Debate: Is feminism dead?

26 October 2012

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.


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