In the six short months that I was contributing editor at Feminist Times, I learnt many things about feminism. Here are a few of them.
Introducing the five things Feminist Times taught me about Feminism...
1. There is no such thing as good or bad feminism
It's my favourite game! Are you a good or bad feminist? The answer's simple: you're neither.
Many features I wrote for Feminist Times tried to call out this tug-of-war women are having with each other. I used the only tools that I knew how to use - no, not critical theory - comedy and pop music.
Maybe it's because I'm not an academic that I still feel like we're on the verge of consuming ourselves like this wild rat snake I once watched self-cannibalise on YouTube.
For every Katy Perry and Beyoncé there are thousands of women out there being told their feminism sucks and we're not calling it out. They're wrong. They're stupid. They're misguided. But wait, they're women. Why are they being condemned? That's not what it's about, surely. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say there is no such thing as perfect feminism. There is only feminism. How you have arrived at this point of ideological liberation or where you go from here is neither bad nor wrong. We're dealing with issues that are too complex to tolerate saints or superheroes.
I'm not sure about you but I'm still figuring things out as I go along - and I don't think there is any shame in that. We might not always like what we hear but we've got to respect it all the same. The power of debate is rooted in our differences and imperfections. The tide of subsequent social and political change relies as much on our ears as our mouths.
It was at a panel debate about online bullying when TIME magazine's editor at large Catherine Mayer suggested that feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez took her trolls too seriously. Mayer dealt with them with humour. But she wasn't going to get into a debate between women about that...
And yet we are.
In a world where cowards in basements can tweet bile with a click of a mouse, it seems bizarre to me that the focus regularly falls on the victims of insults and threats. How we deal with our trolls is constantly analysed and debated. Instead of asking ourselves why social media encourages people to behave in extreme ways, or how we can solve the riddle of online anonymity in light of this daily aggression, we are again making women responsible and accountable. It is unacceptable to shrug and accept online trolls as an inevitable reality for women. It should never be inevitable for any woman writer to put up with abuse in a desperate bid to bully and intimidate. It especially shouldn't be inevitable when I have had the guts to put my own name and face to my views and they operate with an anonymous avatar and a fake identity. During my time writing for Feminist Times I have been called "the cancer and the disease". I have also been told women over 45 should be sent to death camps as they are no use to society past childbearing age. Nothing can prepare you for these kinds of tweets. You may say they're ridiculous - and you might be right - but they're also vile, personal and directed at me. They're often the first thing I read in the morning before brushing my teeth or the last thing I glance at before getting into bed. If this is an inevitable reality of being a woman working in media in 2014, we still have a long way to go.
3. I can still be a feminist and get excited about a Chanel satchel
Here's the thing: I just had a very serious conversation with my husband about the gender imbalance that's still kicking about Westminster post cabinet re-shuffle. Then I texted my best friend about a really cool Chanel satchel I saw on The Sunday Times Style section's Instagram.
Don't ever feel like you have to tailor yourself to fit feminism. Not only is that ridiculous, it drastically misses the point. Feminism is not a one-size-fits-all slogan t-shirt, regardless of what you're being flogged in Topshop, and it's not an ideology that belongs in a reference book either. I realised this when reporting on the WOW Festival this year for Feminist Times. Can I sit and listen to a speech about child trafficking and then tweet about 80-year-old Fabulous Fashionista Bridget Sojourner's leopard print outfit? I think so. Feminist Times taught me I don't have to be an academic to write about feminism. I'm a woman living in a gender unbalanced world, which I hope makes me more than qualified to write about being a woman living in a gender unbalanced world. It really is that simple.
4. Equality is an illusion
The idea of western gender equality as a surface assumption was planted in my head by Malala Yousafzai. I was lucky enough to hear Malala speak at the WOW Festival this year for Feminist Times. When asked about gender equality in the UK she said: "I have realised it is far better than other countries but there are still so many things that need to be solved". As those in the west look to those in the east comparatively, it is easy to assume that gender equality has already been won here in the UK. It hasn't. Would it surprise you to learn that the UK still ranks below Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of the number of women in government? How about these statistics: in the UK women account for 22% of MPs and peers, 20% of university professors, 6.1% of FTSE 100 executive positions, and 3% of CEOs. In a world where women are being imprisoned for apostasy in Sudan, kidnapped for attending school in Nigeria and stoned to death in Iran, the easiest mistake for us to make here in the UK is complacency. Two hours ago I read that women in the G20 won't receive equal pay until 2075. Yesterday morning The Daily Mail labelled David Cameron's cabinet reshuffle a 'Downing Street Catwalk' and newly appointed Employment Minister Esther McVey laughed it off saying 'fine if it inspires girls to go into politics'. Not fine, Esther. Not even close. The biggest threat to gender equality in 2014 is our own apathy. Equality is still an illusion and it only takes a few scratches to see the reality beneath the surface. We've got to keep exposing the truth.
5. I don't hate men!
Seriously, ask my husband. I'm not quite sure why this bizarre myth is still being peddled, but it needs to stop. Only last weekend a woman at a party told me she was a "yeah...umm...feminist" before adding: "...but I don't hate men". If someone has discovered the ancient tablet with the feminist commandment 'though shalt hate men' etched in sandstone then please get in touch. If you haven't, stop saying it! It's confusing people. I spent most of yesterday looking at selfies posted by 'Women Against Feminism' and I felt deeply sad. There is something undeniably upsetting about a woman rejecting feminism with a sad face post-it smiley because she likes to cook her boyfriend a meal when he's tired. I cook for my tired husband all the time, and when I'm tired, he cooks for me. We're equal. Repeat after me: That's feminism!
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