An evening with Hadley Freeman

21 Jun

Yesterday I went to a talk at Foyle’s with the lovely journalist, Hadley Freeman, whose book ‘Be Awesome’ has recently come out.  It’s a sort of manual on ‘modern life for modern ladies’ but as Hadley said herself, many parts are relevant to men as well.  It’s witty, engaging, heartfelt and comforting.  I’ve only read select chapters at the moment – that’s the great thing about it, you can dip in and out as you please – and a particular favourite is ‘Sex tips for smart women’ where Freeman debunks the media-induced belief that sex, particularly whether or not you are getting it, defines whether your life is worth living.


During her interview, I was struck by how shy and unassuming she was as I’d imagined this larger-than-life character, having only read a few of her columns in The Guardian prior to the talk.  Keen to learn more about the recent rise in strong women that are changing the face of feminism, I didn’t hesitate to book a ticket as soon as I found out about the event.  She’s very small in person with all these big opinions but what was most apparent was her warmth and genuine personality.  She admitted to being uncomfortable about talking about her own history which is why she decided to write ‘Be Awesome’ in the form of a manual, rather than an autobiography.  This was evident when she briefly mentioned suffering anorexia as a teenager, which led to a stint in hospital.  I found her to be a compelling combination of vulnerability and strength.

Much of the talk was actually really thought-provoking, namely when she started discussing the rampant sexism in the media.  The media often blames the fashion industry for creating a beauty ideal; but the media is bad, if not worse – just take a look at those awful misogynistic celebrity articles, often written by other women, on the Daily Mail website.  She also made shrewd observations about how cultural trends have changed, highlighting the trend that nowadays many famous actresses take their clothes off to pose in magazines once they are famous which is partly due to the rise of the lad-mags culture.  In the past, actresses would pose nude to try and get famous, so there is definitely a big change there – a sort of ‘got-to-keep-up-with-the-lads’ mentality.  I only have to quote the super-intelligent Lady Gaga to demonstrate this absurdity: ‘I’m not a feminist – I hail men, I love men.  I celebrate American male culture, beers, bars and muscle cars.’

There are so many contradictions about feminism in the media.  You get Beyonce talking about how she’s such a feminist when she’s posing half naked while jumping on a trampoline (a photoshoot shot by the notorious Perv, Terry Richardson).  Then, there’s all those shite sexpert columns – ‘How to please your man’.  Obviously if you enjoy jumping half naked on a trampoline, that’s your prerogative but there definitely does seem to be something slightly contradictory going on here – at least, there seems to be a big gap between what you say and what you do.  But the thing is, as Freeman said, the media isn’t going to change; the fashion industry isn’t going to change and we can’t wait for mags like Loaded and Nuts to grow up.  It just ain’t going to happen.  But what we can do is change how we react to these things and adopt a detached view.  Don’t get sucked into this crazy world, be informed and know the ridiculousness of these channels.

At the end of the talk, we were allowed to ask her questions.  I asked her how she feels her opinions and outlook on life have changed over the years.  She’s now 35 and she’s been doing this amazing job (which she constantly stated isn’t a ‘real’ job revealing how fortunate she feels) and she said that her 20s were up and down, a hodgepodge of memories living in London.  She said she looks back and didn’t know how she was allowed to work, to date, to have sex even!  Reassuring stuff for me indeed; I’ve always been very excited to reach my 30s which I have imagined, probably incorrectly, to be a calmer, more contented period in my life.  If I’m in any way like Hadley when I’m 35, I’ll be a very happy woman.

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