Not that kind of Essex girl’ – the founders of The Mother Hub are campaigning for the derogatory definition of ‘Essex girl’ to be redefined in English dictionaries
DtL: Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Natasha and Juliet: We are Natasha Sawkins and Juliet Thomas, friends for ten years and co-founders of The Mother Hub; a space both online and in the “real world” where women can come together to support, encourage and gain inspiration from one another.
DtL: What inspired you to start the campaign?
Natasha and Juliet: We are based in Essex, so 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. 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 in 2003 and that the definition is truly appalling:
Essex girl (noun)
A contemptuous term applied (usu. joc.) to a type of young woman, supposedly to be found in and around Essex, and variously characterised as unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic.
— The Oxford English Dictionary
Essex girl (noun)
A young working class woman from the Essex area, typically considered as being unintelligent, materialistic, devoid of taste, and sexually promiscuous.
— Collins Dictionary
“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”
There and then we knew we had to do something. We launched the petition to raise awareness and to open a dialogue around the derogatory “Essex girl” stereotype, which is clearly something many people feel passionately about, according to the thousands of comments we have received.
We understand that it is listed in the dictionary as a result of widespread usage in the English language, but to us (and to everyone else who has backed the campaign), “Essex girl” simply means “a girl from or living in Essex”. We think it’s time to finally ditch the stereotype, so here at The Mother Hub, we are doing our bit to reclaim “Essex girl” by publicly celebrating the incredible women and girls in and from Essex, who in no way identify with the dictionary definition.
DtL: Have stereotypes of ‘Essex girls’ impacted you directly? If so how?
Natasha and Juliet: Neither of us are born and bred “Essex girls”. We moved to Brentwood from London many years ago . At the time, it was pretty common to receive passing remarks about becoming “Essex girls”. Perhaps even more tragic is that whilst pregnant, many “joked” that we might end up with “a little Essex girl” on our hands. However what we have experienced is absolutely nothing compared to the prejudice that many people we’ve heard from have received having grown up in Essex. From young women who have experienced bias at job interviews when asked where they’re from, to girls who feel they have to fight twice as hard to be taken seriously by their peers at University. While some may argue that most remarks are made in jest, it’s naive to think that stereotypes are harmless, especially derogatory ones. Some women have even reached a point where they almost disassociate themselves from the county, despite simultaneously feeling a sense of pride of where they’re from.
DtL: How have people responded so far and why do you think that is?
Natasha and Juliet: The campaign only launched a few days ago, and already the response has been overwhelming. The petition has received thousands of signatures and the reaction on social media, Instagram in particular, has been incredible. People are posting pictures of themselves with the #iamanessexgirl hashtag to show their support. It is exactly what we hoped this campaign would be; a positive movement of women coming together to reclaim and redefine “Essex girl”. Because all it should really mean is “a girl who lives in or comes from Essex”. It feels as though addressing this issue has been long overdue. Not just the offensive dictionary definition (which was based on widespread use and citations in the media), but also the fact that the real girls and women of Essex and their achievements are clearly not being celebrated or promoted enough to the outside world.
“It’s naive to think that stereotypes are harmless, especially derogatory ones.”
DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience?
Natasha and Juliet: We are both incredibly lucky to never have experienced bullying while growing up. As mothers we are only too aware of how often it can occur and the damage that it can cause. It’s one of the reasons we feel so passionately about this campaign. Young girls have enough to fight against without throwing negative preconceived ideas about who they are because of where they come from into the mix.
DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger selves?
Natasha and Juliet: To stand up for yourself and be proud of who you are. What makes you feel “different” today could one day be the very thing that helps you achieve something amazing.
DtL: Why do you think it is important we ditch labels and stereotypes?
Natasha and Juliet: Because it’s important to build a society in which diversity is celebrated and people feel that they can truly be themselves. No-one should be defined by anyone but themselves. There is also the psychological impact of assigning negative stereotypes to an individual or group of people, in that there’s a danger of it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you repeatedly tell a child that they can’t achieve something, there is a real risk that one day they’ll stop trying.
DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Natasha and Juliet: You can find out more about The Mother Hub and the #IAmAnEssexGirl campaign here: www.motherhub.co.uk
[Photo by Kika Mitchell Photography]