“Miss,” the boy whispered to me during a Year 9 lesson. “That Miss Smith,* she’s a feminist, you know. She’s always talking about feminism. And….” (his voice dropped to a whisper) “we think she might be a LESBIAN!”
Ah yes, feminism, the word spoken of in hushed tones by teenage boys everywhere. There was a nod of approval from the rest of the class, confirmation that yes, Miss Smith was indeed known throughout the school as being a bit of a maverick, a rebel who’d just as soon teach you to write articles for the Socialist Worker as teach the works of Shakespeare. She was, in short, a bit barmy. Given the response in the class, he may as well have said that Miss Smith was thinking of running off to Syria and joining ISIS.
“You do know Henry,” I informed him, “that you are a feminist too. In fact, I would say that everyone in this class is a feminist.”
Henry looks at me, eyes wide, as though I’ve just accused him of being Miss Smith’s tie-dyed comrade-in-arms at a sit-in on Greenham Common. The rest of the class are intrigued at their new designation as socialist rebels.
“You agree that men and women are equal, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course.”
Henry looks disgusted that I could conceive of him as anything but a warrior for equality.
“Well then, you are a feminist! That’s what feminism is. The belief that men and women are equal.”
The class look impressed with their new epithet. I have created a band of Year 9 crusaders for the cause.
You see, nothing dismays me more than when I see yet another woman (or for that matter, teenage boy) say that she doesn’t see herself as a feminist. After all, feminism is just equality. That’s it. Not man-hating, not bra-burning, not a military takeover of the Houses of Parliament by angry women waving burning effigies of men, although there is certainly nothing wrong with burning a bra if you so desire, as long as you do so in a responsible manner and keep a fire extinguisher handy, after all those lacy ones look flammable.
Personally, I have never regarded myself as anything but a feminist. I like to think I came out of the womb waving a placard demanding equal pay for equal work, or votes for women, even though both of those things were supposedly enshrined in law long before I was so much as a glint in my mother’s eye.
Enshrined in law they may be, but the pace of change is slow. Women may be legally entitled to equal pay for equal work, but we know the gender pay gap still exists; and although we may be able to vote, I hardly need to mention last year’s
fiasco election in the US to point out that we are still far from equally represented in the corridors of power.
It also seems that there is a backlash against feminism rising on the internet. That for every woman calling out misogyny in a public forum, there are ten trolls popping out of a dark corner to tell us to get back in the kitchen. It may of course be my own perception as someone who would probably be described as a member of the “liberal elite,” living in a bubble of like-minded and largely similarly educated and privileged Western women, that the forces of darkness are out to get us; but like many others, I have been both alarmed and disgusted by the political developments of the past few months, most of which seem to me to be proof that feminism is still very much needed. And so, when I hear women hold feminism at arms length, avoiding using the word for fear of seeming shrill, man-hating or a bad wife, despite agreeing whole-heartedly with its basic tenet of equality, I am dismayed. For to quote the great Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we should all be feminists, and wear the label with pride, with or without our bras.
*Names have been changed to protect the guilty. No one wants to be outed as being a feminist, after all.
A version of this post first appeared on the blog of my fellow blogger and (I hope) friend, the fabulous Island Living 365, as part of her The Mother Feminist series.