feeling too? Some members of the Craccum editorial team definitely can. Naomii admitted that she feels “pressure to be the best in everything [she does], which includes being at least an 8/10, whatever the fuck that means.” Similarly, Maddy shared that she often feels that her “presentation is key to successfully holding value” in “whatever given social context” she finds herself in.
As long as the pressure to be supergirl exists, young women will keep sacrificing their sleep and overall well-being. And this leads to burnout, says Dr. Gaerlan-Price. Do you know what will happen if we let all women burn out? Iceland, 24 October 1975—that’s what.
Maybe, like some of the news presenters Dr. Gaerlan-Price has spoken to, you’re still not convinced. It seems that this pressure is merely an inescapable part of life. Well, that’s a dangerous opinion. Dr. Gaerlan-Price explained that by considering society as post-feminist, we fail to address “real gender and race issues […] because it allows people to say women are doing really well—‘just look at school achievement rates!’—but that ceases once you get into positions of leadership or places where decisions need to be made. Representation is still not there.”
Similarly, some of the girls in the study were “sick of the feminist messages,” buying into the idea that if they work hard, they can achieve anything. (Which, don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic there are lots of girls with the capital to reach their goals.) But such an individual approach—neoliberal feminism—“puts the responsibility on the individual to step into her female empowerment.” Thus, denying that societal structures “are still inherently capitalist and patriarchal.” Therefore, not every female has the same ability to be self-determining.
It’s also necessary to note that the receipt and interpretation of society’s messaging is highly nuanced. According to Dr. Gaerlan-Price, young women from a white or Asian and upper or middle-class background tended to have “quite an individualistic approach to how they would value and view themselves […] The notion of success was based on the ‘I’.” These individuals tended to experience the ‘supergirl’ pressure more than girls who identified as Māori, Pasifika, or South-East Asian, whose identities intersected with lower socioeconomic groups or had strong religious affiliations. Dr. Gaerlan-Price noticed that these young women viewed “success as a communal or a collective thing.” They said things like “I need to be successful, so I can help my family,” and “I want to be a biomedical researcher, so that I can find out if there are cures for the ailments that affect my community more and more.”
Whatever feminist wave you surf—post, neoliberal, eco, or intersectional—we can all be doing more to help young women thrive. Dr. Gaerlan-Price says that the first step is awareness. Both in terms of knowing how society is structured and how we, as individuals, reproduce the 21st Century’s idea of who girls and women should be.