Nothing gets my pulse racing like a nice intersection, and I’ve recently realised that feminism, which is easily the thing I love most in the world, shares many an aim with the philosophy of Escapology. Now, at first glance this may not appear to be the case. After all, every single article in the last issue of the New Escapologist was penned by a man. But feminist Escapologists out there (are you out there?) need not despair! When you get to thinking, they’re kind of the same. Let’s take a closer look, in list form.
Escapology has it that when we buy less stuff, we reduce the burden of needing to earn so much, and thus the need to be tied to a depressing job and/or location. Now, we all know that women constitute the group to whom the single biggest, most useless, and most damaging amount of stuff is marketed, through the beauty (and other) industries that constantly tell us we are fat, ugly, stinky, and generally repulsive in every way imaginable, and that this sorry state can only be corrected by the constant purchase and use of a bewildering array of shit from eyelash curlers to weightloss pills.
Like many of my friends, I am but a poor student, yet I know plenty of girls who spend easily a couple of hundred quid a year on makeup alone which they have been taught that they need to wear every day just to look marginally presentable and feminine. And that’s before you start on any of the other stuff like endless trips to the hairdresser, waxes, fake tan, or even the weird scary things like those special gadgets to remove your arm hair, and vaginal douches. Ew! Yet I know people who use them! Why, for god’s sake? Is it not enough that we have to pay VAT on tampons? I’m not hating the player, I’m hating the game, and I would never, ever call any girl out for buying or using stuff that she has been told her whole life is of the utmost necessity to make her feminine, but the situation as it currently stands is completely insane. So, feminist escapologists: save money, save time, save space, save mental and physical anguish, AND undermine the patriarchy by thinking about whether you really need these costly, depressing things in order to fulfill a narrow stereotype of femininity, or whether you are really actually OK just the way you are.
Various New Escapologist articles have explored strategies for removing oneself from the need to undergo the daily torment of toiling in an unsatisfactory job. The alternative is to create your own source of income from something you like doing very much, an income that is ideally as independent and flexible as possible. I would say that this applies even more strongly to women than it does to men, given the continued inequalities in the workplace. Let’s look at some stats: British women working full-time lag 17% behind full-time working men in pay, and when that moves to part-time (the reality for many women with children) that widens even further to a staggering 35%. Current trends point to this gap (more like a chasm) worsening, not improving, and between 2007 and 2008, it actually grew. (Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, Office of National Statistics, 2008.) But that’s not the only discrimination you face, ladies! Shall we factor in sexual-harassment, a very real glass ceiling when it comes to promotions, and lack of childcare provision and being shunted onto the “mummy track” of lower pay and reduced prospects if you have children? Shall we talk about how the majority of low-paid or unpaid, low-status work such as caring and cleaning and sex-work is done by women, and that as you move up the status-ladder, women are excluded and passed over with greater and greater intensity? This is because nearly all the big, important companies and organisations are boys’ clubs at heart.
In 2007, 78% of senior management posts in FTSE 100 companies were filled by men, and following our most recent general election, a mere 126 (out of 646) MPs are women. Boys’ clubs fundamentally do not want you there, girls, and as the former Labour Cabinet Minister Caroline Flint wrote bitterly in her resignation letter of June 2009, Gordon Brown had treated her as “female window dressing”. This is a stark reminder of the inequality women still face in the conventional working environment, and is even more of an incentive to eschew the traditional career path and aim for something which not only allows you to exercise your full range of talents and abilities in an environment where they are truly valued, but also to gain the flexibility of time and income you are going to need if and when you decide to have kids.
3. Anti-cultural hegemony
Escapology deplores the idea that culture is something produced by cynical forces which seek to market to and placate you, leaving you mindlessly consuming and fundamentally uncreative. In this way Escapology is pretty punk, no? It is, and this DIY spirit is to be found hard at work in many feminist projects from the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s to the current revival (very much its direct offshoot) of girl-authored blogs and zines in the late 2000s. This DIY attitude says that most mainstream media sucks, and much of it perpetrates highly damaging ideas of what one needs to do in order to be female (buy shit, starve yourself, buy more shit) in addition to the wider negative messages it has for everybody (buy shit, don’t complain, buy more shit), so why not just make your own? This of course can mean absolutely anything, from starting a band to starting a zine, but it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re producing or participating in something that you have made for yourself and your peers, something that reflects your values and beliefs and not those of a branding expert whose ethics lag way behind his greed.
As with consumerism and jobs, the importance of creating your own culture (an act in itself that challenges the dominant paradigm) is something that applies to everyone, but especially to women, and perhaps even more so to girls, whose mainstream role models are so unrelentingly shitty and hypersexualised. Of course, simply by being a zine, the New Escapologist embodies the legacy of the punk ethic, but it also does so by directly exploring avenues for a much freer and more fulfilling life than the latest issue of Cosmo would have you believe is achievable. It rejects the idea that you need to be a qualified professional in an area before you can embark on it, and instead encourages people to work on becoming capable in a variety of useful skills that will help them live more independently. Once again, this applies doubly to women, who are taught both directly and indirectly that they are no good at all sorts of things (working with any kind of technology, balancing books, putting up shelves, travelling in ‘dangerous’ places, woodwork, you name it), and in doing so force us deeper into the trap of dependence and oppression.
So there you have it! If that hasn’t convinced you to file New Escapologist next to your collection of Bitch magazines, I don’t know what will. And at £6 for the latest issue, it is less than half the price of a Mac Eyeliner. Result all round.