Feminism: a beginner’s guide

feminist is not a dirty word

When I was at university the only thing I really understood about feminism was that it involved Germaine Greer and lots of “texts” like The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (which honed in on the unhappiness of American housewives of the 1950s) and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf which argued that society’s demands on women to conform to an almost unattainable standard of beauty had increased in line with women’s achievements. Then there was Andrea Dworkin – an unashamedly radical feminist whoΒ  focused on the subject of sex and pornography. To be honest these intellectual, academic women seemed like radicals or extremists at the time, synonymous with man-hating, hairy-legged, lentil-munching nutters.

But actually? They had a point. Now we see the launch of the UN’s “He for She” campaign for which actress Emma Watson recently delivered such a heartfelt speech attempting to address and redefine the true definition of feminism – one which simply argues for gender equality.


Trending on my Facebook news feed I saw that David Tenant was supporting the campaign which, essentially, is trying to get men on board and show that, in the final analysis, it’s all about human rights. There were a good 800 comments attached to his He for She selfie and I flicked through a few pages curious to the general reaction. Aside from many people commenting on how old he looks (and he’s only 42 so I can only assume the commentators are smug twenty-somethings) there is obviously still a misconception about feminism – the same misconception that led Katy Perry to reject the label whilst still embracing the ideology.

People seem to think that feminism seeks to discriminate against men – overlooking the abuse of men within relationships and all the other ways that men might suffer within society, but to me, that’s like saying Battersea Dogs Home is discriminating against cats (they’re not – I believe they take cats in too) – it seems like a way of undermining the end goal.

Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, recently argued that it is the term “feminism” itself which is the problem, claiming that if you stick “ism” or “ist” on the end of anything then it gives a negative connotation (see: racism). He suggested a new term, “genderist” which would be used to name and shame those who, either overtly or subtly undermine women. There’s been a lot of debate over that one too.

For me, the “He for She” campaign, whilst passionate and true, can never change the status quo because the men who will support it (see: David Tenant) are already enlightened and don’t have that niggling feeling of being threatened by change. The men I read about daily who threaten and control the women in their lives – the perpetrators of domestic violence – what will this campaign mean to them? They will laugh in its face.

And then there are those who would pay it lip service. I heard a snippet of a talk radio show a few days ago for which the question of the day (hour?) was β€˜should men be expected to pay for dinner on a first date?’ and the male DJ was attempting to argue that, if women are truly seeking equality, then we should expect to go halves on such occasions. I have to admit that this made my blood boil a bit and I was desperate for someone to phone in and put my case for me. Unfortunately no-one did (not while I was listening anyway). My very first thought was, how extremely shallow for a man to be willing to take the first step to accept feminism by thinking of it as a money saving exercise for the average bloke. I wanted to tell him that this is an absolute nonsense in a world where women are still not treated equally in the workplace, still have lower salary expectations and where the traditionally female jobs like nurse, carer and teacher are valued (and paid) so much lower than their traditionally male equivalents.

Although this is rapidly descending into a message of doom, I do feel like all the recent debate and high profile over women’s rights and expectations can only be a good thing in helping to chip away at the male-dominated infrastructure. And as a mother of boys I feel some responsibility to show them that gender equality is a good and desirable thing.

What do you think about the UN campaign? Do you disagree with me about who should pay on the first date? Please leave a comment below.


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18 thoughts on “Feminism: a beginner’s guide

  1. You and I could be blog twins at times, I have a post sitting in my drafts, that I’ve never quite had the energy to write, called ‘Is feminism a dirty word’ !!?! Anyway, that’s a slight digression! I find it very depressing that feminism has become such a negative word, when in essence it is about choice and equality. I do quite like Joss Whedon’s idea πŸ™‚ But then, I just like Joss Whedon full stop… Not sure on the dinner question, I have accepted dinner from a date, and I have bought dinner for date, it is all about equality (!), but it’s also about respect, in the same way that it’s nice if someone holds the door open for you, I’m not going to object if a man does it, in the same way I would hope the person behind me doesn’t object when I also hold it open for them… #brillblogposts

    • Oh I’m glad to know I’m not the only one having these thoughts! I’m not really that bothered about who pays on a date I was mostly wound up by some men’s fairly insulting approach to the issue of gender equality. Respect across the board is important – I’m equally insulted if a man or a woman drops a door on me! My sister loves Joss Whedon’ s notion of a genderist but some people think it’s too passive and doesn’t go any way to decreasing the balance. X

  2. It definitely has become a dirty word and definitely one which is misunderstood. I honestly feel a bit tired of the whole thing at times. I often feel like I have been fighting my whole life to be seen equal and it is ruddy exhausting. But I will always firmly believe we should be equals, in all ways. Fab post lovely xx

  3. I think the concept feminism has got lost in translation over the years. I agree that ‘ism’ has a negative connotation. I also think that feminism still has an image of hysterical women demanding things, rather than reasonable women expecting reasonable things – if that makes sense! Ultimately, it is a humanist issue and equality and mutual respect in all things. Fab post. xxx #brilliantblogposts

  4. Oh interesting post lovely. I am quite lucky as I have always worked in careers where the women seem to be the ones in power. In PR and teaching and if anything the men have been the ones that haven’t been valued as much. I believe in total equality but I do think that if I was on a date I would like the chap to at least to offer to pay. This is nothing to do with feminism but just romance for me! xxx

    • Those female dominated roles though – are they well paid? That’s the point really – it’s all well and good feeling like you have control in your environment but ultimately – with teaching at least – it’s the male-dominated government who get to have the final say. Not so sure about PR! I totes agree about liking a man to be chivalrous though and a bit romantic – but I guess if I was like a 40 year old (ahem!), well paid woman and I was out on a date with a young barman or something (ha ha!) I’d prob do the right thing πŸ˜‰ Xxx

  5. Fab post Sam, I have been having a lot of thoughts lately since seeing the He for She campaign. I wish I knew the answers about the future of feminism but it is definitely seen negatively and I’m not sure this campaign is enough to change that. About the first date thing, I dislike the way they were talking about it, but I never expected a guy to pay for my meal on a first date, or any date really, I always paid my own way, pride I guess. Makes it even weirder now that everything is technically paid for by the hubs!! Fab post lovely xx #brilliantblogposts

    • I guess there’s always going to be mysoginists and no amount of campaigning is going to change that. I’m glad someone understands the point I was trying to make about not liking the way the whole dinner date conversation was going! I think I would only expect a guy to pay for me if I knew for a fact that he was better paid than me! As Brummymummy says there is also romance and chivalry and wanting equality shouldn’t necessarily mean an end to all of that. There are plenty of non-financial things that men get out of a relationship. I guess at the end of the day, a world in which everyone has the same chances and opportunities leaves everyone free to choose how they want to work their relationship (and I’ve already got good friends where the woman goes out to work and the man stays home, does the housework, the lion’s share of the childcare and has a little part time job in Sainsburys which fits in around her successful career so it is possible!). X

  6. Fab post Sam, I don’t necessarily think I am a feminist but I do believe in being equal. Always. So maybe I am. I agree with Caroline above that I don’t think the He for She campaign is enough to change things, but at least it is getting us out there and talking about it which can’t be a bad thing. x

    • Thanks Katie! Believing in equality in all things *is* what it means to believe in feminist ideals, definitely. I think that’s the problem all over with the word ‘feminist’ – we don’t want to identify ourselves with it – so maybe Joss Whedon is right! Thanks for reading and commenting lovely X

  7. I’ve always been a bit of an insecure feminist, and I found Emma Watson’s speech really inspiring – I blogged about it too πŸ™‚ I do think the #HeForShe campaign has some mileage in providing a way for the millions of men who do believe in gender equality but might not normally shout about it to stand up and be counted. Anything that might make the misogynists out there take a pause and question themselves has to be a good thing, but even if they never change there are a lot of good men out there too and if they join forces then who know..?

    In terms of paying on the first date… When I was dating I think I went out with more guys who earned less than me than the other way around so there were a lot of split bills! Not that I’d ever have been insulted if someone offered… Now that I’m married I think ultimately it’s just nice to be treated once in a while, whichever way round it is. I’m not sure it has all that much to do with feminism really – a bit if a typical cop out for a guy wanting to avoid the issue… X

    • I’m not sure if I’ve ever been out with a man who earned less than me…My first serious boyfriend had the worst paid job ever but I was a full time student at the time so anything was better! It’s definitely nice to be treated I agree – and I don’t think that should be made into a ‘gender’ issue. It’s definitely a cop out – glad you agree πŸ™‚ X (will check out your post on HeforShe!)

  8. Having earnt more than my husband for most of our relationship, he was the one that gave up his career when we had children and stayed at home. We have always seen one another as equal partners while attempting to bring up our children and our relationship is based on mutual respect. I’m fortunate to have experienced gender equality both in the workplace and at home. Why would anyone not want this to happen everywhere?

  9. I always insisted on paying my half on first dates, but it wasn’t just for ‘feminism’ reasons – for me, it helped to ensure that I didn’t feel like I ‘owed’ the guy anything at the end of the night. However, I also don’t think its useful to worry about trivial things like paying for first dates and who opens doors for whom (again, I think everyone should open doors for everyone else) when the question of equality means so much more. πŸ™‚ #brillblogposts

    • I can see the fear of feeling somehow compromised by allowing a man to pay for your meal or drink even, but again I may be wearing rose-coloured glasses but I just see that as chivalry rather than conniving – and I don’t think that such a noble tradition should be eroded by the advent of general equality in life. Thanks for reading and commenting X

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