Who's Afraid Of The F Word? How A Naming Controversy Reignited A Debate About Feminism In The Workplace

Pretty Woman

Photo: Flickr

I am the Editor in Chief of a career resource and media company for smart, driven Gen Y women.  We call our site Pretty Young Professional, a name that – as you can imagine – has raised a few eyebrows.As a Gen Y woman, we enter a world filled with opportunities that were not available to generations of women before us, and obstacles that are unexpectedly subtle at times. Although women make up more than half of all college graduates and PhD candidates, they only account for 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.  Women have fewer role models to demonstrate an achievable path to personal and professional fulfillment.

What’s more, many young women face issues not encountered by their male colleagues: how to dress neither too sexily nor too square; how to navigate the line between assertive and aggressive; even how to develop mentorship relationships with senior leaders who are usually much older, married men.

In addition to new opportunities for career advancement, today’s young women also face insurmountable pressures to look perfect, to act perfectly, to do it all.  It doesn’t help that throughout our youth we were fed media that portrayed an image of an ideal woman who definitely wasn’t the breadwinner.

Faced with this conundrum, young women today are often stuck between the excellence we seek and the societal stereotypes that tell us to play nice and put others’ needs first.  As young ambitious women, we believe that we face many of the same struggles regardless of our industries or our location.

The debate ignited by our name gets to the root of the one of biggest issues we face as young women: the stereotypes applied to us because of our femininity or lack thereof.

We deliberately chose Pretty Young Professional (PYP), a play on Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit song P.Y.T., to refute the notion that femininity and professionalism are incompatible, that professional success means androgynous or masculine behaviour. Our conviction is that being young and female does not compromise our confidence, talent, and drive to be taken seriously as professionals.  When we first launched our beta site, some people called our name sexist, demeaning and isolating, while others wrote in urging us to keep it, saying they felt it was empowering and insightful.  After the first week, we wrote a long article on the debate titled “The Problem with Pretty.”

Yes, our name is meant to be provocative and intriguing.  That doesn’t mean we were prepared for questions like “What about the ugly girls?”  At PYP we strongly believe that all women are pretty.  We recognise that being young, ambitious and female is not easy.   PYP’s founding team proudly consider ourselves feminists – we created a company with the sole purpose of supporting and empowering young women to be their best selves.  We also fully recognise that feminism comes in many different packages and do not think that any of those must meet pre-formed feminine or anti-feminine benchmarks.

As a society, we have permitted a negative stigma to be attached to the label “feminist” among many groups, a stigma that has become a tremendous impediment to achieving the goals of feminism: namely, equality of both women and men.  If you identify yourself as a feminist and you happen to possess conventional feminine characteristics, are you immediately cast as “not really” feminist because of your outward appearance?  We at PYP think it’s time to take back the debate.


For more on the Gen-Y feminist debate, check out this series of posts from Pretty Young Professional, The Daily Femme and The Sexy Feminist.

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