Author For me, the definition of feminism is simple. It means equal rights and opportunities for men and women. I think there can be confusion around the term, with some people erroneously believing that feminists want to create a world where women dominate men. That’s ridiculous. Feminism is trying to achieve equality for men and women by dismantling a stringent patriarchal structure that attempts to force us all to ‘perform’ our gender.
In a feminist utopia, we would all feel free to be ourselves without pressure to conform to gender stereotypes; we could express our true selves without having to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine.’ As I’ve got older, my definition of feminism has expanded. Intersectionality has become incredibly important to me — feminism is not something that should be limited to white, middle-class, well-educated women. It needs to be inclusive of all races and religions. The LGBTQ community should feel included. Trans women and non-binary people should feel included. Men should feel included.
I’ve identified as a feminist since I was 15 years of age and my English teacher gave me a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale. Feminism wasn’t something that was discussed at home or with my friends, and that book gave me the vocabulary with which to express my burgeoning activism. I don’t think I really understood what it meant, though — I still reinforced quite strict gender roles in my relationship and I still engaged in quite competitive relationships with my female friends. It was really only when I turned 26 and I was ‘woke’ (thanks, Tumblr) that I began to explore for the first time what it really meant for me to navigate the world as a woman, the pressure I felt to attain often unattainable ideals of beauty, and the negative impact that was having on my emotional and, indeed, my physical health, as it manifested itself as a severe eating disorder. Once you begin to notice the sexism that affects every part of our lives, from the ads we watch to the movies we consume, it’s almost impossible to ‘unsee’ it.
I have absolutely no reservations about declaring that I am a feminist. It’s an integral part of my identity now. The feminist community has given me strength and support, especially when I’ve had online trolling or had someone dismiss my experiences of sexism by telling me that I’m being ‘oversensitive’ or that I ‘must have imagined it’. Just scrolling through the Twitter feed of The Everyday Sexism Project assures me that I’m not alone, and that gives me huge comfort. (While simultaneously making me furious that so many women all over the world are still facing this bullshit on a daily basis.)
I think we all — man, woman, and everyone in between — should feel comfortable identifying as feminists. All it means is that you want equality — how can anyone disagree with that?
Gender quotas are always controversial, but yes, I do think they’re a good idea. When I say this, people often try and argue that gender quotas contradict the true meaning of feminism. “How can it be equal rights and opportunities if we’re giving more opportunities to women?” they say.
But women are clearly not getting those opportunities, and gender quotas are simply trying to create an equal workforce. This is particularly true in politics. It’s all very well saying that we should live in a meritocracy, but the staggering ineptitude of some of our politicians would suggest this isn’t the case. All of us should want a government that is made up of 50pc men and 50pc women — surely a democracy should reflect the society it’s representing?
I also think that many issues that directly affect women’s lives are sometimes cast aside in favour of other topics, due to lack of representation at a parliamentary level. The cutting of funding to the rape-crisis centres and the refusal to hold an amendment to appeal the Eighth Amendment are just two of these. Sometimes people behave in quite radical ways in the name of feminism, but it is their right to do so. Feminism is not a monolithic, static movement. It is incredibly dynamic and everyone contained within the movement is incredibly diverse — that often means that people who identify as feminists might have very different perspectives on what it means to be a feminist. This can lead to disagreement and, often, in-fighting. Robust discourse and debate are crucial for the health of any social movement, but infighting and tearing each other apart for daring to hold different opinions is not. I don’t want to waste my time arguing about petty matters — not when there’s so much work that needs to be done.
I believe that feminism should be totally inclusive. I want men to be part of the movement, because feminism benefits everyone. But I also don’t want to forget that feminism was born out of a very specific need. It was created to empower the gender that had been silenced and subjugated and excluded from power for hundreds of years — women. The fact that we still feel obliged to apologise for our feminism, to justify it in order to make men feel more comfortable, to explain how it benefits men as well, is yet another example of why we do, in fact, still need feminism.