How to be a feminist in hot weather

From street harassment to hot pants to barbecuing, Rhiannon and Holly will help you survive the sweaty season with your feminist ideals intact.

In these hazy, sweaty July days, the fledgling feminist is likely to encounter a number of scenarios which test her principles to the limit. Feminism is by its very nature a somewhat grouchy endeavour, and therefore rarely enriched by the sensation of having to lie in a dark room in only your knickers as you cool your nipples with a hand-held mini fan and periodically call out "It’s so fucking hot!" to no one in particular. Happily, we have written this guide to behaving like a Proper Feminist while enjoying the heatwave. No need to thank us.

Topless conundrum

Though a scabby patch of Clissold Park is not in any way comparable to the Cote d’Azur, the summer feminist will find herself resisting the urge to bare her breasts to the tender caresses of the summer sun. This is because, the minute even a flash of sunlight pokes its way through the blanket of cloud that swaddles this country for most of the year, the men of Britain will invariably whip their tops off to reveal their man-breasts, with little care for the sensibilities of those in the vicinity. In contrast, your woman breasts are beholden to societal conventions that they remain under wraps, constrained as they are by the oppressive stays of your £3.99 H&M bikini top. Complain about this loudly and frequently, and never resist the urge to tell your male friends to "put it away, love" as a way of redressing the balance. This is always most effective when combined with a creepy leer, a notion which brings us to . . .

Perverts

There are more perverts to an English summer than there are yeast infections. They come crawling out of their little pervert hidey holes the minute you ditch the woolly tights, and will continue to drool and make crass comments aimed at your behind right through to September, all the while claiming it’s your own fault for "unfairly" wearing hot pants.The worst of this breed of garden variety misogynists is, of course, the slut-shaming pervert, who will immediately follow up with a heckle of "whore", "slag" or "jezebel" (the residents of Islington are nothing if not retro in their choice of insult, we’ve found). Street harassment really comes into its own in the summer months, and it’s up to you how you deal with it physically - with a short, sharp kick to the, er, shins - or verbally. Thankfully, the season has equipped you with a number of helpful props, ranging from barbecue skewers to aviator sunglasses, the latter of which not only effectively hide your tears of anger from public view but also make you look like a badass cop about to deliver one hell of a revenge beating.

To Barbecue or not to Barbecue?

Evolutionary biologists will tell you that the grilling of meat over a fire is as natural and atavistic as their need to grab you by your hair and drag you into the nearest cave, and they may have a point, insofar as men LOVE to barbecue. Many a time have we attended such functions only to be pipped to the post of "assistant sausage manager" by a man in a straw hat. Instead, the summer feminist will oftentimes find herself assigned the post of "deputy salad co-ordinator", whose job it is to carry plates into the garden, provide the gentlemen’s relish, and, well, make salad. Your reaction to this, as a summer feminist, of course depends on your priorities. As any man knows, providing the pack with sustenance is a messy and often drawn-out business that necessitates one taking quickfire bites of the last leftover burger while trying to stop the garden catching fire, as everyone else gorges themselves on kofte. Meanwhile, the deputy salad co-ordinator is smoking a fag and telling their infamous "that time I got sprayed by a skunk" anecdote – guess where the party’s at. Of course, you could always step in to relieve the barbecue master of his duties while simultaneously demonstrating to the group your insane multitasking abilities, but this bottle of gin over at the other side of the table has cucumber in it – cucumber! 

Beyond Comparison

Having ensured that you "got your bikini bod" (via the simple one-step process of putting on a bikini), you’re halfway to holiday heaven. But then, as you test the chilly waters of the North Sea during a particularly optimistic jaunt to Whitley Bay, you may catch a glance of the woman beside you. She’s lithe, she’s taut, she’s toned: she’s the living embodiment of everything Cosmopolitan ever beat you over the head with in order to make you submit to the Redfish Diet. Her legs go up to here, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. And she’s wearing a white bikini. You’ve been taught by Magazineland to compare yourself unfavourably to pretty much every member of your gender, starting with Heidi Klum and ending with the goddess two metres away. Express your jealousy and rage through the medium of water: splash her copiously, soak the white swimsuit, and cackle away maniacally as you and your cankles swim off into the Northumbrian sunset. But pretend it’s an accident, because you’re a feminist and, like, sisterhood.

Don’t blow it

As you swelter on a concrete slab in the middle of Milton Keynes, you may well want to pick up an ice lolly to ease your pain (#firstworldproblems). But be aware that everything lolly is now automatically phallic, from a Rocket to a Mini Milk. Remain vigilant against anyone who might have seen a girl fellating a Fab in porn and therefore may get his rocks off by watching you. Consume iced treats in cubicles, tents, or behind towels emblazoned with the symbol of Venus only. And finally . . .

Get your freak on

During the summer months, everyone’s expected to get into the festiv(al) spirit, and watching a fully-clothed male hip hop star turn up onstage accompanied by a troupe of half-naked female teenagers who shake their asses when they’re told to can be a total buzzkill. And who’s going to spread the feminist message if it isn’t you? Pull on your Hunter imitation wellies and get down to the party with a few right-on placards. "HARRY STYLES, YOU COULD BE OUR CHILDREN’S STAY-AT-HOME DAD" would make a good start. Meanwhile, always keep a copy of The Female Eunuch handy for throwing at favoured popstars instead of your knickers. But if you must throw your knickers, sew a few Greer excerpts into the lining. He gets a pair of top quality lace pants, as well as an education. As always when feminism gets involved, everybody wins.

Now read Rhiannon and Holly's feminist survival guide for attending weddings.

 

When feminism gets involved, everybody wins. Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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How the middle-aged became the hedonists

When they next open a bottle of wine (or three), the parents and grandparents of today’s teens should raise a glass to their responsible offspring.

Rare is the week that passes without more horrific tales of the debauchery of the youth. One photo has come to embody their supposed recklessness: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench in Bristol with bottles of booze scattered beneath her. The photograph is now a decade old, and the image it portrays is in urgent need of updating. The startling thing about today’s youth is now how much they indulge but how well behaved they are. They are putting their hedonistic parents and grandparents to shame.

Wherever you look, the picture is the same. Over a quarter of those aged 16-24 today are teetotal; just 29 per cent drink heavily in an average week, compared with 44 per cent a decade ago. Only 23 per cent of under-25s smoke, a 10 per cent decrease since 2001. Conception rates among under-18s are at their lowest since records began in 1969, and the number of sexually transmitted infections among those under-25 has also declined in the last five years. Today’s youth haven’t been resorting to narcotics, either: drug use among under-25s has fallen by over a quarter in the last decade.

Young fogeys are not only on the rise in Britain. In America teen sexual activity has decreased by one-fifth since 1988, and only 38 per cent of 12th grade students (those aged 17 and 18) said they have been drunk in the past year, compared to 52 per cent in 2001. Something similar is happening throughout Western Europe: in Spain, wine consumption has halved since 1980.

These trends reflect how times have changed for young people. The rise of online entertainment and socialising has its downsides, such as increased loneliness and anxiety, but teenagers and those in their early twenties have many more alternatives to boozing or smoking a spliff. “In past decades, teens might have smoked, drank and had sex because they didn’t have much else to do,” says Jean Twenge, the author of Generation Me. “Now, teens have a world of entertainment and digital communication available on their phones 24/7.” And savvy youngsters know that social media has given debauchery an online afterlife. About half of recruiters in the UK already look at a candidate’s social media profile, according to a study last year from Career Builder, and a third of all recruiters have rejected candidates about finding evidence of binge-drinking or drug use online. Small wonder ambitious young people are so reluctant to indulge.

Today's youngsters have less money for booze and drugs. They have become poorer in the past decade: in real terms, full-time wages for those aged 18-21 and 22-29 were over 10 per cent lower in 2013 than in 2004. Add to this soaring housing costs, and Generation Rent is too preoccupied with saving to spend a great deal on drink and drugs: 670,000 more people aged 20-34 live with their parents in Britain today than in 1996. 

Parenting has become better, making it harder for children to drink away their teenage years. A quarter more 11-15-year-olds say their parents don’t like the idea of them drinking than in 2008. Parents have become older – the average age of a woman giving birth has passed 30 for the first time in history, and is four years higher than in the 1970s – and are having fewer children: the average number of children per UK woman has decreased from 2.93 to 1.83 in the past 50 years. “Over the last 20 years, parents have become more attentive and involved, more playful, less harshly punitive with their children. They are more educated about parenting, and monitor their children more closely,”  says Frances Gardner, Professor of Child and Family Psychology at Oxford University. “Women have also become more educated in general, and now have children at later age. So this may have improved the behaviour of young people.”

The government has also made life harder for youthful hedonists. Schemes like Challenge 21 and Challenge 25 and an increase in fines dished out to shops, pubs and clubs that allow those under-18 to drink have made it more difficult to source drink under-age. The ban on smoking in enclosed public places, including pubs and bars, and workplaces in 2007 has ushered in an era when smoking is increasingly regarded as an inconvenience. Meanwhile taxes on cigarettes and alcohol have been ramped up: across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today. Selling alcohol below cost price was banned last year.

But the decline of youthful excess is about far more than the cost. If price were all that was driving youngsters away from booze and fags, then use of drugs, which have become significantly cheaper in real terms, would be on the rise. That young people are far better behaved owes to something much deeper than a thinning out of their wallets: it is the result of a generation who know how competitive the workplace is and are ambitious to get ahead.

The recession and globalisation mean have made the employment market far tougher. Most important to making the workplace more cutthroat is the rise of skilled female graduates. Women outnumber men at university today – including Russell Group institutions. Thirty years ago, only 56 per cent of women aged 16-64 were in work; today, 69 per cent are.

Young people have never faced more competition for the best jobs. They know it, too: even at university, freed from the prying eyes of their parents, young people are shying away from drugs and booze. The trebling of tuition fees to £9,000 a year five years ago makes university an awfully expensive place to go if your only aim is to get hammered. And students know that indulging while their contemporaries swat up in lectures will make them less employable after they graduate. Greater competition in the workplace means that “the cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of consumer trends agency Future Foundation.

Some fear that as real wages increase, so will underage drinking and drug taking. Yet it seems more likely that young people will become even better behaved. Even as the economy has ticked up young people have not changed their habits. “If you grow up in the middle of a recession it will effect what you spend your money on,” says Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers. Young people who have discovered alternatives to late-night drinking have learned there are plenty of other ways to be entertained than binge drinking into the early hours.

The changing face of Britain is making youthful excess less common. Although London is the richest part of the country, it is also among the least hedonistic: a third of adults in London do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any British region. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” says Dr James Nicholls, Director of Research and Policy Development at Alcohol Research UK. Not only are ethnic far less likely to indulge in booze, drugs and fags, but the effect seems to rub off on their white British friends.

While millennials have proved better behaved than the previous generation of young people, they are now being outdone by those born in the new century. Children are a third less likely to bunk off school now than in 2008. Just 22 per cent of under-16s have tried a cigarette, half the number who had in 2003.

“All I need are cigarettes and alcohol,” Oasis sang 22 years ago. While the spirit of excess is dying among today’s young, it remains alive among their parents and grandparents. Sexually transmitted infections, which are declining among the under-25s, are rising fastest among those over 45. Those aged 65 and above are now more likely than any other group to drink alcohol at least five days a week, with those aged 45-65 not far behind. Perhaps, as Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies says: “Watching your parents get gozzled might put young people off.”

When they next open a bottle of wine (or three), the parents and grandparents of today’s teens should raise a glass to their responsible offspring. And when politicians complain about “broken Britain”, they should make it clear that they have middle-aged hedonists in mind. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war