The Vagenda

Why Having a Daughter in 2014 Has Made Me Angry


Since the birth of my daughter earlier this year, I have become angry. This is nothing to do with my hormones – they have made me, at various intervals, weepy, frustrated, unreasonable and elated, but never angry. What has really started to upset me is something that always used to irritate: the dissection, examination and judgment of women based on the fact that they possess bodies.

My undergraduate dissertation, written over 11 years ago, contained a very articulate harrumph over a Gucci advert which showed the bottom half of a model, her pubic hair shaved into a G and a male model hovering his face rather close to it (probably in amazement at this matching of genital topiary to his brand of jeans, rather than in worship of her lady-bits.) I was generally fed up with the amount of breasts in my face whenever I went into a newsagent and met most of the diet features in women’s magazines with a resounding: ‘Blah! Whatevs!’ However, since bringing my own mini-me into the world, the constant attention on boobs, bums and bellies in vast swathes of the media has made me become ranty, to the point where I feel a guttural urge to shout, ’Down with this sort of thing!’ (but with more swearwords) and do something about it so that she doesn’t have to. It feels like not enough has changed since I had my articulate Gucci meltdown.

2014 feels like a watershed, as if we’ve hit the real peak of what we are prepared to put up with but are simultaneously battling against cultural norms and ideas that seem desperate to keep measuring a woman’s worth based on her sexual attractiveness. If certain facets of the media are to be believed (hello MailOnline) then stepping out of your front door means that you are inviting yourself to be judged. In this world, women do not ‘have’ anything; they ‘display’, ‘show off’ or ‘showcase’. They ‘offer peeks’ of their ‘sideboob’, which apparently functions entirely on its own, independent of the rest of the breast, its discovery making the MailOnline one of the luminaries of human evolution.

Even fully clothed with fully functioning brains doing really quite important jobs, like, say, becoming the new leader of the SNP after one of the most politically engaging periods in modern history, women are fair game. Nicola Sturgeon was referred to as ‘sleek as an otter’ after she ditched her previous ‘death-row hair’ (yep, really) and suits borrowed from Angela Merkel (hey, why not have go at another powerful woman? There’s a niche here just crying out to be filled.) Ignoring the fact that a) she pretty much runs Scotland now, and b) everyone looked rubbish in the nineties, Liz Jones got herself a whole menagerie of mixed metaphors and wished that Sturgeon would ‘morph further into a fox’. I can only assume that she was finding it difficult to identify a sexy fish.

Directing ire at the MailOnline has become one of my favourite pastimes, especially as they are also one of the main supporters of what I like to think of as ‘The Year of the Arse’. Obsessively documenting the pre-pregnancy/ post-pregnancy/ pre-wedding/ post-wedding movements of Kim Kardashian’s rear has opened up the bum-shaped floodgates, meaning that you literally cannot avoid having a large bottom waggled in your face, anywhere. When I was born, there were precisely no songs in the charts about bums; when my daughter was born there was ‘Wiggle’, where Jason Derulo states his intentions straight away by asking a potential lady friend how on earth she managed to get her shapely derriere into her trousers, or words to that effect. It also contains the lines, ‘Your booty like two planets/ Go head, and go ham sandwich’ (answers on a postcard).

On its own, this is ridiculous, and hardly a flattering ode to the female form. This irked me, sure – but I managed to save my proper rage for two masterpieces that followed, one of which asked, ‘Where my fat ass big bitches in the club?’ and the other that cut the small talk altogether: ‘Big, big, booty’. What’s really upsetting is that women, in this case Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez (featuring Iggy Azalea) respectively, perform both of these songs. The accompanying videos each feature women rubbing their well-oiled backsides on each other. When I last checked, ‘Anaconda’ had almost 290,000,000 views on YouTube, each one offering the opportunity to see what Ms Minaj and her dancers had for breakfast via their rectums. Even more depressing was Bonnie Fuller’s response in The Huffington Post to the J-Lo and Iggy faux-lesbian twerkfest, claiming that it ‘made a statement about female sexuality and beauty that’s historically empowering’ because Jennifer Lopez is over 40. Effectively Fuller has provided the solution to low self-confidence and age discrimination: just tuck the back of your skirt into your knickers. The supposed benefit of all this arse appreciation is a wider acceptance of ladies in all their shapes and sizes – a wondrous celebration of bits that wobble on some but might not on others – just eat cake, girlfriends! This would be fine if some of these recent musical offerings didn’t find their empowerment by way of attacking ‘skinny bitches’. Those with no junk in your trunk: apparently, you deserved to be sat on.

In some ways I am glad I had my daughter in 2014, because it is really her that has prompted me to properly ‘come out’ as a feminist, write this, join The Fawcett Society, encourage the girls I teach to read The Vagenda, and watch with pride while my husband signed up to back the HeforShe campaign. But I also hope that by the time she is a teenager,  we will have run the whole gamut of body scrutiny – ‘100 sexiest elbows!’, ‘How to slim down your inner ear canal for Xmas!’- and she will be able to go outside and exist.

If someone wants to tell her she is wearing a nice pair of jeans, then great. Just don’t comment on her arse, or you’ll have me to deal with.


19 thoughts on “Why Having a Daughter in 2014 Has Made Me Angry

  1. I gave birth to a girl in July & I feel exactly the same. While pregnant I felt so upset that I was bring a daughter into a world where not only women are objectified like this, but also a world where they are threaten with rape & violence if they express an intelligent view.

  2. I had my second son a few weeks ago and have also been feeling angry and despairing of the world I brought them into. A big thing for me is a feeling of powerlessness – that you want to raise well adjusted, compassionate adults, with good self esteem who really respect everyone and can spot and call out sexist bullshit when they see it, but when they’re surrounded by this kind of pop culture / media / society in general will that even be possible? Will they listen to me and their dad and understand or will they just join in with objectification because that’s all they see? (They’d better not or there’ll be trouble!) I really hope, like you said, by the time our little ones are teenagers that we’ll have moved past all this anyway!

  3. I fully sympathize with your feelings. I have two daughters, the eldest one is in school now. I just learned that boys as young as 8-9 watch hard core porn in school on their smartphones and show it to younger kids. Bearing in mind that kids of this age can’t really understand that porn is nothing like real life in its portrayal of women’s bodies, roles, sexual responses etc I have some serious worries about how these boys will view and treat girls and how girls exposed to this toxic bullshit from such an early age will view themselves. When I was a teenager, of course we watched porn sometimes, but we were older and it was not as easily available. Now the kind of stuff that was porn to me then is just a normal music video. Am I just getting old or is it really worse to be growing up as a girl now than it was 20-25 years ago?

  4. This was marvellous. Do you teach boys? Encourage them to read the Vagenda, too!

    Side note: Do I have to give back my “feminist” card if I say I despise every word I have failed to avoid reading by Liz bloody Jones?

  5. Don’t you think the fact that women can do this- love their bums, show them off, encourage others to do so – in 2014 is a good thing?

    I totally agree that the lyrics in both the songs raise obvious issues e.g. minaj’s ‘fuck them skinny bitches’ and lopez’s ‘It’s his birthday, give him what he ask for,’ but at the same time I can assure you, as a big booty person, that the acceptance of rear ends in society has been comforting in my life. Not because now my big booty is attractive in the eyes of society, but because people are actually starting to accept that all women are not the same. Additionally, I feel that there is more support for women being able to control, show and do with their bodies whatever they want simply because its their body! This trend has never been more obvious than in 2014.

    Minaj and Azalea are proud of their bodies- that much is obvious. Shouldn’t we be teaching the young sons and daughters of today that a woman can do anything with her body, simply because it is her body and she shouldn’t be made a sexual object for it?

    I would love to see young boys being educated so they can recognise that a woman showing skin does not mean she should be viewed as a sexual object. Yes its a steep feat considering the media and pop culture, but we have seen a change this year with the media (especially in my home- Australia). The Jennifer Lawrence example- most magazines condemned those who sought out the images. I remember when another nude photo scandal happened a few years ago- the magazines published the photos. Change is occurring but we have to start somewhere. And educating our children is the best defense mechanism we have.

    Instead of commenting on the use of these women’s bodies you should have focused on their lyrics- which have OBVIOUS issues that none of us would disagree with. Women need to stick together. Your daughter needs to learn that.

  6. Sometimes I like to imagine what it would be like if all the songs about bums were about boobs instead.

    If you imagine Jennifer Lopez chanting ‘you got big boobies’ instead of ‘you got a big booty’ it kind of highlights quite how ridiculous this whole trend is.

  7. This is terrible logic. I’m sure those ‘eejits’ are aware they sit and shit out of their own bums. Eyes are for seeing, hands are for doing, skin is for protection. That does not mean these cannot be attractive features to some people.

  8. I’m not arguing with any woman’s right to celebrate her physical appearance, whatever shape it may take, but the ‘hyperattention’ these songs and videos generate towards a particular body part is hardly something to be celebrated or congratulated. No such hysteria around a specific male body part exists in popular culture. And all these songs do is get women to compare themselves to what they see and hear. At the moment big bums are in vogue, so we potentially feel safer and happier if we have a larger than average derriere, or cringe inwardly because of our inadequate ‘junk’. If we’re lucky we stay ambivalent, but it is a not insubstantial force of will. These women are taking an easy route, not to be confused with genuine empowerment, by cashing in on their ‘assets’ in a gauche way, and pandering to stereotypes about women’s self-worth being primarily about their body shape/size…whatever…yawn. So no, I don’t think we should be congratulating them. It’s their right of course, but we must be careful not to confuse this kind of vulgar display with genuine empowerment for roughly 52% of the global population.

  9. I think it’s worth noting that the ‘bum songs’ mentioned are all by women of colour, and as many women of colour are genetically pre-disposed to have larger bums this ‘trend’ is probably a celebration of that. And what you (I’m guessing you’re white, I might be wrong) do and don’t find flattering is probably influenced by your cultural background, and someone with a big bum and a different cultural background might find this really empowering.

    So, I agree that ‘skinny bitches’ lyrics are unhelpful, but there’s a huge piece of context that this article is missing, and I think that’s super important. And maybe it will be helpful for your daughter to be aware of this stuff when she’s navigating the world too, because seeing someone else be proud of their bodies (even if they don’t express it in a way which fits with your tastes) can make you feel good too.

    And if that’s come across as snarky or unclear then I’m sorry. Watch this, she probably puts it better than me:

  10. Part of being a feminist is allowing other women the freedom to make choices that you would not make yourself,

    It is our political beliefs that is what’s allowing us to show off our body – Lena Dunham ASK LENA #1: Questionable feminist?

    are these women feminists I don’t now, but in 2014 its a progressive time and a lot of crazy things are happening, and if these images offend you turn off mtv, don’t read the mail online choose not read what upsets you.

  11. Nat, I think it will be more empowering on the day women are no longer reduced down to and celebrated for individual body parts, and are instead celebrated for their achievements.

  12. “If you don’t like it, then look away!”
    Gosh, where have I read such an intellectually lazy cliche masquerading itself as a thoughtful response to women’s legitimate concerns about the hypersexualization of our bodies in the mass media before? You know, sooner or later you’re gonna have to pull your head out of the sand and look at the world around you. ‘Tis a sad, messed up place to bring a baby girl into. I imagine that it’d be tough to try to teach her how to cope with being treated like a second class citizen. “It’s a progressive time,” interesting, because last I checked women and girls are still being systematically targetted for abuse and murder all around the world. It’s just that nobody really gives a damn. How’s that for progress?

  13. I think this article is absolutely brilliant, and points out exactly what I have been thinking for weeks and months- even though I do not have a child. I honestly hope that this whole ‘Judging of bodies’ thing truly ends before the next generation if possible. I find it disgusting how women are simply viewed as ‘eye candy’.

  14. Hiya, I understand how some of you may think that twerking, or the “bum celebration” is a empowering thing specially for big bummed women, but I beg to differ. I am a mixed-raced brazilian, and unfortunately I fit the brazilian stereotype.. I have a massive bum.. And I have to say, even though is nice to see something other than “skinny bitches” on the TV, I hardly think this empowers women. In Brazil, as you can imagine, there is a daily celebration of the bum, is almost a God to be worshipped on our society!! This wouldn’t be a problem I suppose, if other female features were also appreciated in the media, such as intelligence, ambition, or even aspects related to black women/men such as curly hair, african-related culture..The huge problem I see is that we ONLY see women of colour in a sexual context, shaking asses within the context of extremely sexual songs, therefore we are seen uniquely as sexual beings. And it makes our day-to-day life SO HARD! You cannot imagine, since I arrived in Britain, how often do I get asked if I can dance (¬¬) based solely in the fact that I’m brazilian. Outside brazil I’m seen as some exotic creature, that can dance sensually and woo all men.. Since the age of 12 I’ve been harassed, hearing comments about my bum. The exploitation of one female feature by the media makes everyone forget that there is a real person attached to that ass, a complex person with feelings, fears, a brain!!

  15. Hey, thanks for replying. You make some really good points! My concern was mostly that the cultural context of twerking/bum-appreciation/etc wasn’t even mentioned at all. Even if it turns out that it’s still a problematic thing for bums to be everywhere in this way, for the reasons you’ve pointed out, I think it’s bad not to even acknowledge that there’s a whole cultural thing going on that the writer may have misunderstood. Basically they should have asked you to write the article! :)

  16. I have a 4 year old little boy and I don’t want him to objectify women. It takes work to present toys that are female firefighter and doctors but it can be achieved to some degree. I used to like Jason derulo – I was horrified when I heard that song.