Poppy Stowell-Evans discusses why the feminist movement is vital in championing greater social mobility for working-class women.
As a 15-year-old young woman from a working-class family, living in a steel community in South Wales, fundamental equality is extremely important to me.
Since a young age, I have unquestionably identified as a feminist.
By dictionary definition, feminism is the ‘advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes.” Whilst this definition can be incredibly powerful and has formed the foundations of equality for women, it may not seem as relevant in today’s British society as it was 100 years ago. This is because, as a result of decades of campaigning for social justice, this definition has connotations of legislation and parliament action. It raises the question of whether feminism is needed, right now, in the UK, as legally you can not be discriminated against because of your gender and (arguably) under the law, men and women are equal.
However, that doesn't mean that feminism is no longer relevant, important, and needed. To many, including myself, equality runs much deeper than legislation, and consequently so does feminism. Equality is partly about your surroundings, influences, and your mindset. Therefore there can be no doubt that the workings of oppression because of gender have changed; oppression in the UK is now arguably based more on psychological limitations, what you've been exposed to, and what you think your life means.
The UK has one of the widest attainment gaps in education in the developed world which means that pupils from families in disadvantaged situations (perhaps less economically active) are less likely to achieve than their peers. It’s predicted that it will take 50 years to amend this. Another 50 years away from equality.
Whilst this is a social injustice in itself, we must delve deeper into this issue to understand why this is also a feminist issue.
As a female Year 11 pupil at a state school, there have been numerous times where I have felt out of my depth or uncomfortable. This is because, while I’m fortunate to be surrounded by strong women in my family, across the world, and in the UK there are very few women in positions of power in comparison to men. Whether that may be in the Cabinet, CEOs of companies, or in STEM- it is not often I see the welcoming and encouraging sight of a woman in a position of power.
As a result of this, I go into many situations knowing that I am perhaps one of the first female pupils to do this. Even the idea that my achievements will be considered as “wonderful for a girl” creates a limiting mindset because it’s perceived that simply being on par with male peers is an achievement.
Granted, this can bring a sense of achievement- knowing that you are breaking stereotypes or predestined moulds. However, this also absorbs a lot of excess energy and takes a mental toll; even female students question why others are attempting to break a decrepit mould. This is the fundamental reason for the ongoing need for feminism for the working class.
Teenage girls are growing up in oppression. Oppression not because of the law, but because of the lack of choices they can actually see. If we do not see women in positions of power, winning elections, or leaving our state schools and going to an Oxbridge university we may never think to do that. We might never think that we can do that.
Feminism is needed for the working class because the path to potential power is already rocky for working-class pupils. And because we have seen so few women walk this path, it is also foggy and uncharted for female pupils. I believe we need to open our eyes to the true meaning of this branch of oppression in the UK in order to shine a light on the secret alleyway between equality and the reality we choose to see.
Poppy Stowell-Evans is a 15-year-old student at Llanwern High School, Newport. She's an ardent global feminist and is a strong advocate for social equality, and human rights. She is also a Climate Change Ambassador for Wales and considers herself as an internationalist, believing countries should work together where beneficial.
She tweets at @poppy_stowell