Studying STEM doesn't make you more of a feministWikimedia Commons

I believe in feminism. I believe that men and women should have the same rights, receive fair pay, and be offered equal opportunities. I see no reason why a girl cannot run a farm or why a boy cannot become a ballet dancer. However, our increasingly gender-blind society is placing new pressures on women, one which makes them feel that doing something traditionally ‘female’ means that they are not ‘feminist enough.’ Modern women should be free to bake, sew, or even be a stay-at-home-mum. Feminists should not scowl at her: she is doing these things not because she doesn’t believe in feminism, but because it is what she wants to do.

“We need to recognise that most girls apply to study science or maths because they want to, just as I chose English because it is what I wanted.”

I am not suggesting that Feminism should slow down. Monumental changes have been made over the past century, providing both men and women with a greater variety of opportunities than ever before. The large crowds which have been gathering in recent years to cheer on female footballers (over 4 million watched the Lionesses play Holland in the 2017 Euro semi-final) and the growing numbers of female undergraduates studying STEM subjects at UK universities provide just two examples. It is no secret, however, that young women are still under a huge amount of pressure. And part of this pressure comes from feminism itself.

Many would call my family traditional, perhaps even old-fashioned: my mum takes care of the house, while my dad cuts the grass and washes the car. We are not an anti-feminist family (if my dad tried to tell my mum what to do, she would most certainly NOT be happy), but this is the way my parents want to live. I would like to say that I am protesting against every meal my mum cooks or car my dad washes, employing all of my feminist zeal to reverse their roles, but I’m not. I even think that I might like to live in a similar set-up myself. I feel ashamed as I write this, slightly fearful that a backlash accusing me of anti-feminism might come my way. But I shouldn’t feel ashamed. There is much less pressure on women to be the cooking, cleaning, washing ideal. In fact, it’s just the opposite: working mothers are, rightly, much admired. Yet we should not frown at her if taking the more ‘traditional’ approach is what she wants.


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This ‘pressurism,’ as I shall call it, is even more intense in schools and universities. I study English and, though I have never been openly criticised, the odd ‘ahh, a typical girl’, or ‘I bet there are only a few boys in your year’ has made me feel ashamed of my choice. Girls who choose to go into maths, science or engineering seem to receive greater commendation for being ‘more Feminist’, while I am seen as sticking to the old ways. This is wrong. I am not less of a Feminist than any of my friends – male or female – taking STEM subjects. I admire female mathematicians and scientists greatly and appreciate that there are barriers and stereotypes which make it a challenge for them to advance in male-dominated careers. But, we need to recognise that most girls apply to study science or maths because they want to, just as I chose English because it is what I wanted. Neither of us are trying to make a feminist statement: we are exercising our right to choose, which is, after all, what feminism is all about.

So, let’s remove the pressure from feminism and celebrate the freedom of choice most British women (and men) now have. Women can play football, become an astronaut, or mend a car, but they should feel equally proud of doing dance or studying literature. Because sometimes, doing exactly what you want is the biggest achievement of all. As the Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen (in the wonderfully-titled essay ‘How to be Yourself – But Not Eccentric’) put it; ‘Let us want what we do want, not what we feel we ought to!’.

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