By Trina Read
This book by Sarah Perry reminded me that I should be proud of my Essex roots!
When I came to university in 2018 one of the most common remarks I got when I told people I was from Essex was: “You don’t sound like you’re from Essex”, accompanied by a mixture of shock and relief that I ‘didn’t have the accent.’ I used to wield this uniqueness from the ‘other Essex girls’ like it was something to be proud of. Thank goodness I didn’t sound like I’d stepped straight out of Towie. Little was I aware of how anti-feminist I was being by acting in such a way. Because why should I separate myself from being an Essex girl when that is indeed what I am? By separating myself I was saying that I thought I was ‘better’ than the stereotype when the real problem is the stereotype itself.
I recently read Essex Girls by Sarah Perry, where she showcases some examples of Essex girls throughout history and their importance to feminism and more. These were all examples of strong, unapologetic women – as I hope to be myself. Although I would have liked Perry to have gone into more depth with the modern stereotype and its implications, this short book sparked a revolution within my own identity that I cannot stop thinking about.
If you google ‘Essex girl’ you are instantly met with the following definition: ‘a brash, materialistic young woman of a type supposedly found in Essex or surrounding areas in the south-east of England.’ Wikipedia adds ‘promiscuous and unintelligent.’ Not only is this definition derogatory but it is also very objectifying. It seems that if you are a girl and you happen to be born in Essex then you instantly must fall into this singular identity.
Like Sarah Perry, I was very privileged in that I went to a Grammar School and did not develop a strong Essex accent so I have never really fallen victim to the harmful effects of stereotyping. I have only felt a slight irritation when I have to tell people where I’m from just to be met with the same response every time. But stereotypes can certainly be damaging to how people are perceived by others and how they perceive themselves.
So, why do we have these stereotypes? Because it isn’t just Essex. My flatmate is from Birmingham and she gets met with similar responses as people continue to have preconceived notions about someone from their accent or where they are from. And more often that not, it is women who are stereotyped more than men. It is less often you hear the phrase ‘Essex boy’ or associate this with a fixed, negatively perceived identity. Why are we always focusing on how women act and what they choose to do with their bodies and appearance? And why do we frown upon certain choices over others?
I have had to look at my own internalised misogyny against the stereotyped Essex girl, whilst realising that I should be proud of where I am from. I shouldn’t care when my Essex accent slips out on the occasional word or phrase. In fact, I want to try and find the Essex accent buried deep inside me. There is a lot to dismantle when it comes to stereotypes, but it is definitely something I am going to do more work to understand and challenge.