Fighting Stereotypes: I am an Essex Girl

When we talked about launching The Mother Hub, we always knew we wanted to make our events local. Having moved into the area many years ago, "local" to us means Essex. We wanted to celebrate and collaborate with the talented and inspirational women around us, who often found themselves without a space, a "hub", to encourage and gain inspiration from one another. Whilst researching for our project, one of the first things we typed into Google was "Essex women"... perhaps predictably, we were quickly diverted to "Essex girl". To say that we were shocked by what we found, is an understatement... sure, we all know the lazy, tired stereotype, but what we didn't know was that "Essex girl" had in fact become an official "noun" in the english language. Take a deep breath, then read on. It isn't pretty....

Essex girl

noun
Brit. derogatory.
A contemptuous term applied (usu. joc.) to a type of young woman, supposedly to be found in and around Essex, and variously characterized as unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic.
— The Oxford English Dictionary

Shockingly, as if it were even possible, the Collins definition is even worse. According to Collins, we are also "devoid of taste":

Essex girl

noun

Derogatory, informal.
A young working class woman from the Essex area, typically considered as being unintelligent, materialistic, devoid of taste, and sexually promiscuous.
— Collins Dictionary

For us, the saddest part about the existence of these definitions is not the fact that a whole county of women are pigeon-holed into such an appalling stereotype (although, frankly, that is bad enough). No, the worst thing is that in order for a phrase to get into the dictionary, there have to be a sufficient number of citations which indicate continuous wide-spread usage. The danger of people seeing it there in print, validated by an official and trusted institution, is that it almost justifies its usage in both everyday conversation and the media. In fact it almost justifies the belief that every woman from Essex fits this definition.

"Unintelligent", "materialistic", "sexually promiscuous" and "devoid of taste". These terms simply don't define the women we know, heck even the ones we don't know but see around us every day; it doesn't define the paramedic who helped one of our daughters on the way to hospital, the mum at school who tirelessly fundraises while juggling a full time job, the woman successfully running her own business and mentoring others to do the same, the lady working double shifts at Tesco to make ends meet, the teenage girl up late studying for her A Levels, the hairdresser who dreams of opening her own salon, the volunteer at the woman's refuge trying to help those who need it most. It doesn't define the multitude of athletes, entrepreneurs, artists, actresses and musicians who have all come from Essex. It doesn't define the mothers, the sisters, the daughters of this county and we sure as hell won't let it define us. In the words of the rather fabulous Emma Watson, "I don't want other people to decide who I am. I want to decide that for myself". And it's true, the "Essex girl" you're referring to, is just a girl, trying to decide who she is, just the same as everyone else.

People can argue that it's a bit of "harmless fun, all taken in jest". Honestly though, we're not sure if the young Essex woman starting a new job would agree when she has to pause before answering where she is from - simply because she knows she will very likely be the butt of the same old condescending jokes and comments. It's naive to say stereotypes are harmless, especially derogatory ones. They slowly seep into everyday lexicon, and in turn have a profound effect on general perceptions. The Essex stereotype even has an impact on investment into the county. It's therefore no surprise that Essex County Council had a commitment written into its Public Service Agreement with the government to improve its public image between 2002 and 2005 ...And yet here we are, still talking about negative stereotypes.

But here at The Mother Hub, we like to see every obstacle as an opportunity. This isn't about "hating on the haters", it's about celebrating the awesomeness of what women in Essex are doing every day. We want the definitions removed. Or, at the very least, made obsolete. And we know that, in order to do this, Essex needs to reclaim "Essex girl". To let the world know that it doesn't signify anything other than a girl who lives in Essex. Who she chooses to be beyond that, is entirely up to her.

We want more Boadicea and less of this invented "Essex girl". Because that girl you're referring to... she's just a girl.

This is the first step in what may be quite a long campaign... but we're in it for the long-haul, fuelled with coffee, gin and plenty of determination! We'll be collaborating with many along the way, but to get this whole thing going we would love for you to post a picture or comment on social media with #IAmAnEssexgirl and please share this post far and wide - whether you are from Essex yourself, or simply agree that no girl should be defined by anyone other than herself.

 

update!!

Overwhelmed with the immediate rush of support for this campaign, and questions of "what next?" and "how do we change this?", we have set up a petition on change.org, asking for The Oxford English Dictionary and Collins Dictionaries to remove (or make obsolete) the "Essex girl" definitions.

Please sign it and share far and wide! And keep your #IAmAnEssexGirl photos and comments coming on social media!

Click here to sign and share the petition.

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