As modern feminism gets more vocal, we ask whether our quieter sisters are being left behind?
It’s less about the f-word today and more about the f-words: fearless, fierce, feisty – the assertive ideophones associated with feminism. So-called ‘third wave’ feminists, born from the girl power celebrating the mid-nineties, are a generation who find empowerment through wearing and doing things previous female activists found objectifying. The third wavers are bold and unapologetic – shopping in Victoria’s Secret and being a feminist isn’t an oxymoron.
Many women of this generation find courage from outspoken celebrities like Beyoncé. It’s a form of liberation neatly packaged in catchy tunes and provocative outfits. “Who run the world?” screams the pop diva in a sequined leotard, while thousands of women, young and old, shout back, “girls!” With a net worth of US$350 million, she has every right to be self-assured, and you’ve got to admire those who scream girl power from the top of their lungs. But there are just as many who don’t feel comfortable being the centre of attention. In this age of flamboyant feminism, are we ignoring the other half of our comrades?
“Up to 50 per cent of our population is introverted,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. “We see being quiet as a second class trait. I see direct parallels with sexism, which also discounts half the population – women – because of a positive trait that’s fundamental to our being.” Susan’s books aims to dispel the common perception that introverts are reclusive and prove their qualities are just as valuable to society. The differences between introverts and extroverts are broad but, on a basic level, extroverts gain energy from social interaction, while introverts lose energy from being around people for too long.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Though this generation’s brand of gutsy feminism may have reasonable cause, many believe that it marginalises those who don’t fall on the more ostentatious side of the scale. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign, which does exactly what it says on the tin – fights to ban the word bossy – is a case in point. But while it’s certainly inspiring to see inspirational women preach – who can argue with Beyoncé’s claim, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss”? Or Jennifer Garner saying, “When a little girl is called bossy when she leads, it’s telling her to be quiet. I don’t want little girls to be quiet. I want them to roar”? – does this mean that girls who don’t want to yell are sidelined?
“Yes,” says Susan. “As a lifelong feminist, I’ve often been concerned that we send the message that being a good feminist means being loud, proud, bold, and ‘out there’.” Susan is none of those things, yet her book was voted Best Non-Fiction Book of 2012 by goodreads.com and her TED speech has almost three million views on YouTube – not the kind of woman you’d associate with introversion. According to Susan, reserved characters can be just as inspirational, confident and empowered as extroverts. It’s society that teaches them that they need to get in people’s faces in order to succeed.
But Sophia Dembling, self-proclaimed introvert and author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet life in a Noisy World, points out that we shouldn’t dismiss extroverts like Sheryl Sandberg. As highlighted in the campaign, self-esteem amongst girls drops three-and-a-half times more than boys between primary and secondary school. “From the time we are very young, women learn that behaviours that are acceptable and even admirable in men are unbecoming to women,” Sophia explains. While young men who take charge are usually revered as having leadership qualities, young girls are more likely to be dismissed as bossy. It simply isn’t ladylike to take charge.
According to Sophia, this attitude continues into adult life. “Some attribute the wage gap to the fact that women don’t negotiate higher salaries. But at the same time, women who do try to negotiate are perceived negatively. We’re in a terrible double bind,” she says. In America, for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns 77 cents, but the inequality runs much further than that. Over 70 per cent of the people living in poverty worldwide are women; one in four women across the globe are sexually assaulted; infanticide is still common in countries where girls are considered a burden; in Rajasthan girls as young as six are forced to marry older men; almost 66 million girls of school age are out of education and around 80 per cent of all human trafficking victims are girls. We could go on…
IN THE SHADOW
Although inequalities are being brought to our attention, what is actually being changed in campaigns like Ban Bossy? Opposition to Sheryl Sandbery say that she’s clubbed together with celebrities and influencers to promote an image rather than a cause. Given a platform of this magnitude, she could be using her voice for a much more measurable goal. Then again, while louder feminists have dominated headlines from the suffragettes of the 19th century through to today’s Femen, it’s the quieter women’s rights activists making quantifiable progress.
The year of 1832 is accepted by some historians as the beginning of the Suffrage movement, when Mary Smith presented the first formal request for women’s suffrage to Parliament. This positive move towards the emancipation of women ultimately culminated in Britain becoming the first western democracy to give women the vote in 1918. Education, status and skill were the most effective tools utilised in this movement. “Power for women comes in many different personality types,” says Susan. “You don’t have to be bossy to be powerful. So many great women leaders are quiet types.” This is a stance that Sophia agrees with. “Introverted feminists need to understand what their own individual strengths are and contribute those to the movement.”
Contrary to popular belief, introverts are fantastic public speakers, bosses and lobbyists. “There is a lot of power to the written word, to art, even to being a worker bee,” explains Sophia. It’s important to let all young girls know that they’re valuable. Whether they prefer to draw attention through politics, a photography exhibition, provocative song lyrics or campaigning in the streets, a multi-dimensional movement is more effective than a narrow crusade. This brings us back to our modern day feminist icon, Beyoncé. Writing a feminist essay for The Shiver Report and having her husband, Jay Z, change his name to Knowles-Carter, are just a couple of her quieter approaches.
If young girls appear bossy, encourage them to channel that into leadership. But if they’re quiet, there’s no need to tell them to be loud. It’s time that we accept introverts into the feminist movement as a valuable asset in the fight for equality. “Feminists can be loud and aggressive,” says Sophia, “but that’s only one type of feminist, just as it’s only one kind of woman. Feminism is a belief system, not a character trait.”
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
“I have to be alone very often. I’d be perfectly happy if I spent Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.” Audrey Hepburn
“There‘s a tremendous difference between alone and lonely. You could be lonely in a group of people. I like being alone. I like eating by myself. I go home at night and just watch a movie or hang out with my dog. I have to exert myself and really say, oh God, I’ve got to see my friends ‘cause I’m too content being by myself.” Drew Barrymore
“I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn‘t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.” JK Rowling
“It’s interesting, because people say things to me like, ‘It’s really cool that you don’t go out and party all the time,‘ but I’m an introverted kind of person just by nature, it’s not like a conscious choice that I’m making necessarily. It’s genuinely who I am.” Emma Watson