Comment | Are women their own worst enemies?

In an interview with Shortlist, Lily Allen declared: “everyone is equal. Why is there even a conversation about feminism?” Thus setting off a false ‘scandal.’ It seems clear to me that the framing of Lily Allen’s quotes, along with her imprecise language has allowed newspapers to unfairly tarnish her as anti-feminist.

Her nine lessons on ‘how to be a man’ did bother me. Whilst deploying platitudes like being ‘honourable’ or being ‘courageous’ might seem an appropriate guide for life in general, to direct them towards men specifically is troubling: troubling because it adds to the cacophony of voices deciding what men should be like. For some this is a framing issue: would the advice not make a person better for having followed it? Perhaps, but this presupposes the already rejected gendered way this advice is given. I’m not convinced we do that regularly enough.

When visiting Leeds, the head of the NUS Toni Pearce, gave a speech about ‘lad culture.’ She said she was uncomfortable with the term because lad culture is not just about how men act. It is about a value system which genders certain attributes, which then lend themselves to gendered professions like primary school teachers. To fix this requires a change in attitude, a reflection on how we are all being stifled by a value system we all help maintain. The inaccuracy of our language when we use terms like ‘lad culture’ only muddies this debate further.

This is the context of Lily Allen’s remarks about female body presentation in the media: “I don’t think men are the enemy, I think women are the enemy… It’s weird. It’s just really unhealthy and we’re our own worst enemy. We should stop being so horrible to each other.” She was trying to explain how some women absorb the tenets of ‘lad culture’, or more precisely, internalise the male gaze, using it as a method of valuing themselves. The women I know are harder on themselves and each other than any man in their lives. It’s true this body image is ruthlessly promoted by a male-dominated media; but we have a responsibility to recognise our complicity.

Lily’s comments also point to a rarely voiced concern: not that it is needlessly antagonistic to men, as some would advance, but that it’s not really aimed at men. This is wrong of course; feminism is not shorthand for the advancement of women’s rights; rather, it is about confronting gender stereotypes. The reason why so many people are put off from ‘feminism’ is, in my experience, because they are unaware of this crucial distinction. They hear somebody laying in to how ‘men’ treat women and they are repulsed by the sexist stereotype; the frame of reference people use when it comes to discussing feminism has for too long consisted of an antagonistic relationship between men and women.

Perhaps Lily Allen’s comments will allow us to move beyond the traditional discussion of feminism because gender roles affect us all.

Lawrence Thompson

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