Today’s guest blogger is Claire Hazle, director of Marketing and Ecommerce for Cosmos Tours and Cruises, Avalon River Cruises, Archers Holidays. Claire discusses female empowerment and how a latex leotard may or may not have to do with it…
Claire is also a mentor at the Women in Travel Meetup at WTM 2016 and is available to mentor as part of the Personal & Professional Development group.
I inadvertently caused a minor Twitter stir recently. Whilst watching X Factor on a Saturday night, I sent an innocent tweet that questioned why Little Mix had to wear such skimpy outfits (latex leotards and thigh high boots, in case you missed it) and asked why we couldn’t provide young girls with female role models who wore more ‘normal’ clothes.
I received a torrent of response, from supportive likes and retweets to accusations of my disempowering women and policing what they wear.
The most disheartening insight was how many of the angry Twitterati perceived the girls performing in their ‘perky dominatrix outfits’ (The Telegraph) as a symbol of empowerment.
“I think they’re being great role models by showing girls that they can wear whatever they want” said one. “Women’s bodies aren’t some shameful disgrace thing, as a young girl myself, [they] have always empowered myself and other girls my age” said another.
Yes, girls should be able to wear what they want, but should we be measuring female empowerment by the length (or absence) of our skirt? Is ‘because we can’ a valid argument? In my opinion, that X Factor performance represented the antithesis of empowerment. It suggested to me that the feminist swing-o-meter is in danger of lurching too far the other way, into a place where we risk hailing false symbols of equality that are in fact re-cementing inequality. I am yet to see a boy band perform on stage in their boxer shorts, ‘just because they can’.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see all women wearing sacks, and of course we should be able to celebrate our sexuality. However, it feels as though there is a sub-section of young women coming up through the ranks whose view of empowerment is diametrically at odds to that of the generation above them. Empowerment and equality should be about having a voice and being heard. It’s having the courage to voice an opinion and being respected for that opinion. It’s having equal access to financial, political and social opportunities across all sectors of society without compromise or repression. It’s respecting each other and not feeling like you have to conform to a particular norm in order to succeed. It’s choosing to stay at home to bring up your child, or indeed choosing not to have children, and not feeling like you are letting ‘the side’ down in doing so. Empowerment is about having choices, and using those choices wisely.
I am fully aware that I risk sounding like I’ve turned into my Mother overnight. Perhaps I have. But do you know what? I’m proud if I have, because she is a fantastic woman and a great role model. She has supported me throughout my career, wanting me to have the opportunities that she didn’t when she was growing up in post-war Britain. She’s encouraged me to carve my own path and to stay true to myself. I’ve worked in a number of male-dominated organisations over the years where that’s been tested, but I hope I’ve gained the respect of my teams and colleagues along the way by sticking to my own particular brand of leadership, which has been strongly influenced by my sense of self as a woman.
As a senior business woman and also as a step-mum, I feel a palpable responsibility to be a suitable role model. The reason I am mentoring at Women In Travel at WTM is because I truly care about helping people to achieve their potential. Empowerment breeds responsibility and a sense of achievement and self-worth. Most of all, I encourage people to find their own style that they can embrace, whether male or female. As my step-daughter grows up, I will help her to see that she can do anything and be anything, with dignity and inner strength.
Find your own voice. Be heard. Don’t compromise who you are, but keep in perspective what empowerment truly means. And do me one small favour…..make sure you’re wearing something that won’t make you catch a chill while you’re doing it.