by Emma Jones
I believe the three most important issues for young women in the UK today are largely interlinked, although each is significant in its own right.
Firstly, to steal the Daily Mail’s phrase, ‘The Jordan Effect’ represents a highly important issue, albeit a somewhat nauseating issue. The full title of a recent article in the Daily Mail was, ‘The Jordan effect: Third of young women would swap IQ for larger breasts’. I am in no hurry to assume that the Daily Mail’s stance on prominent issues is representative of all young women’s stances, nor that the 1,142 women that were surveyed would necessarily articulate the concerns of the whole young, female population. However, there is little doubt that a concern about appearance amongst young women has, to varying degrees, penetrated every social class in this country.
The concept of ‘swapping’ IQ points, as if they were a commodity, alerted me to how far capitalism has infiltrated our mind-set and outlook. Young girls are bombarded with offers to improve their physical attributes, whereas the capitalist invests little time in encouraging dissatisfaction in its consumers’ level of intelligence. It is only natural, therefore, that young women should find themselves concluding that appearance is of greater importance than intellect, which leaves little in the way of motivating girls’ to improve their mind. Nevertheless, the importance young women place on appearance extends beyond this capitalist driven dissatisfaction. Young women understand appearance to perform multiple functions. Not just by attracting their desired partner, or gaining ego-boosting compliments, but also in furthering their career prospects. Arguably, this indicates deficiencies in representation.
Young women place a great deal of importance on feeling valued and respected, both of which contribute to a sense of worth. Unfortunately, however, it is increasingly apparent to young women that their female role models in politics, business and the media either have their ideas and intellect undermined by a nagging focus on their appearance, or are praised and admired for qualities which are attributed to men. Therefore, it is not so much that thousands of young women admire Katie Price, but rather seek the illusion of female empowerment that she represents. A sense of worth is cloaked in an obsession with image. When politics is tinged by celebrity culture, it becomes (in the eyes of young women) merely poor quality celebrity news. When, therefore, female politicians are also seen to obsess about their looks, they are not only detaching themselves from the masses they claim to represent, and thus nurturing a culture of non-involvement amongst young women, but also making politics a subordinate offshoot of the world of celebrities and entertainment. Sexing up politics is therefore counter-productive and only reinforces the importance young women place on appearance.
This concern with being valued is best translated as an issue of representation. Descriptive representation is an important issue to young women, not because only women are seen to be able to relate to other women, since men can perform this function just as sufficiently, but because there is a mutual understanding amongst most people that an inherent self-perpetuating impulse will ensure that- when push comes to shove- representatives will act in their own interest, which, in the case of descriptive representation, will be simultaneously in the interest of the group they represent. Therefore, descriptive representation (preferably in a world where women can simply be women, and not have to make alterations to themselves- be it their voice or their face) is of great importance to young women in the UK.
Finally, a sense of security is something that many young women crave. This sense of security spans from social security to domestic security, depending on the individual. For most young women, a feeling of physical inferiority is a nagging issue at the back of their mind. With these security systems lacking (such as health care and child benefits), and with the foundations- that are a prerequisite to success in life- absent, young women will aim lower. Where there is a deficit of social security, young women, in my opinion, place much more importance on their looks, hoping that investing in their appearance will make them more attractive to a potential partner, who could offer a substitute to the sense of security they lack in society.
This is not to say that young women do not place a great deal of importance on their relationships, but that their desire for larger breasts, for example, is as much a reflection on the state of the UK’s politics and economy as it is women’s desire for a better sex life. This may contradict the theory of the hierarchy of needs; a theory that is repeatedly reflected in studies of Britain’s changing society over the past century. For young women, however, the financial crisis has, by and large, not caused them to resort to a more basic existence, but instead resort to more traditional values, in the hope that expenditure on appearance- even if it they cannot afford it – will bring them a partner that offers them protection that is otherwise insufficient. Of course if anything this reverses the trend towards complete emancipation of women. Yet it is another example of the almost self-destructive wishes and aspirations of many young women.
The three issues, which I believe are of most importance to women: appearance, representation and social security, are all attempts to compensate for feelings of insecurity and self-doubt; feelings that, by and large, are much more prominent amongst young women that any other group in our society. If, however, British politicians deal with the underlying causes of this widespread feeling of inadequacy, and if they build a society which better facilitate for young women’s’ aspirations and offers new and truly equal routes, which embrace their interests and talents, I have little doubt that the issues that are then of greatest importance to young women in the UK will change considerably.