I’m a feminist. I am. And sometimes, I’m not entirely sure why, but I feel embarrassed to say it. The term, more often than not, is greeted with a roll of the eyes, a funny look, a patronising conversation or a shameful glance away. I guess that’s why a lot of women and men don’t say it aloud. Maybe it’s because of the social stigma associated with equal rights activists created over a couple of centuries ago. But I shouldn’t feel ashamed because of it, and I certainly shouldn’t want to avoid the subject. Anyone who believes in equal rights for women is a feminist. So be proud and say it aloud: I am a feminist.
I went to an all girls’ school, so yes, we were often on the receiving end of lesbian jokes, sexual banter and quite degrading comments outside of school, particularly from the nearby boys’ school. I was sometimes put in an awkward position in conversation where sexual ‘banter’ was thrown around and I wouldn’t be able to catch up, or where I’d feel so uncomfortable I wanted to implode, but I would brush it aside; I thought that was how you interacted with the opposite sex.
From what I can remember, I was only made to sit through one or two ‘don’t let being a woman stop you from doing what you want to’ assemblies, and I distinctly remember looking to my friends and rolling my eyes, thinking blah blah blah. Sexism is so old fashioned, I thought. This Head Teacher (who was a woman and we never referred to her as our Head Mistress) was so out of touch. The school was a grammar school, so we were pretty much a bunch of determined young girls who aimed high, never even considering sexism to be an obstacle we would have to face.
It wasn’t until after I left school that I realised that sexism was a problem. I was being introduced to women my age or a little older, who were convinced that their partner’s career was more important than their own, that being viewed as a sexual object was necessary to gain social respect, that life would inevitably result in the giving up of a career in order to bring up children. I found myself arguing. I was suddenly challenging things that I had previously accepted to be normal. I’m not saying these ambitions are wrong, I’m saying that women who don’t know that they have a choice, that’s wrong. One woman I worked with said to me that her work was less important than her husband’s career because she will only ever have a ‘job’.
In the UK, women hold less than a third of top jobs and earn 14.9% less than men. There are only 146 female MPs compared to 502 males MPs. Why is this? Why don’t women feel the need to demand more? Like men? I don’t always blame the employer, but I do blame society for not encouraging women to achieve more. If a woman decides not to pursue her own career, then I agree with their decision. If a woman feels forced into giving up her career to look after her children, then I don’t agree.
We’ve only ever had one female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who despite being the butt of many a joke, is the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th century and was elected PM in three consecutive general elections. Yet, society cannot see past her gender, sometimes blaming her sex for her faults. Male PMs are slated and hated all the time (take Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for instance) yet still we insist on voting more men into power. The future of one woman should not be determined by the actions of her female predecessor, ever. Gender should never be an issue.
And for that reason, I am a feminist.