26 October 2012

Debate: Is feminism dead?

UK Feminista march London 2012

When Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline, joined the 400-strong march on Westminster this week to demand political and social equality for women, it showed the feminist fight is alive and well. It was quite a kick-back to the statistics released last week by Net Mums saying that over 24% of women aged 25-29 think feminism is now irrelevant – and singer Taylor Swift, 22, declaring that she would never label herself a feminist. So what place does feminism have in today’s society? Four people give their opinion. And we want yours below too. 

"Feminism still has much to do…" says writer Tanya Gold

Has the need for Feminism gone? Not if you look at the facts, which are too dull - or too depressing - to make it into most newspapers. Women still own less and earn less then men; the Fawcett Society, who campaigns for equal pay, estimates that a British woman will lose £330,000 in a lifetime, just for being a woman. Women are absent from great swathes of the most influential professions, including politics, the judiciary and the media, which of course reinforces the problem: how can you campaign for what you do not understand? Instead women are concentrated in the lowest paid and insecure professions, while also acting routinely as the nation’s carers. Will any of this change without complaint – which means robust feminism? I doubt it.

Then there is the other side - the domestic violence, often not believed, the sexual exploitation. Who heard the editor of Newsnight say he pulled the Jimmy Savile investigation because the evidence was “just the women”? No wonder there are so many rapes that are not even reported, much less punished, because women fear – rightly so – they will not be believed. There is no crime where the victim is systematically not believed, except rape; there is no crime where the victim is systematically blamed (“she was drunk and wore a short skirt”) except rape.

This sits alongside a culture that routinely objectifies women - we must be hot, we must be passive. Since the 1960’s, when the Pill first liberated women from one baby a year, Feminism as a righteous cause - simply, rights for women - has been eroded by a smear campaign. Feminists are told they hate men, simply because we want equality in pay and under the law. Feminists are caricatured as sexless, furious harpies, who want to abolish men – to make us sound ridiculous. Do not believe the propaganda. Feminism still has much to do. 

 

"Choice is what feminism is all about.…" says writer Rosie Swash

Out at dinner party last weekend, I tried not to lose it with a middle-aged man who couldn't understand the fuss about Jimmy Savile. Why bother dragging it all up now the man is dead? It was only when two other women joined me in saying that 'dragging it up' is the only way to stop it happening again – that he seemed to notice. This is my favourite kind of feminism in action: loud, and served with wine and cheese.

Because that’s the thing about being a feminist. It can be mean starting a little thing like the Everyday Sexism project that tweets a daily tale from the coalface of casual discrimination. Or people like Lucy Ann Holmes launching the No More Page 3 campaign on Facebook. It can be Tina Fey in 30 Rock, who happens to be powerful and funny while also sending up militant feminists.

What feminism shouldn’t be is an exclusive club. It's not about the finer details of whether you wear makeup or not, it's about believing you have the same rights as men. When Taylor Swift said this week she doesn’t see herself as a feminist - ‘I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life’ – I think she is being misguided. But that's her choice. And guess what, Taylor, choice is what feminism is all about. 

"We’ve been scared off by feminazi men…” says writer Caroline Criado-Perez

This week – if the statistics from Net Mums are to believed – feminism died. The media held a funeral the only way it knows how – with a flurry of breathless articles. This was a sad moment. Not to mention a revelation – I mean, who knew? Had endemic sexism in the work-place, the media, politics and, let’s face it, the street, also died? Er, no. 

So what is behind the stats that 39% of 24-29 year old women think feminist activism is now irrelevant? The six out of seven women who don’t call themselves feminists gave a variety of reasons – feminism is “aggressive”, “old-fashioned”, “not a positive label”. But look beyond the surface and what do these reasons have in common? Perception. Specifically, an outsider’s perception. It seems we are dispensing with “feminism” not because we’ve taken leave of our senses and think gender equality has been achieved, but perhaps because we’ve been scared off by the sexist men like Rush “feminazi” Limbaugh who rule the airways. Oh and are packing out parliament, the media and the workplace. The sad truth is that until we get more women in positions of power, women will struggle to choose between female solidarity and the correct sense that, for most individual women, male approval still matters.

“Feminism has gone very radical…” says Charlotte Vere, who has just been appointed director of the Girls’ Schools Association.  

Feminism doesn’t resonate with people in the street, and it doesn’t with me. What so-called feminists want is very tied to a Left-wing agenda: anti-cuts, pro-quotas. Feminists are trying to make us believe there is this ghastly patriarchy that is ruling the land and that women need special treatment. Of course I identify with the ideals of equality between men and women, but that is not what feminism is fighting for. So rather than trying to detoxify it, let’s leave it. It had its time [but] it has now gone very radical. Perhaps we [now] have to fight on an issue-by-issue basis.


Comments

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Darcy Blaze (Sun Oct 28 09:01:59 GMT 2012): Wake up girls, it's a girls world. Girls buy the family shop, girls shop - can't stop. TV commercials are therefore aimed at girls, so virtually all TV programmes are primarily aimed at a female audience. Men don't read (novels) 80 per cent are bought by females, women run the publishing business from top to bottom. Media is the same, huge volumes of women all the way through the hierarchy. It was never easy for men, rights have always been hard fought and men were also the ones who died in battle fighting for a cause. Girls don't have to fight for anything, all girls have to do is shop for another pair of shoes or another little black dress, that's what keeps the system turning and who buys that little black dress for M&S, a male buyer? The whole set up is an escalator to the top for women, just make the most of it. This consumer revolution has only occurred since WWII, it's been bloodless and turned society upside down. It is most definitely a girl's world just because girl's consume. Machines do all the work, they are the source of all this wealth. Not sure what the boys do, get drunk and watch footie I guess. Darcy Blaze http://www.darcyblaze.com/
Dorothy Bartlett (Thu Nov 01 17:35:53 GMT 2012): interesting
Lyn Guest de Swarte (Mon Nov 12 11:06:16 GMT 2012): Long live feminism sweet Charlotte!
Lyn Guest de Swarte (Mon Nov 12 11:20:42 GMT 2012): PS Charlotte Vere is the name of a woman who says feminism is dead! lol
Mary Catherine Rose (Fri Feb 01 05:09:11 GMT 2013): Charlotte: I am wondering how old you are. I would argue that feminists aren't 'trying to make anyone believe anything'. In fact, I would further surmise that what feminists do is not based on a belief system at all. It's based in fact - like the fact that we breathe oxygen and daisies are pretty, but smell kind of weird. Elizabeth Blackwell didn't want special treatment. She wanted to be a doctor without being hounded and mistreated for doing so (which she did and when she was ousted by her male colleagues (because she was female), opened her own clinic and also, the door to other female physicians). Simone de Beauvoir, who did not 'try' to be anything other than what she was, said, "I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom". This is the point. To be allowed to live freely, as you are, without having to live under a label. Perhaps some people proclaim they 'are not feminists' because they don't like to be labelled. Doesn't matter what the label (even if, in the case of feminism, I tend to think the fear of this particular label stems from a rather rampant obsession with superficiality - with fitting in as opposed to standing out.) The powers that be would have us believe, of course, that confronting the system they spin regarding any injustice - be it a patriarchy, monarchy, fraternity, oligarchy or what have you - will result in some form of social pariah-ism. But despite all obstacles: Labels, hate, violence, and things no one in this relatively free continent could fathom, these brave and strong women stood their ground - not just for women - but for humanity. This whole argument stems from the same source as pretty much every debate humans have: A lack of insight into what it means to exist. We have become too comfortable in the Western world: Apathetic. Taking for granted what we have and why. Everything from freedom to food. And speaking of freedom and food, what might a cow say? I'm going to take a guess: 'Hey humans, I know I'm a cow and I taste good to you, but do you have to be so ignorant of the fact that we are more than just food?' Living beings are living beings, and unless harming others, should be allowed to just be. That is what feminism is about.
Jane McLernon (Fri Feb 01 05:51:07 GMT 2013): Well said, Mary! ♥