They're the discussions that fuel debate on Woman's Hour, daytime television, and online. The hot topics of the moment - or sometimes a whole decade. But when does such a debate become less relevant to the lives of women and more like manufactured media controversy, doing nothing more than pitting us against each other and attempting to cause division? The answer is: usually after about five minutes - yet the discussion continues. Which so-called "debates" need to die a painful death for the good of all women?
The Size Zero Debate
Those three little words became a media sensation a few years back and people started to discuss the sizes of popular models, of 'worryingly thin' celebrities, and the existence of Size 0 clothing. Were they the cause of eating disorders in young women? What should be done about it? Week after week, magazines published the latest updates on the main celeb offenders, who seemed to hang out together, favour the same styles, and were often connected to Rachel Zoe. But what started out as concern over health and wellbeing soon became another stick to beat women with. Young women with eating disorders became stereotyped as silly girls trying to emulate sillier celebrities, thin women found themselves sneered at as "not what men want", and the appearance of women in the spotlight was picked over at every opportunity. In the meantime, nobody really cared about size 0 at all. Which leads us on to...
They have curves, apparently. No man wants to have sex with someone who "looks like a 12 year old boy". But wait - "curvy" is so loaded that it can also be construed as a euphemism for "fat" and therefore might be offensive. How about magazines try to make us all feel better by interviewing men about what physical attributes they really want from women? That'll work. How about the nastier women journalists write columns sniping about thin women? In the end, it becomes apparent that what the media means when it talks about attractive curves is "larger than average breasts". And so the conclusion is reached. Real women look like Kelly Brook. Fast forward a few years and it's still happening (thanks to a rash of annoying Facebook groups and memes), but the papers talk about Christina Hendricks instead, and "curvy" means "size 10".
Having It All
This one rears its ugly head in the Daily Mail every couple of weeks as a way of berating women for daring to want children AND a job. But recently the "debate" has gone mainstream again, thanks to Anne-Marie Slaughter and a number of other well-known names weighing in on the supposedly failed dream. Thousands of women have collectively rolled their eyes and wondered why the way the media frames this issue doesn't actually apply to 90% of us, as if it's all about being the perfect mother as well as a banker or a politician. And of course anti-feminists and conservatives seize the opportunity to crow about how unhappy and unfulfilled these liberal times have made women feel. Meanwhile, most of us continue going out to work because we don't have any choice in the matter.
Feminism: compatible with makeup, shaving, and liking men?
In recent years, a popular feature idea to wheel out for International Women's Day, usually disguised as a missive about the state of modern feminism and illustrated with a picture of a burning bra. So repetitive is the format that you wonder what readers are left thinking about the fight for gender equality, and also what harm it would really do to discuss it in terms of things that aren't lipstick and sex. Patronising, short-sighted, and cliched, reducing gender equality to a list of things you can and can't do, and never failing to leave some people with the impression that feminists hate women who wear dresses and like baking, which in itself has become another tedious "debate".
Currently taking the form of drama over how long it's appropriate to breastfeed for. Such has the animosity over which childbirth and parenting choices a woman makes increased that a mere mention of the way you do things is enough to make some people feel you're judging them for not doing the same. Some of the most weirdly drama-filled and vicious debates I've seen between women online have been about birth and parenting choices, and guilt-tripping or sensationalist news stories don't help matters, constantly painting some choices as bizarre and abnormal, some as neglectful, and others as "the latest trend". Motherhood is enough of a minefield of emotions without all this, thanks very much.