Equality of Choice

Last night on the way back from the pub quiz (which we won, by the way. (Oh yeah! Oh yeah!), my friend Kim and I got to talking about activism and campaigning.

I love Kim. Kim is one of the best people I know. In fact, when I grow up I’d like to be Kim, so when she has something to say, I listen. We don’t always agree, but we are respectful of each other’s opinions and I like to think we learn a lot from each other because that’s how the best discussions work.

In our discussion about Saturday’s march she confessed that she has a problem with the word ‘feminism’. Her point was that it is much better to be all about human beings, and less about how whether a scrotum or a vagina defines you or makes you better or worse than each other.

It reminded me of a discussion I had earlier in the week with another lovely friend, Helen, who also ‘confessed’ that a group she was in had raised some money at an event, but only half was going to a women’s cause and the other half was going to a group that supported and helped young men with depression/suicidal tendencies. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of forty five in this country, by the way. I think she thought I would be upset that not all the money was going to women.

I wasn’t. Men have plenty of problems too. I know that. I see that. I am sad for that. Any support men can have around mental health and depression is good as far as I can see.

I thought, isn’t it awful that people feel sort of ashamed to say things like this? When what they’re saying and doing is actually so good, positive, right. It should not be shameful to admit that you’re keen on humanity or that you want to stop men killing themselves.

I thought about Saturday and how despite all the different banners people were marching under there was tolerance and room for everyone and every idea. I thought about the kindness I had seen and experienced and how kindness (with a few notable exceptions of people I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire, because I am not a saint) is really the glue that binds. I thought about the fact that that was what made Saturday’s march work where others don’t. The umbrella of acceptance under which we were all able to shelter.

I also realised that both Kim and Helen, people who I love dearly, had misunderstood my use of the term feminism and my feelings about it. These are people who I know well, so I figured that if they didn’t get it, some of you might not either. Hence this post.

I joined the Women’s Equality Party because they believe that equality is better for ALL of us. Here’s their code.

The WE constitution sets out our unique approach, and commits all our members to abide by the WE code, set out below.

Because I know that women’s equality is better for everyone, I am WE

  • WE are non-partisan
  • WE are diverse and inclusive
  • WE are making change happen

The Women’s Equality Party: so that all may thrive.

Note the ALL.

And by equality I believe we are talking about equality of choice. I should be able to choose what I want to do and be. So should you. So should she. So should he.

I don’t believe gender should come into any decisions at all except where, obviously, it is biologically imperative. I believe that if my son wants to be a florist he can. I believe that if my daughter wants to be a train driver, she can. I believe that if he wants to be a train driver he’s not endorsing gender stereotypes, and nor is my daughter if she wants to be a florist. I believe they should be allowed to exercise their right to do and be whatever the fuck they want without anyone judging or trying to appropriate their decisions.

I am reminded of that meme about gendered toys. ‘Is this toy suitable for a boy or a girl? I don’t know, do you have to operate it with your genitals? No, then it’s suitable for anyone that wants to play with it.’

Equality for all, equality of choice is not about women being better or superior. It’s not about thinking men are stupid or horrible or oppressive. It’s about freedom for everyone. It benefits everyone. If I or my partner can take equal time off for childcare then we can choose which of us stays at home and which of us works. If I get paid the same as my husband, we can think about the fact that one of us may no longer want to work or move into a lesser paid job, or whatever. Equality of choice means that men and women can share burdens and responsibilities equally and maybe when that happens, less men will feel oppressed, depressed and suicidal because they’re not alone, holding the whole world on their shoulders.

There are a million reasons why equality of choice is better. I can think of none where it is not.

And when I say equality of choice I really am talking about choice. I have had a lot of stick over the years regarding my voting record, which was, until the last election, non existent. I have been repeatedly told that I MUST vote or I besmirch the suffering of the women who went before me who allowed me to have the vote in the first place.

This is not true. If I hadn’t been able to vote, I’d have been out there, barricading myself to the railings. Absolutely I would. I believe it is every woman’s right to have the option to vote. What they do with that vote is their choice, and it is as much of a freedom for a woman to choose not to use that vote as it is for her to walk into a polling station. Nobody tries to guilt men into voting because they only got full male suffrage at the end of the 19th Century. My equality as a woman is about my right to be myself and do exactly as I please on an equal footing with men.

So yes. Kim is right. It would be better to march for ‘humanity’ say. Except that humanism is already a thing, and it’s not that.

Feminism can be tricky if, like me you grew up in the Seventies through to the Nineties. I did a masters degree in Feminist literature that turned me off of being a feminist to such an extent that I was vehement that I was many things, but a feminist I was not. There was a lot of anger. There was a lot of divisiveness. There was a lot of back stabbing as far as I could see, and in a lot of places, not a lot of progress to show for it. That’s not to say that there weren’t brilliant people out there doing a great job for women’s rights. It’s just I never met any and the people I did meet who were proud to call themselves feminists, were in the main, fairly dreadful, frankly.

Feminism now though, that’s different. It’s probably that feminism has evolved and grown up after its difficult teenage years. It’s probably that I have too. It’s probably a lot of things, but the feminism I believe in, the things I’ve written here, they’re positive, affirming, unifying things that I want my daughters and sons to learn, that I want to give my name to, that I want to get behind. It’s not a perfect title, but it’s the best I’ve got right now.

And the problem is that unless we point out the disparities, the inequalities, the gaps, we can’t bridge them, fill them, mend and change them. And that means, unfortunately for everyone, focussing on women’s issues, because like it or not, we live in a patriarchal society in which men are privileged against women in many areas and the only way of getting equality for all is to allow women to rise up and stand next to them.

And there is no lack. It’s not a question of, ‘If I give that woman that right, I can’t have it’. If I as a woman for example, win the legal right to insist on not having to wear high heels at work, it doesn’t mean men will be forced to, to even up the balance. Maybe if I win that right and a man wants me to get behind his campaign to not have to wear ties at work, I might be more sympathetic to supporting him than I currently am. I am using this story today because it’s in all the papers by the way. Men are already complaining that being forced to wear ties at work is medically dangerous because they might be strangled and so it’s exactly the same as a woman being forced to wear heels.

Excuse me while I face palm.

It can be difficult for men to accept this. I know. The greatest analogy I’ve come across was from Grayson Perry’s brilliant book, The Descent of Man, in which he explains his beliefs that the patriarchy and inequality is as toxic for men as it is for women. He says it’s difficult to get that across to men because explaining the patriarchy to a man is like trying to explain the concept of water to a fish.

In his book he puts forward a new set of rights for men which include the right to be vulnerable, weak, uncertain and wrong.  It may sound like he’s trying to emasculate men. I think it sounds like he’s trying to free them. I think he’s talking about what I’m talking about, what we should all be talking about whatever we call it. The right of equality of choice.

16 responses to “Equality of Choice

  1. Ah Katy .. I bet Kim want’s to be you too!
    I love that you can put into words what I am spluttering to try to explain to other people. 🙂

  2. as usual i completely agree, feminism cannot be equality for women if men are not equally freed from their emotional shackles and burdens of responsibility when partner ship makes it all s much more bearable. I am lucky in am in a partnership marriage and the irony is that many people outside think i am the dominant one yet nothing could be further from the truth, we are equals, but people are so unused to seeing that in a hetero marriage at our age (mid 60’s) that they mist see it as an imbalance the other way. That is the sad thing, that what we openly admit to and talk about cannot be believed by others because it seems too unreal and surely someone must be in charge. I find that sad. Our equality is truly evenly balanced and means we both benefit fully from it. Keep writing Katy, one day the messages will get through but i think i may write a longer piece on this topic in my own blog series, Travelling the Alphabet – you have given me food for thought

  3. You know the second wave of feminism – as it is called, as if there was no battle in between the suffragettes and the 1970’s – believed in the equality of all people. It is just hard now to comprehend the level of injustice we faced in the seventies. Men didn’t see themselves as oppressed in any way and women well women still wore corsets to work, newspapers were where you looked for job vacancies and there was a section for men and a section for women labelled as such, jobs had two pay scales, one for men and one for women, women had to resign from a permanent job the day they got married and were rehired on a casual basis until they got pregnant when they had to resign permanently, men were actually, by law, allowed to beat their wives and rape them, it was called conjugal rights, Police looked the other way. It was a whole different world and women who stood up were barraged with insults and criticism. But I had many many male friends, lovely people who would march with me in the 70’s and ’80’s, carry the placards and chant the chants, just like on Saturday. They didn’t see themselves as oppressed but they could see that life wasn’t fair to women, and then we had to go home and make the dinner.
    There is a lot of criticism leveled at the work done in the ’70’s, yes there was a lot of “anger and divisiveness” but if you think the level of spleen from “some blokes” is vile today try the level of outrage from the patriarchy in the 1970’s to compare. And you just cannot dismiss the battles we won. We won battles that make me proud and tall even though in fact I am rather short. We won battles that allow the generation of women in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s say that feminism is dead now we don’t need it anymore. We won battles that lead us to thinking that men need feminism just as much as women. We won huge battles. No longer do girls have to go to school and debate if education is wasted on them as they will only grow up to wives and mothers like I did when I was 10. I lost, the boys won the argument the girls were too cowed and I cried all the way home.
    I am a feminist. I have always been a feminist. I am proud to be a feminist. I am the proud feminist mother of a boy who is also a feminist. I never caved to the pressure to disown feminism that rose up in the early decade of this century. Feminism fights for rights that are easily lost by the complacent.

  4. Yes, yes, yes! Supporting the rights of women does not preclude that you support the rights of men, animals, invertebrates, whatever. In fact people who care enough to want to make the world more equal for women are usually the ones who also campaign against any injustice or inequality wherever they find it.
    I grew up in the 70s and felt that some feminists, for very understandable reasons, lost a bit of perspective and did and said things that were ultimately counterproductive. If it was off putting for me, who was on their side, then how much more so must it have been for the people they were supposedly trying to reach? I was involved in some pretty heated debates (we spent a lot of time sitting around in someone’s bedroom drinking, smoking and putting the world to rights in those days) and it was surprising how many otherwise ‘politically correct’ young men found feminism, as a concept, difficult.
    Without endorsing the stereotype of butch lesbians being the archetypal ‘woman’s lib’ activist, I would point out to them that if, for some reason, a rather muscly lady decided she wanted to work as a labourer and she was competing for the job with a particularly puny man, why would the man automatically get the job – surely the decision should be based on suitability, irrespective of gender. I won’t bore you with some of the nonsensical answers I got in response to this scenario. My point is perhaps I should have turned this around and argued the case for a man to be able to do a job traditionally regarded as ‘women’s work’ without being labelled as a homosexual at best, or less of a man at worst, as was very much the attitude at that time.

    Equality, by its very nature, should be about fairness and not discrimination, which leads to the thorny problem of ‘positive discrimination’. Do I want to see more women, ethnic minorities, disabled people etc represented in all walks of life? Of course I do. Do I want to encourage the promotion of a less able candidate to a job, solely in order to support that aim? Not really.
    However, you can only create an equal playing field when there are equal opportunities at every level, for everyone – whether it is tackling attitudes like prejudice, stereotyping and low expectations, or more practical barriers like poverty, access and education. Most of the feminists I know are 100% behind this.

  5. Thank you for yet another thought provoking post. I am one of the relatively original feminists as I grew up in the 1960s and so while I understand how it could have turned you right off, I still stand by much of what was acheieved, even if it turned out to be transient in some instances. I’m glad you’re back as it were!

    As for the high heels/tie thing I seem to have spent a lot of yesterday suggesting to men who were complaining about having to wear a tie that perhaps, just perhaps, instead of whinging about it and trying to hijack the discussion about heels, they should get off their bums and start a campaign to get things changed. Presumably they’re waiting for some woman to organise it for them…

  6. I was discussing with my partner this morning why the human race keeps repeating the mistakes of the past with ever increasing disasterous results?
    One reason may be that, despite millenia of evolution, our gut response to everything has not evolved beyond flight or fight. Emotionally we are still prehistoric in our feelings. We still elect madmen because they speak tough and tell us that they can single handedly solve all our ills….
    So what has that to do with feminism? Society treats women as the weaker sex or feels threatened by them if they show any measure of authority. True? May be it is not as simple as that but in many cases it appears that way. The powerful women also appear to deny their feminine side just as men do. Why? Authority therefore is equated with manly strength rather than feminine rationale. Maybe we will need more millenia before the true feminine side becomes the norm for all of us? Mind you with madmen leading two of the powerful countries in the world, we do not have much time left before one or other of them lights the nuclear fuse and then …..argument and everything over!😱

  7. You do echo so much of my own thinking. Great stuff. If you get the chance, do check out my blog post, “Boy on a bus”. I wrote it years back but I feel it’s as relevant now as it was back then.

    I think language is interesting. Ask someone to describe a Feminist and the description will, 9 times out of 10, not be very flattering. I think this is because the oppressive society will always appropriate an idea that is perceived to be a threat to its continued existence and begin to twist it to its own advantage. So what we end up with is distortion and misinformation.

    I was active in the Green Party in its early days and found it fascinating to see how the words and phrases that we were using, were being picked up by other political parties and many large companies of the day. Suddenly, everyone was, environmentally friendly, recycling, reusing. Of course, most of them were only paying lip service to environmentalism. However, what they were really doing was drawing attention away from something that they considered a real threat.

    • Exactly. We use the words to create meaning which changes over time and we can reappropriate and own it if we want. I am working hard on making the word snowflake mine.

  8. I too grew up when Feminism was pretty militant in practice, and seemed to believe that if you liked being feminine (as opposed to feminist) then you were encouraging men to take advantage of you in some foul way or another. The thing that finally turned me off capital-letter Feminism was when a woman turned on my husband as he opened a door for her to pass through and hissed ‘Don’t patronise me!’

    How does someone behaving in a gentlemanly fashion somehow disempower someone else? She was another of the ‘frankly dreadfuls’ of your post, who do more harm than good I reckon. I’m more than happy if a chap opens a door for me – but I’m equally willing to open it for him.

    I agree with you Katy (as usual!), am feminist in the way you are, and want the equalities that you want, and yes, it’s fine with me if my boys want to be florists. I dressed them in pink, purple and every other colour throughout childhood, and bought one of them a ragdoll. Why not? They aren’t florists, but they’re not gender biased either which is more to the point.

    I love Grayson Perry’s water and fish analogy. I haven’t read his book, although have long been an admirer. It will go on the list!

  9. Beautifully said…. thank you for sharing. Please check out my blog. I would love your feedback!

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