Last year, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary feminism was the most searched for term online. That same dictionary describes it as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Analysing the data, the website cites spikes in searches following news of such things as the Women’s March on Washington, DC in January last year, in addition to television dramas such as The Handmaid’s Tale and the film, Wonder Woman. Revelations of sexual harassment and the #MeToo and Time to Rise movements also sparked searches.
I remember in the 90s and 00s being told by other women that we no longer needed feminism, in fact, it was all seen as a bit of an embarrassment. I used to worry that I sounded too strident, too ‘political’ (although women across the political divide are often united in equal rights for women). There was a sense, from women, that talking about feminism would damage their career prospects. Or, a sense that if they were successful then, somehow, discussing feminism would undermine the ‘merit’ that had got them there. Even more recently I recall being on a business trip with colleagues, including two more senior men. Chatting in the hotel bar after a successful day about the usual non-work things such as families and holidays, I found myself re-telling a story about my then 14-year-old daughter who had chosen sociology as one of the subjects she wanted to study. She’d connected with the idea of feminism because, as she remarked, ‘you’re a feminist aren’t you mum?’ At this remark both men looked more than a little aghast, with one commenting at how surprised he was, and that clearly, I was one of those ‘reasonable’ ones. Thank goodness for that!
So, feminism is now firmly back on the agenda.
Of course, a blog about feminism can’t leave out mention of Germaine Greer. In a speech she gave a couple of months ago (on International Women’s Day) she wonderfully argued that ‘equality is a profoundly conservative goal for women’
What everybody has accepted is the idea of equality feminism. It will change nothing … women are drawing level with men in this profoundly destructive world that we live in and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the wrong way. We’re getting nowhere.
“If we’re going to change things I think we’re going to have to start creating a women’s polity that is strong, that has its own way of operating, that makes contact with women in places like Syria, and that challenges the right of destructive nations. Women needed to aim higher and achieve more than simply drawing level with men and entering into traditionally male-dominated fields.”
I have a lot of sympathy with this. As I wrote in an earlier post, we live in a world where the overarching narrative is male. So are we asking for equality within these existing structures, or something completely new? If we look around us: war, Trump, poverty, populism and the rise of the Right, Carillion, executive pay, Russia, Palestine, the UK railway system, Grenfell Tower, an NHS on its knees…the existing structures aren’t working very well, are they?
I recognise that Greer isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ (too out-spoken, too strident, too radical) and her comments about trans women have not made her any less controversial, but let’s not forget that the women who got us the vote in the UK needed to be strident, out-spoken and radical in order to allow us the democracy that we enjoy today. Aren’t we pleased that Rosa Parks refused to give up that seat? Aren’t we pleased that Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t become a typical ‘first lady’? Aren’t we pleased that Tarana Burke founded the ‘MeToo’ movement over a decade ago?
Simone de Beauvoir famously said that women are the second sex, made and not born. Society is what makes us. So how do we make a society that enables true equality, one that empowers women to be who they are, confident and bold and talented and amazing, not people tip-toeing around, nudging gently on a door of so-called respectability for a share of the status-quo? As the radical feminist Jessa Crispin argues in her recent book:
“The feminism I support is a full on revolution. Where women are not simply allowed to participate in the world as it already exists … but are actively able to reshape it.”
So, in the spirit of not being apologetic, or tip-toeing around making a case that is seen as acceptable; rather than being seen as one of those ‘reasonable ones’ I will end this blog with some lines of poetry I found in the book Fifty Shades of Feminism by the scalpel-sharp poet, Laurie Penney:
“There are more of us than you think, kicking off our high-heeled shoes to run and being told not so fast . . . who dared to dance until dawn and were drugged and raped by men in clean T-shirts and woke up scared and sore to be told it was our fault . . . who were told all our lives that we were too loud, too risky, too fat, too ugly, too scruffy, too selfish, too much . . .”
I say, let’s continue to be too much!
Image: Watch out cartoon (from a postcard pinned to my kitchen notice board for the last 21 years) by the brilliant cartoonist Jacky Fleming. Jacky is also author of the wonderful The Trouble with Women.
A strategist, consultant and mother to two daughters, Sam Whittaker is a lover of stories with a passion for connecting people with ideas. Sam also cares deeply about driving progressive change in the world, however, seemingly ‘small’. She (& others) blog at the-change.blog. You can follow her on twitter @itsSamActually.