So what exactly does a feminist look like?

by Ray_North on November 10, 2014

images-1Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older and grumpier and increasingly cynical – but, I’ve reached a stage where the sight of politicians posturing without any great thought or meaning has become increasingly irritating.

The last few weeks have seen the Fawcett Society’s campaign to re-ignite the flames of feminism by getting various politicians to wear t-shirt’s saying ‘This is what a feminist looks like.’ David Cameron refused to wear one but the likes of Clegg, Miliband, Harman and many others did.

I groaned.

Putting aside the Daily Mail’s vacuous and predictable attempt to rubbish the whole thing with their claim (which turned out to be utterly erroneous), that the t-shirts were made in sweatshops in Mauritius – I do ask the question that is provoked by the t-shirts – what does a feminist look like?

Does a feminist look like Nick Clegg? I don’t know. I’m sure that Clegg would claim to be a feminist, and would deny enthusiastically any desire to oppress women or stand in the way of women’s rights and gender equality. But, he can’t get away from the fact that his party has failed to adequately investigate claims of sexual harassment made by a number of its members and who in government have scrapped Child Benefit and reduced the funds for Surestart. Is Nick Clegg a feminist? I don’t know.

Similar questions can be asked about other politicians.

So what is modern feminism, what does it mean?

Last week saw Karen Brady invested as a Conservative Peer of the Realm – no one can deny that she has proved herself in the redoubtably male environs of soft-porn publishing and football. She has made millions, she has used every sinew of her personality, sexuality and brain and has been successful. Is she the real face of modern feminism? I don’t know. Some feminists would argue that she is everything that they are opposed to. But, surely, one of the important elements of feminism was ensuring that women could smash through the glass ceilings imposed by men.

Something that she, undoubtedly has done.

I also heard last week a woman on a radio show who described herself as a prostitute, stating that she provided a service, which saw her her earn £1000 per week. She was completely in control of her life and her future and her body, like Brady, she used her gender to great effect.

Feminist? I don’t know – hard to argue that any sexual exploitation of women by men is a progressive thing. Even if the woman is being rewarded.

So, perhaps, the face of modern feminism is Labour MP Fiona MacTaggert who put into Parliament an amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill last week attempting to criminalise those men who use prostitutes, something that, many prostitutes claim will force prostitution further underground and potentially place many sex workers in danger. MacTaggart, will of course, argue, that any form of prostitution is bad and oppressive to women – she may be right. I don’t know. But is she more worthy of the term feminist than the prostitute who spoke fairly enthusiastically about her work and the freedom it has given her.

I don’t know.

When I was growing up, my sister Renee North introduced me to the concept of feminism – she read the books of Greer, Weldon, Erica Jong, Margaret Attwood and others and taught me that gender equality was an important thing. I didn’t disagree then, and I don’t disagree now. But, at University, the whole thing became confusing, as the rather zealous politicisation of gender politics attacked men for being men – especially hetrosexual men – finding women attractive was a form of oppression. Duh! The back lash followed with the rather dull ‘lad culture’ of the 1990′s.

Thankfully, however, we have made strides in industry and public life and now women have equality in the work place and a pretty much equal chance in most aspects of life. True, many women would still claim that there are still areas of sexism and misogyny, and I wouldn’t disagree. Nor would most right minded people, whether they claim to be feminists or not.

So what does a feminist look like?
Is it still possible to look at gender politics in such a black and white way? For or against? Or is it now far more nuanced than that? Is it now more important to give all women the social, economic and cultural freedom to be the women they want to be, rather than try to smash down the walls that may no longer exist with the label feminism.

I don’t know.

But what I do know, is that the sight of politicians wearing t-shirts with a slogan as vacuous and meaningless as ‘this is what a feminist looks like,’ will do absolutely nothing for the women I meet on the school yard who just want to put food on the table and bring up their kids as best they can, and the women I meet in my profession who just want a chance to be as good as they can, and my nieces and their friends who just want to have fun, and be, well, be women.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth November 11, 2014 at 10:04 am

I remember the 1980s. I remember moving into the spare room because separatist feminists had convinced me that women came in two kinds, gay and dim. And that if only all the women in England would decamp to Greenham Common the earthly paradise would follow the next day.

And then I met (well, tried and failed to manage, actually) a couple of female black activists, one of whom wanted to kill all white men and the other one said I was the worst racist in England. I asked her why. “The evidence,” she replied, “is in my heart.”

The wounds only bleed every other day…

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nino November 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm

making the right noises, wearing the right t shirt and other publicity stunts won’t mask the fact that politicians throughout Europe (UK included) are drawn from a narrow self serving elite which actively excludes anyone whose face or background doesn’t fit. Yeah you might make efforts to improve your quotas on women, BEM, sexual orientation etc…as long as they can be trusted not to rock the boat and better still if they are related to you in some way. Social mobility has ground to a crashing halt and the professional politicians in Europe and their families are the main beneficiaries. Sadly the Labour Party are the worst at covering their tracks probably because they have been at it for less time than the others.

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