How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sophia? An Exercise In Shaming Young Feminists


“Are you an angry person, are you angry about other things in your life?” documentary filmmaker Vanessa Engle asks her young feminist subject. Strangely, Sophia doesn’t appear particularly enraged. Could it be the angry feminist stereotype rearing its ugly head?

The clip above is taken from part three of a BBC documentary series on feminism. The final episode aired last night and focused on “a small group of passionate and committed young activists, who believe that the need for feminist politics is now more urgent than ever.” Engle follows them as they prepare for a conference on feminism and a march through London. However, before they get to that point, they explore a little bit of what it means to be a feminist. This is a section I like to call In Which We Learn That Feminists Can’t Wear Makeup, Dress Feminine.

A tipster from the UK sent in a link to the show, which made her positively “ragey.” She writes that it was a

total waste of a great opportunity to provide a relevant and well-researched look at the women’s movement for the massive BBC audience. Especially the last in the series which ‘focused’ on today’s feminist movement. The series was commissioned for International Women’s Day and is just an epic fail.

Unfortunately, the series is only available online to viewers in the UK, so we were unable to watch the full documentary. But from what we have seen, it does not appear to provide a balanced look at young feminist activists. Engles interviews Sophia Morrell, an articulate young activist, and her parents, who are pretty much baffled as to how they produced such an “angry” daughter. Thing is, Sophia seems perfectly rational and calm, even when faced with a mother who says things like this:

She actually wears makeup, short skirts, and goes out sort of dressed to kill and then seems to think that no men should be paying her attention. I do have a problem with that, that she has this view. I’m finding that quite difficult to work out. I do find her views quite hypocritical.

And a father who adds:

Anybody, once they actually start to put on makeup, or put on fashion, objectify themselves just by definition. Basically, biologically and you know, way back from the caveman, there are just influences of men are attracted to women, and men chase women. And that is something I don’t think you can ever dig out of the human psyche. Cats chase mice.

This is where Engles should step in to ask a fair, unbiased question; this is where a feminist filmmaker might probe into the thinking behind such a statement, explore the very idea of the macho, hypersexual caveman and his persistent influence on our culture. Instead, she points out that you could argue that Sophia “self-objectifies.” Sure, you could. But you could also argue, like her father did, that men and women are still in a predator/prey relationship and we should all just either accept this, or stop putting on the fashions. Fortunately, ragey Sophia manages to keep her head long enough to respond to their criticism. When forced to defend her clothing choices, she calls their comments a “patriarchal response… It’s not my fault at all. If you follow that chain of thought to its logical conclusion, then maybe I should go out in a burka.” And when asked what else makes you angry (other than objectification and violence against women) she responds, laughing, “commuting.”

Women: Activists [BBC]

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