A woman who is a prominent campaigner for the rights of women and girls in the developing world recently told me that it wasn't until a few months ago that she was comfortable calling herself a feminist. I was surprised! And yet she, like many women I know, refrained from using the word feminist to describe herself because of the concern that the term was inherently 'radical'. Never mind the fact that if you ask any of them whether they believe in the equality of the sexes, politically, economically and socially, they would heartily agree. The odd nature of refusing to use a term that describes what you believe has now become the material of comedians, Aziz Ansari among them.
So, when chatting with the denouncers, I naturally ask them who these 'radical feminists' are that they feel are dominating the conversation. To date, no one has been able to identify or name a single person or organisation who they believe is controlling the air waves spouting 'radical feminist stuff'. Without an individual or organisation to ascribe blame to, they inevitably turn to, 'you know, all that bra-burning'. That we don't have concrete evidence as to whether bras were in fact burnt at the 1968 Miss America protest, and that this supposed act occurred 47 years ago, is seemingly neither here nor there for them. But let's assume they DID burn their bras - is burning your own clothing really that 'radical'?!
A quick Google of 'who is a radical feminist?' doesn't deliver many obvious people or organisations who we can hold responsible for spreading 'bra-burning propaganda' in our mainstream press. While I'm familiar with radical feminist thought and theory from my university days, I just can't understand why the descriptor 'feminist' is routinely dismissed simply because of a branch of thought within its wider umbrella? Why is it that we are happy to say we're a football fan even though we don't identify with the behaviours of all others who also like football? Or say we're a certain religion even when some may be more liberal or conservative than us?
What's most telling is that people, women among them, routinely disengage with the word feminist because their discomfort hinges on the fear of being considered a trouble maker. And as we know, there is nothing more awkward than a woman who asks for more, for herself and for her sisters. Nice girls don't ask difficult questions. Nice girls shouldn't challenge. This silent and prevailing societal assumption is precisely why we need the word feminist. Because to use anything more general - to echo Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's logic - is to 'deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.'
So what is radical then? Well it's the women who threw themselves in front of carriages (Sufragette Emily Wilding Davison), broke windows and bombed empty buildings in the early 20th century to secure women's rights to full participation in the democratic process. Or the women who went on strike for three weeks for the right to get equal pay for their skilled sewing roles in Ford Motor's Dagenham plant in 1968, eventually leading to the 1970 Equal Pay Act. Were these women radical in their pursuit of equality? Yes. Were they troublemakers? Yes. But let us not forget that their 'radical', is our 'perfectly normal'. Progress is the child of Radical.
The feminist conversations that I hear and read about focus on equal pay for equal work (we're still at a sad and shocking 9.4% differential for full-time work in the UK) - hopefully amending Section 78 of the Equality Act may help this. Or ensuring that in the consciousness-raising following Michael Brown and Eric Garner's deaths the media does not ignore the black women killed by US police in equal measure to black men. They also seek to challenge the woefully un(der)-told experiences of women and especially women of colour by America's greatest export - Hollywood movies (did you know that women are only 31% of speaking parts?). The feminist conversations that I hear of also focus on combating the gender stereotyping that drives 61% of female apprentices to be funnelled into 5 sectors while an equal proportion of their male peers operate within at least 10 sectors. And let's not forget about ensuring men and women more fairly share housework because women, even when they work outside the home, still do 70% of it.
Challenging all of these injustices and the countless other overt and unconscious barriers to full and equal participation for women doesn't seem very 'radical' at all. It is essential. Being a feminist is a descriptor that honours this belief. This to me is what feminism is doing, and if this IS what so many people consider radical, then call me a Radical Feminist any day.
Hanna is the Founding Director of Fearless Futures. Follow @fearlessfutures for information and inspiration.