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Feminism: an outdated concept?

Madeleine Albright

15 May marks the birth of Madeleine Albright the first female American secretary of state as well as the anniversary of Ellen Church becoming the first air stewardess. Both events symbolised major achievements for the feminist movement. Feminism has come so far and achieved so much in the last 50 years in the UK that many consider the need for feminism to have elapsed. Is there then still a need for feminism? Have we accomplished true equality between the sexes?

The fact that a large discrepancy between rates of pay still exists would suggest not, as well as continued negative experiences of women in the workplace and in society, not to even take into account the rights and conditions women are subject to in other countries. Perhaps to say that feminism has done its job and is no longer needed is naive indeed.

For this article it was important to learn a little bit more about modern women’s opinion of the f-word. It’s easy to assume that today virtually all the women we know would consider themselves feminist, and would not accept less pay than a man, allow themselves to be dictated to by a man, or indeed consider themselves inferior to a man.

Yet only 45% of those surveyed considered themselves feminists. The women gave an interesting response: while many have issues with the title of feminist, few to none of them had issues with the underlying values of feminism. It appears that young women today identify with the ideology of feminism and just shy away from the tag of “feminist” because of perpetuated stereotypes.

Over the years, the term “feminism” has become altered in our understanding. The women we see portrayed as “feminists” are often considered to be bra-burning man haters who aim for a world where women are on top of men socially and politically. 10% thought that all feminists were lesbian, while 55% thought that men could not be feminists.

Feminists are not a “certain type” of person. They shave, or they do not shave, they wear lipstick and heels or hoodies and trackies, they are men or women, old or young, they can be anyone. The only thing they all conform to is a belief that women should have the choice to be however they want without anyone else’s perceptions.

Feminism can mean many things. Like any group, there are many different branches, some of them are militant, whereas some have an eco agenda (eco feminism, it’s a thing), but in its purest form feminism is the belief that men and women should be held equally. Women should have the choice to be CEOs or housewives, to marry or not, to be in control of their own body, finances and life.

So yes, I do consider myself a feminist. I think that women should be afforded the same rights and privileges as any man, I think that we should have access to contraception and be able to have sex however much we like, with whomever we like. We should be chosen for jobs on the basis of abilities and skills not gender, and if we decide to stay at home, bake scones and procreate, it would make us no less and no more of a woman than anyone else, and that, I think, is the key point.

Years of feminism have afforded us the choice, and we will always owe the women who came before us for fighting for that. I don’t think that feminism has become unnecessary, perhaps just that it has become subtler. We don’t have to be burning any La Senza products, but we should be making sure that we do not allow ourselves to ever be discriminated against because of gender, socially, politically or financially.

And boys, if you make one more kitchen joke … you will get a sandwich, but you would be ill-advised to eat it.

15/05/2012

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