Nowadays, it’s a rarity to find someone who has never heard of the notorious ‘Essex girl’ stereotype. The idea that Essex girls are promiscuous, ignorant and badly-spoken, just because they are from Essex, is a cliché that still exists across the country and even overseas. It’s a stereotype that author and founder of the Essex girls liberation front, Sydney Moore, is working hard to dismantle.

According to Syd, the mission of the Essex girls liberation front is to try and “change the perception of what an Essex girl is like. Essex is a very diverse county. We’re not all wearing stilettos and tanning ourselves”. Equally, Syd also points out that “it doesn’t matter even if you are”. The fact is that the women of Essex should not all be shoehorned into one specific idea of what an Essex girl is like, especially not one which is so negative.

But where did the stereotype of an Essex girl even come from? Syd believes that it may have something to do with the Essex witch trials. Syd has written many books about the cruel witch hunts and persecutions which occurred in Essex between 1560 and 1680. Famously, Essex was one of the worst regions in England for the inhumane witch trials. To put things into perspective, Syd shares a startling statistic: that the total number of incitements for witchcraft in the three counties of Surrey, Sussex and Hertford overall amounted to 125, whereas the total number of incitements in the single county of Essex came to 503. At one point, Essex was even nicknamed ‘witch county’. This demonstrates just how big the witch trials were in Essex. Syd believes that perhaps this has led to the modern depiction of the ‘Essex girl’. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women were condemned of witchcraft if they were considered to be promiscuous or uncouth. It was often uneducated peasant women at the low end of the social scale who found themselves convicted of being a witch. They were not allowed to speak for themselves or answer the charges put before them, and were also deemed to be ‘loose’ without the protection of a man over them. It strikes an appalling similarity to the attributes deemed to be that of the modern Essex girl- at the low end of the social scale, uneducated, ‘loose’. As Syd states, people saw the witches of Essex as ‘threatening’, ‘lewd’ and ‘filthy’- adjectives that many people would probably use to describe the contemporary Essex girl stereotype which is “just a different version” of that which the supposed ‘witches’ of Essex were labelled with.  

The stereotype has existed within society for such a long time, and shows no signs of disappearing. Even nowadays, it is still casually bandied about. Syd details how some of her students, from when she was teaching at South Essex College, were put in an awkward situation when an interviewer made a comment about them being Essex girls. Syd explains how this kind of throwaway comment “puts the young woman trying to get into that university” or job, “on the backfoot”. “You’re trying to show that you’re intelligent and academic and focused”, whereas the stereotype of the Essex girl is the opposite of these attributes. As the Oxford advanced learners Dictionary used to say, before the Essex girls liberation front campaigned to have this definition rightfully removed, the Essex girl is ‘a name used, especially in jokes, to refer to a type of young women, who is not intelligent, dresses badly, talks in a loud and ugly way, and is very willing to have sex’. It is difficult to believe that this definition literally appeared in a dictionary for children and foreign students learning English. To have factual books, such as dictionaries, reinforce the negative Essex girl cliché is absolutely shocking. But the sad truth is that similar definitions still exist in the Oxford English dictionary and the Harper Collins dictionary- although some positive modifications have been made thanks to the fantastic work of the Essex girls liberation front.

“We’re at a moment in time right now, where it feels like we are experiencing a lot of violence against women at the moment”, what with the devastating cases of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. “This spate of violence against women only happens because women aren’t as valued as men- by women and men- and when you talk about the ‘Essex girl’, a lot of people just think it’s funny and that you’ve got to be able to take a joke. But actually, it goes in and it does affect young women.” Syd details how when someone is called an Essex girl, they are left with two impossible choices- they either laugh along and allow the stereotype to be permeated- or they call it out and risk being seen as a stick in the mud who can’t have a laugh. Neither of which are ideal, or decisions that women from Essex should have to make, purely just because they are from Essex. Syd feels that it is unfair that “women from Essex have to work doubly hard to prove that they’re not ‘thick’, just because they are born in a certain postcode”.

Currently, Sydney is working on a project with the University of Essex professor, Alison Rowlands, and the organisation, Snapping the Stiletto, to create a witch walk around Manningtree to commemorate the women who were convicted of witchcraft and lost their lives in 1645. Syd is also in the process of writing a screenplay, and a new book.

It was a pleasure to talk to Syd, whose views on the antiquated depiction of the ‘Essex girl’ are incredibly relevant and important to society. Her latest book, a collection of short stories titled ‘The Twelve Even Stranger Days of Christmas’ came out on the 28th of October. It is now available to order on Amazon.