‘Get you a girl who can do both’: though nominally a pseudo-empowering statement, in reality this prolific expression reduces women to two easily digestible forms for the consumption of society: as objects of entertainment and sexual desire, or as a modulated form of masculinity. In this case, even when women possess more masculine traits, they are still objectified, despite men with the same traits being respected and honoured by society.

I personally have had many encounters with people in Oxford who have treated me as inferior because of the way I express my gender identity. I am a person unafraid to show affection. I am sometimes very emotional. I wasn’t aware that this could be interpreted as a comment on my intelligence, my capability and potential, but apparently, for some, it is.

I enjoy demonstrating my femininity. Rightly so! As Judith Butler emphasises in Gender Trouble, gender is a construct that is expressed subjectively. However, due to the fact that I identify as a woman, I am often overlooked by certain individuals in my life— mostly men— and I am condemned in a single word: ‘ditsy’. This word feels so patronising because it reduces my emotions to simple silliness. It belittles my earnestness and implies that I lack intelligence.

This sexism is so casual and normalised, and almost always subconscious, because of the social expectations of my gender. Those who choose to be housewives are viewed as apolitical domestic labourers. Society is so comfortable with the assumption that to choose to be a housewife is to accept inferiority, and this assumption is a clear reinforcement of the patriarchal strangling and belittling of femininity in serious and powerful contexts. The housewife is expected to care for the man, who does the ‘serious’ work. However, there is no way for women to come out on top in any scenario here, because even when they choose to prioritise a career over domestic labour or childcare, they are criticised for neglecting their duties and responsibilities as a mother or as a woman.
However women engage — or don’t engage — in traditional ideas of femininity, they are subject to criticism, control and condescension. The expectation that women will fall neatly into such restrictive archetypes, and the demonisation of them regardless, is both born of and perpetuating disrespect.

My point is, those who express traits that society recognizes as ‘feminine’ are often overlooked, underestimated, and ignored in serious conversations regarding politics. I personally have experienced this disrespect and it always frustrates me and upsets me so deeply. This is exactly why feminism is so important when we consider political affairs; I want to be able to be express my femininity and still be taken seriously. I am sick of mansplaining and exclusion and ignorance. I refuse to be underestimated. I refuse to be patronised.

A key issue throughout history has been that serious politics is intrinsically associated with what have been traditionally cast as ‘masculine’ traits such as dominance, an absence of emotional empathy, and an argumentative quality. Consequently, women have to assume an ‘iron lady’ demeanour to earn a seat at the table. When they are finally allowed into the establishment, it is on the condition of disguising their femininity, attempting to pass as their masculine counterparts.

It has become common for women to be granted success only when they emulate some of the prominent men in the business world, often behaving in corrupt or unfair ways. This not only promotes a horrible and twisted version of power but also means that those women who do make it are the exceptions, they are a novelty; the door is not opened to anyone else – and that it is almost always the most privileged women (white, cis, straight, able-bodied, educated, conventionally attractive) who can ever achieve this. The half-ironic label ‘girlboss’ to describe women in powerful positions like these may seem new and modern, but when we consider the ‘iron lady’ stereotype, it can easily be inferred that this idea has existed for a long time; of a woman having to fight to be successful, against stereotypes but also against other women.

This is visible around us in Oxford, where an institution that claims to be focused on progress if often undermined by a pervasive attitude of dismissal when it comes to feminism, among many other social issues. Often, raising a feminist perspective and identifying it as such is met with an eye-roll, and a sense that this isn’t a discussion that we still need to have.

When I asked another Oxford student about our current political landscape, she replied: ‘I thought that I would come across more liberal and open minded people in Oxford, but am I the only one who feels like the conversation around feminism just shuts down and people just imply that there’s nothing else to say on the matter?’

Another friend of mine felt that ‘women are being told that feminism isn’t needed anymore’. In our current political scene, rife with gender imbalance, how could we dismiss feminism as unnecessary? The more femininity is suppressed in politics, the more vital feminism becomes vital to our society’s future.

We must reclaim our gender identities, we must engage with politics and assert our femininity. If we don’t rebel against the politician ‘template’, how else can we call for systemic change?

Express femininity without restriction! Open up the discussion of gender imbalance! This is how we can normalise femininity in serious politics. I urge you, if you identify as a woman, to break the archetypes forced upon us. And even if you don’t, join these discussions of gender imbalance and consider if you are fully accepting and respecting femininity in social and political spheres. We must all work together to achieve freedom from stereotypes.