“I am a feminist. “

Woah! Did you just drop the F-bomb?

‘Feminism’ is now a dirty word. It seems to have completely lost the meaning it once held. People who support gender equality (a large proportion, thankfully) are now apprehensive about using the word ‘feminist’ to describe themselves, due to being associated with the men haters. Feminism is not and, in mainstream, has never been about man-hating. Much as mainstream socialism is not about a large-scale Proletariat revolution or mainstream conservatism is not about an authoritarian dictatorship. Feminism is about equality and as such, is everybody’s fight.

Comments such as Philip Davies’ are therefore unhelpful, unjustified and completely incorrect. Davies seems to represent the corner of the Conservative party who genuinely seek to ‘conserve’ British authority and hierarchy. He seems to want a pre-equality act Britain where naturally formed inequalities, stereotypes and injustices can thrive. Surely Davies cannot fault the first feminists? The plight of the suffragettes, the drive for greater employment after WW2, and the desire for equal rights are all victories of these feminist pioneers. The movement of today is simply continuing their plight.

Emma Watson’s speech to the UN embodied everything that modern feminism should encompass: once female inequality is tackled, men’s issues will automatically start to resolve. Everybody in society is held back by stereotypes; and the way we have to work, look and act are all governed by these. Men have to be ‘strong’, ‘masculine’ and ‘dominant’. They have to work hard, form strong relationships, be successful. Women have to be ‘pretty’, ‘feminine’ and ‘subservient’. They have to look after children, do the housework, and so on. Both of these stereotypes are equally damaging and, unfortunately, very much still exist. They are in part why suicide is the number one killer of men in the UK. They are also in part why sexual harassment in the workplace is still an issue. Breaking down these stereotypes is the plight of feminism; and it should be everyone’s battle.

I polled a few students on the issue to gauge how we see feminism in our day to day lives.

One said this of feminism:

”The need for feminism is indisputable. The fact we have to ‘opt in’ to feminism is divisive and not constructive”

Another responded:

“Feminism is having to undo the work of hundreds, thousands of years of misogyny for women . [They] should still get more attention.”

So how to explain the ambivalence, sometimes outright disgust, at the feminist movement?

One of the key arguments seems to be that the battle is won; it’s time to move on. On the face of it, it seems legitimate. We’re debating societal expectations and cultural stereotypes. Abroad, women in Islamic countries are treated very much as second class citizens. FGM is a serious issue in sub-Saharan Africa, and in India honour killings are a normal occurrence. The thing is, the adversity women face around the globe is no longer a distant problem here in Britain. The rise of multiculturalism and immigration means that issues that may have seemed distant in the past are now in our back yard. There are around 1,200 cases of arranged marriages in Britain every year. In the past 5 years there have been 11,000 instances of ‘honour’ violence, and FGM is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. The death of Samia Shahid provides a harsh reminder of the reality of cultural misogyny in Britain.

Feminism is therefore of far greater need when addressing human rights abuses abroad and at home, rather than nitpicking on how you found a ‘for her’ deodorant in Sainsbury’s. As another student polled responded;

”Who cares what size mannequins are, when women are being denied basic human rights across the globe?”

So where does this leave us on the state of feminism in Britain today? It’s clear that the word itself has been distorted, maybe beyond repair. The very existence of anti-feminist parties such as J4MB proves there to either be a widespread misunderstanding about what being a feminist actually means, or an anti-equality motivation. The former seems much more likely. Feminism adapted after the milestones of the voting rights act and the equality act; it needs a similar transformation today.

Without a clearer emphasis on the fact that feminism represents everybody’s struggle against patriarchy and that our comparatively egalitarian society should be an example to other nations, the movement could die. There has to be more of a focus on women facing arranged marriage or death and their plight, those powerless to help themselves, rather than on blue or pink toys. Davies’ ignorance to what being a feminist actually means may expose his own lack of understanding, but it also accurately describes the problems with the feminist movement today.

Feminism does have a place in society; but it has to adapt. Without proper change, Davies’ form of anti-feminism could grow, and we could take another giant step backwards in the quest for true equality.

Cameron Scheijde
Cameron is a member of the Liberal Democrats, contributor for the BBC generation 2016 project, and currently a student, studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Bristol. He is also a member of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain.

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