Suffragettes and Feminism today

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Suffragettes

There have been a few articles recently about feminism in response to the new film Suffragette.  I saw the film last week and was incredibly moved, shocked and in awe of what these women went through to gain the vote.  No film is perfect and it’s been criticised for only showing one side of the movement lead by Mrs Pankhurst who famously urged the suffragettes to do ‘Deeds not words’ and incited much of the violence that took place.  But the film shows clearly how different life was for women back then, it seems a million miles from where we are now but in reality this was the era that many of our grandmothers lived through.

Because it’s such a contrast I would guess that young women watching this will find it difficult to relate to how things were and they are relevant today. But I believe it’s really important that we continue to tell this part of history.  That’s why it was shocking to see the recent press headline stating that DfE is planning to drop feminism and gender equality from its A level politics syllabus.

There was a brilliant article in The Guardian by a 16-year-old female blogger – June Eric Udorie who wrote about how we tend to dismiss past generations of women because we believe we are better.  This abstract illustrates the problem she sees today.

The feminist academic Lori Marso has argued that “feminists rarely seek to identify with the lives of their mothers”, and it’s hard not to see some truth in this. We roll our eyes and block our ears to our mothers’ generation because, ultimately, we believe we are better. We tear down the work of “second wavers”, those women who campaigned so fiercely for women’s rights in the 1970s; they are now often written off as trans-exclusionary radical feminists… We ignore and conveniently forget the many victories they won on our behalf. As the writer Glosswitch has argued the problem with the idea that feminism comes in waves is that “men get to leave something permanent; we seek to wash away the traces our foremothers left”.

I like to think I’m not guilty of dismissing previous generations – but I think I have been.  I have In the past felt quite angry and sad about my mother’s life and her traditional (dismissive?) role as a housewife and mother.  Why not the career? Why did she choose this?  But now, with hindsight, she probably didn’t have the choices we have now or the support, there were different expectations, realities and more barriers.  But then I think about me and my sister – there was never any expectation put upon us by our parents to get married, settle down, follow tradition.  We were encouraged to make our own choices and supported in our education.  Quietly, without any fuss or pressure.  So you could argue that my Mum and Dad were thinking ahead, thinking of our rights and chances and freedoms, as young women with choices.  So I was to dismiss this as not doing much to promote the cause – maybe quietly supporting your daughters in their choices was good enough, more than good enough.

I still get hung up on the feminist debate, it just all seems so unfair at times, our struggles, there is a long way to go, but there are more choices – even if we see other women making choices we feel are ‘against the cause’ – a choice is freedom from expectation and choice is what we need to continue to fight for.

 

Are the young leading the way in Everyday Sexism?

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Books

I’m on my sexism high horse this month. I’ve been ranting about sexism for as long as I can remember and I would love to believe that things are different now, that girls do have higher expectations, more respect, more prospects and more opportunities than our grandparents, parents and my generation.  For the most part of course they do, but it’s clear that sexism is still ingrained in the day to day lives of girls and women.  This is the issue I feel most sad about – I can accept that we have a long way to go before we have true equality in jobs, politics, sports etc., but surely the everyday battering that women put up with must be getting less?

A young female member of my family was telling me about a graduate assessment day she attended recently for a job with a large company. As part of the day applicants had to role play and choose different company positions.  She was the only female in her group and it was suggested that she took on the role of MD because ‘we need some tits at the top.’  Now I’m not surprised that such sexism exists, but I was so sad and shocked to think that these were educated male graduates in their 20’s – this is 2015 not 1970.

To make the picture more depressing the fantastic book by Laura Bates – Everyday Sexism – is an inspired project that began with its roots in talking about everyday sexism, highlighting the silence and acceptance that surrounds this and refusing to allow it remain part of the mainstream of female lives.  Reading this illustrates that we still have such a very long way to go. You don’t have to read the book, check out @everydaysexism on Twitter to see endless ongoing examples.  I was astounded by the hundreds of examples from young women including girls at school and university.  What are we teaching the boys that allows this to be such a fundamental part of the world we live in today?

As an experiment I have carried a notebook with me for 2 weeks, with the intention to note down all instances of everyday sexism that happened directly to me.  The result surprised me – there were none.  Perhaps I didn’t get out enough or maybe being older means that I get more respect or have become less of an object? Or of course I may have entered the realm of the middle aged invisible woman but that’s a rant for another time.

But this did make me think is everyday sexism a younger generation problem? Is the airbrushed perfection of females we see in the media making young women objects in a way that didn’t happen when I was younger?  What is our generation teaching the younger generation about sexism, equality and what this means in everyday behaviour?

Melissa Benn in her book ‘What should we tell our daughters’ addresses this theme of ‘casual sexism’ and  her book is a guide to parents and their daughters in facing the challenges of being female today.  Should there be a book to tell our sons how to behave too?

What can we do on an individual level to stop this tide of everyday sexism?  I wish I knew, but we can keep talking about it, keep showing the younger generations that the everyday stuff is the basis of everything to come, that sexism isn’t just about women getting to be board directors or getting equal pay. It’s about respect everyday – at home, at school, at leisure and about us as parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends watching out for those interactions, words and behaviours that signify everyday sexism in the young and instead of letting it pass, make the point, explain why it’s wrong and help in a tiny way to make it stop.

The T Shirt Feminists – but who irons it?

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Created with Nokia Smart Cam

 

When I saw the photos of Nick and Ed wearing those T shirts, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – is this what feminism has become, public school boys wearing designer T shirts?  But I suppose we are talking about it. I know there has been some negative press about who is making these T shirts, but I think there is the more fundamental issue – who irons them once they’ve been consigned to the laundry?

One of my fears in life is if I’ve done enough to continue the cause of feminism in my own small world – am I doing enough to be a role model to younger women? I was really angry as a student often ranting about inequality and how things needed to change.  I’m less vocal now, more quiet despair at times when I see inequality so deeply ingrained in our society and worse when I see young people falling into the stereotypes.

On the gravestone of Emily Davidson is the statement ‘Deeds not words’.   Deeds not words – what deeds do I, we, everyone who can and should, do every day?  We have the media still defining women by their family status (remember the headline in September when Rona Fairhead was chosen to lead the BBC Trust ‘Mother of 3 poised to lead the BBC’.  Why? Was being a mother of 3 a prerequisite for the job?  And what about the latest Malmaison hoardings depicting sexy women with power tools looking seductive to advertise their renovations?  Well Jeanette Winterson had a thing or two to say about that.

I think we should be discussing these issues with our children, young people and everyone else to keep making the point that these types of media headlines and imagery are working to erode our equality.

So back to ironing – nothing divides like ironing. In domestic life ironing is and continues to be feminised.  I do despair when I see Facebook posts of mums posting ‘funny’ pictures of their teenage sons ironing – oh how strange and funny that is.  It just perpetuates the idea that ironing is really for women (mums especially) rather than a basic life skill that both boys and girls should be doing as a normal part of their lives, without the need for comment.

I hear of young couples moving in together – pre-family, both working and somehow the woman does the ironing (and laundry), why?  I can remember when I first moved in with my husband and we agreed to separate linen baskets and we sorted out our own laundry and ironing – this was quite the discussion point with friends who thought it strange.  Why?  (22 years on we still do this).

So let’s start an ironing revolution – let’s normalise ironing for both sexes so that it becomes as normal as brushing your teeth, after all you wouldn’t brush someone else’s would you?  Teach our children, nieces and nephews to iron as part of life and not to make a song and dance about it.

So what deed can you do today?  If wearing a t shirt helps, so be it – but let the deeds and discussions continue and please everyone, man or woman, iron your own T shirt.