Please Don’t Define Me

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I quite dislike definitive statements, especially in news articles, especially when it includes the phrase ‘All women should’. I understand the logic behind it: ‘Why all women should travel solo at least once’ sounds a lot more convincing than ‘Why all women should consider travelling solo at least once’. The ‘at least once’ already softens what is meant to be a persuasive declaration. ‘All women should’ is used by women’s magazines, mainstream media, and feminist columns. It’s a confident snippet that is sure to grab the attention of the intended audience – All Women. It sure as hell catches mine, and then I wind up fixating on it for an entire day, constantly wheeling the phrase over and over in my mind. It grinds my gears because I have been batting away this phrase (or an incarnation of it) since I was young.

“All girls should play with dolls” – excellent, I love dolls

“All girls should play netball” – can we seriously not read instead?

“Why all girls should shave their leg hair” – umm ok

“Why all girls should put off shaving as long as possible” – I’m getting some mixed signals here

“Why all women should own at least one little black dress” – oh boy I’m sure glad you put the at least in there, I wouldn’t want to feel restricted at all

“Why all women should consider travelling solo at least once” – I have social anxiety and a deep dislike of navigating unknown territory alone. If I wanted to stay in a room for two weeks ordering takeout and crying, I would do that at home.

“Why every woman should shave her head at least once” – I grew my hair myself. It took me 12 years, and growing it out was the first autonomous decision I ever made about my body. Sod off.

‘All women should’ has been appearing in fashion magazines for as long as they’ve existed, and I find it particularly exasperating when feminist magazines do the same. I don’t know if they are trying to reclaim it from the patriarchy, which has used the phrase, or a derivative, to control women for centuries. Maybe the writers aren’t even conscious of it, wish to use a definitive statement, and all end up using the same one. All I know is that I don’t feel empowered when I read that ‘All women should’. I feel frustrated and caged, like the world is trying to squeeze me into a mould. I very nearly didn’t buy the book I intend to review this week, Caitlyn Moran’s How To Be a Woman, because the title filled me with the same frustration. All I could think was “Do you relate to women? Do you identify as a woman? Boom! You’re a woman.”

It’s that simple.

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