This week I overheard a couple of colleagues discussing feminism.
'I'm tired of hearing about it,' one said.
'Women must be getting sick of all this 'female empowerment' stuff anyway,' another replied.
'And why doesn't anyone mention how challenging it is for dads sometimes?'
'The whole thing feels old.'
These weren't men talking. They were women. And I take their point that feminism is everywhere right now - it's in vogue. Just like beards and craft beer are on the wane so feminism has risen to the top. Every month there's another conference or event (and I'm involved in a couple myself) with a view to discussing women and what they want. There was a period of time when feminism was a dirty word and women of my generation were ashamed to be associated with it. Now magazines are weighed down with interviews with empowered female celebrities. Everyone is quoting Gloria Steinem. Everyone is putting empowering slogans on their Instagram. But perhaps the danger is now that people will grow tired of it just like they did of cocktails in jam jars.
I take on board that men need to be included in the debate. Much of the insecurity and pressure that women feel, men experience too. I recently emailed a couple of male friends about the 'imposter syndrome' (the horrible voice inside that says you're a fraud) and they all admitted they suffered from it too. They just felt they had less permission to yak about it. Lauren Laverne wrote a great article recently about how feminism should no longer be women battling men.
If we're serious about changing things, men and boys must be included. Feminism shouldn't be a war pitching men and women against each other, it should be about civil rights, equality and a better world for all.
But aside from becoming more inclusive (and ensuring we address the issues that face modern men- be that balancing work with parenthood or the pressure to conform to the 'gym body' aesthetic) - it's important that feminism doesn't feel like just another trend. This year Karl Lagerfield closed his Chanel Spring runway show with a pretend protest, featuring models holding signs emblazoned with feminist messages. But feminism shouldn't be something that's fashionable because the seventies aesthetic is back. It's something deeper, you either believe in or you don't.
My mum was a feminist in the seventies and eighties. She demonstrated at Greenham Common, read Greer and de Beauvoir, went to women only poetry readings and refused to shave her legs. Her book shelves heaved with feminist tomes. I don't know if she went to 'discover your vagina class' but I know she probably considered it. She was plotting yet silently seething at the same time. She couldn't get a good job because no one took her qualifications seriously. She was lumbered with the majority of the domestic stuff. Leftie men like my Dad weren't always great at sharing the load. Those Marxist theory books still needed tidying up at the end of a long hard day.
When I got to school age and my parents separated I didn't want a feminist mum. A feminist mum worked. She got home late. She wanted to go out at night. I wanted a mum with a nice pinny who looked like Delia Smith. Instead I had one who served up takeaways, wore a T-shirt with the words 'Women Hold Up Half The Sky' and sped around on a moped. At school kids teased me because she had pink hair. I was convinced it was feminism's fault.
I made a promise never to be a feminist myself.
Once I started working in the late nineties it was the era of ladette culture and Loaded mag. It was cool to objectify women and you were expected to be comfy sitting in lap dancing clubs (or you were a prude). Pole dancing went mainstream. Female TV presenters hawked their bodies on the covers of men's magazines. The pressure to look a certain way (youthful, skinny) stepped up and for a while it felt like feminism had never happened. I secretly read Naomi Wolf and tried to fit in with all the tits and ass everywhere. It felt like feminism was important and Mum had been right all along.
So I'm happy that feminist issues are back in the spotlight. But I'm also worried that the fanfare around feminism right now a) gives the impression that all the work's been done b) gives certain people 'feminism fatigue'. Some men in particular seem to view it as 'women moaning again.' But the reality is women are not paid the same as their male counterparts, sexual violence is rife and women's reproductive rights are still compromised across much of the globe. On top of this much of the mainstream media vilifies women who don't conform to type (What's wrong with a forty-something Kate Moss going out twice a week? What's wrong with her not settling down?) If you remove Helen Mirren from the equation, older women are usually seen as mad ugly spinsters or airbrushed circus freaks. The smattering of grey - haired models that prance through magazine shoots do little to convince me that we're comfortable with women growing old. It still feels like lip service.
Two things need to happen. Men need to be included in the debate - this isn't something that's exclusively female. It's not about fighting men and putting them down. And the second is that we ensure feminism doesn't become something trendy this year and tossed aside next like a denim jumpsuit. It's great that it's enjoying a renaissance but let's not grow weary (or use it to sell more lipsticks).
There's still much work to be done. I want to show Mum how proud I am that she wasn't a Delia.Suggest a correction