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.