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A Response to Feminism

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I am not a feminist. I cannot support a movement that asks for special treatment rather than equal treatment, and I do not understand why anyone would. If feminism is about equality, then why not just be an egalitarian? If feminism does so much for the female sex, then why do six out of seven women reject the term "feminist" altogether?

As a diehard devotee of all things feminine, the thought of being separated from my floral dresses physically pains me. And yet, 'angry feminist' would tell me that all women are beautiful on the inside, so why cling to the patriarchal entrapments of superficial or aesthetic beauty? Indeed, 'angry feminist's' ability to find sexism in almost every facet of life is actually rather incredible. A man holds the door open for a woman? "How patronising!" How polite... A man tells a woman she looks nice? "Objectification!" A compliment...

Okay, so perhaps 'angry feminist' is a slight exaggeration, but one of the main issues with the feminist quest for sexual parity is that it often conflates "equality" and "sameness". Men and women are different: I, for example, wear floral dresses; my boyfriend (at least to the best of my knowledge) does not. The differences should be recognised and accepted, not changed or eradicated.Of course, there are those who do support "difference feminism", but I would still question one's need to subscribe to feminism at all. Surely anyone with an ounce of common sense can appreciate the fact that men and women are both different and equal and treat them accordingly?

It is also worth mentioning at this point that if you're a woman, you absolutely must be a feminist. If you're not, then there is definitely something wrong with you. Unless, according to Harriet Harman, you're a Tory, in which case you're terminally excluded from the Feminist Club. Speaking to Total Politics magazine last year, the deputy leader of the Labour Party declared it was impossible for home secretary Theresa May to be both a Conservative and a feminist. Of course, it seems entirely logical and fair that a woman's feminist status should be contingent on another woman's opinion or permission... After all, what does it matter if Theresa May is also minister for Women and Equality if she's a Tory? As Harriet reminds us, 'If you're actually political, you can't be a Conservative and a feminist, because it's all about equality and fairness'. Hm, how insightful.

Then again, perhaps Harriet has a point: the woman who has achieved the most for feminism in the last 50 years was a Conservative and a vociferous anti-feminist. 'I owe nothing to women's lib,' Margaret Thatcher said in 1982, later adding, 'The feminists hate me and I don't blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison'. Whilst she may not have stood up in Parliament and delivered swathes of feminist rhetoric, by becoming the first, and thus far only, female prime minister of the UK, she broke the ultimate glass ceiling and inadvertently embraced the Suffragettes' principle motto: 'deeds not words'.

Indeed, in more general terms, "blue feminists" tend not to subscribe to the feminist tokenism of their "red" counterparts, with quotas proving to be a major issue of contention between the two factions. Whilst the red corner argues that society is not a meritocracy and positive discrimination is necessary to help women get ahead, the blue corner deems such behaviour patronising, unfair and ineffective. If feminists are demanding equal treatment, then surely they should be chosen on merit rather than sex? If we start handing positions to women for being female, then surely we are only treating the symptom rather than the problem? If we overdo political correctness, then surely we are at risk of creating a climate in which women view any setback in the workplace as a direct result of female discrimination, rather than a consequence of their own mistakes?

Thatcher, however, was not the only high profile female to respond to the inevitable "do you consider yourself a feminist?" question in the negative. When current celebrities such as Katy Perry, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift claimed they didn't really identify as feminists, Jezebel took to her keyboard in anger, opining that Ms Swift didn't understand feminism, because that's "what happens when you're homeschooled after the age of 15". Whilst this sounds like a line from the script of Mean Girls, the implication is that women who say they aren't feminists are in fact just too uneducated to fully understand the concept of feminism. Yeah hear that, Maggie? You may have gone to Oxford, won a few elections and run the country for a bit, but you weren't as intelligent as all those feminists on the internet.

This is another issue with feminism: it is determined entirely by the feminists themselves. "Women should be able to do any job they want", you hear the feminists cry! "Unless that job happens to be one we don't like", they add in the small print at the bottom. An example of this is the Lose The Lads' Mags campaign. UK glamour models are not forced into their profession. The majority of them really enjoy it (I'm looking at you, Katie Price). Yet by condemning men's magazines, aren't feminists also condemning these women's aspirations and career choices? Unsurprisingly, you never hear a feminist complain when a woman chooses to become a lawyer, politician or doctor...

In much the same way, the controversy and furore surrounding Miley Cyrus' VMA performance seems rather unjustified. Yes, it was quite embarrassing to watch, and yes, I myself would not strut around in a latex bikini were I to one day become a pop sensation (a laughable prospect, I assure you). But what was so scandalous about it in the eyes of a feminist? Surely the general dogma of feminism is that women can do anything they want as long as they're freely consenting to it, and not directly harming anyone?

Then again, she was "twerking" (read: gyrating) against Robin Thicke, the current face of the feminist dartboard. Whilst, historically, censorship has not been a feminist's best friend, the tables have finally turned. Feminists throughout the country are united in attempting to silence the beast that is Blurred Lines, with its supposedly controversial lyrics and NSFW video. The one good thing about feminism is that, being female, I am allowed to weigh in on this discussion without being told that my sex doesn't entitle me to an opinion. The same cannot be said of my boyfriend, who was told by a group of feminists on a night out that he was not, under any circumstances, allowed to dance to Blurred Lines. Although he acquiesced, I personally do not feel he would have been undermining women's empowerment, oppressing the female sex or condoning rape had he gone ahead and danced to it; he would merely have spent a few minutes of the evening enjoying an undeniably catchy song. What's more, imagine the situation in reverse: a group of men telling one woman that she is not allowed to dance to a popular song because they disapprove. The feminists would have been in uproar. In fact, through the Lads' Mags-lobbying, the Miley-mauling and the Blurred Lines-banning, feminists risk aligning themselves with the prudish and retrogressive attitudes they claim they are trying to fight. It seems feminists are fine with burning bras, but once the breasts are out, they want those bras safely back on.

However, my main quibble with these campaigns is their ultimate futility. The overwhelmingly sad truth is that they don't prevent women being sold as sex slaves; they don't prevent young girls being forced into marriage; and they don't prevent domestic violence, rape or FGM from happening. Moreover, could someone please tell me how printing Jane Austen's face on a banknote will tackle any of the issues facing women in the world today? Don't get me wrong, I love Jane Austen - she's actually my favourite author. However, if I want to see a female face on a banknote, I already have Her Majesty's visage to admire, and if I want to change the world, then I think I'd be better off giving my banknotes to women in Third World countries (who probably aren't too bothered about whose face is on their currency).

Interestingly, some of my friends argue that the choice of Austen wasn't feminist enough, preferring some of the other feistier contenders such as Boudica or Emmeline Pankhurst. Indeed, there is a feeling amongst some that Austen's easy-to-read, romantic literature centring on the lives of Regency women is not representative of the independent ideals that modern feminism seeks to promote (although if you do interpret Austen that simplistically, you are desperately missing the point). However, this is perhaps due to the fact that the aforementioned friends were educated at the fervently feminist, academic powerhouse that was my secondary school. Boasting stellar places in the league tables, the first Headmistress ever, and Anna Wintour as an alumni, the school produces a plethora of young women who believe it is their birthright to conquer the world, or at least a sizeable portion of North London. Whilst I normally cannot stand the overused, slightly nonsensical, "check your privilege" phrase, I will openly admit that attending such an establishment was a privilege I can indeed check. And yet, feminists argue that women cannot call themselves privileged because the patriarchy deprives us of so many opportunities in life. If you told a boy on a council estate who was playing truant and dealing drugs that, because of his "male privilege", he would have greater success in life than these Hampstead-grown, Jack Wills-clad, Oxbridge-bound schoolgirls, he would most likely laugh in your face. Being a woman does not automatically mean you need your rights defended by feminists, and being a man does not automatically mean you are the dominant sex.

Moreover, many of these girls were lucky enough to go on to top universities, where they undoubtedly participated in the "I need feminism..." campaign, an initiative which invited students to write a statement on a whiteboard proclaiming their personal reasons for supporting feminism. Whilst answers such as "because my grandma is awesome" were mildly amusing, these whiteboards, like the breast-banning and the Blurred Lines and the banknotes, really do very little to further the cause of feminism worldwide. Feminists need to realise that feminism in the West is never going to be as dramatic a movement as it once was. Thanks to the struggles of feminists before us, we now have a whole host of equality laws in place in the UK: women won the full right to vote in 1928; the Equal Pay Act has been around for 40 years; and the Sex Discrimination Act dates back to 1975.

If men and women have equal rights when it comes to freedom of speech, property, education, employment, voting and healthcare, then what more are UK feminists going to achieve by holding up a whiteboard or boycotting Twitter for a day? In order to restore feminism to its once powerful, transformative status, it needs to be extended to countries that are still decades behind the Western world in terms of women's liberation. Then, perhaps, I too could call myself a feminist.

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