‘Feminism is dead.’ Oh no it isn’t.
Hundreds of feminists will gather at a conference in London this weekend just days after the launch of the new Women’s Equality Party. Feminism is big news. But will it ever be ‘done’?
When the activist and academic Finn Mackay arrived in London in 2002, she expected to find a “lively, angry and practical” feminist movement — but she was disappointed to realise that this was not the case.
Things have changed dramatically over the last 13 years. Mackay founded the London Feminist Network, which now has around 2,000 members. Well-known figures from Beyoncé to Hillary Clinton have allied themselves with the movement. And this weekend, over 1,000 people will gather near Hyde Park for the eighth annual Feminism in London conference, which will discuss everything from street harassment to forced marriage.
The movement is more than just talk. Earlier this week, the new QI host Sandi Toksvig helped to launch the Women’s Equality Party. The group hopes to bring its concerns directly to the world of politics by standing in elections against candidates who do not agree with their policies. Its six core goals comprise equal representation in politics and business; equal education; equal pay; equal parenting; better portrayals of women in the media; and an end to violence against women. “We’re the only political party whose ultimate aim is to push ourselves out of business,” said their leader, Sophie Walker.
The fight for women’s rights stretches well over a century, and it has seen huge leaps forward since the days of suffragettes. Yesterday the cover of The Spectator even declared that “Feminism is dead.”
But many women disagree. The Women’s Equality Party points out that there are more men in Parliament right now than there have ever been female MPs. The average woman will earn around £361,000 less than a man in her lifetime. And roughly 35% of women around the world have experienced domestic or sexual violence.
Feminism may be having a moment — but issues which affect half the population are complex and often divisive. Women from diverse backgrounds can have different priorities when it comes to campaigning, and can often disagree on solutions to the problems they face.
The party hopes to create gender equality using political force — like UKIP, they argue that pushing one key message will pressure mainstream parties into real changes, such as legal quotas for a gender-balanced parliament. Once women are represented in government, they can legislate on other issues which affect women too.
Not so simple, say others. When a patriarchal society raises boys to be adventure heroes, and girls to be princesses, the game is rigged from the start. Inequality will never be fixed by politics alone because our entire culture was built on the idea that women are worth less than men. Without radical changes, the fight will never really be won.
- Would you call yourself a feminist?
- Can politics solve gender inequality?
- Choose an issue you care about and write your own manifesto for a political party which aims to change it.
- Create a timeline of women’s equality over the last 100 years.
Some People Say...
“Feminism’s job is already complete.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I’m a boy — this isn’t really about me.
- Maybe not directly, but we’re willing to bet you know plenty of women and girls who will be affected by these issues during their lifetime. Besides, gender inequality hurts men as well as women, by confining them to “masculine” roles, and often making it harder to express emotions. True equality only comes when everyone works together.
- I believe in equal rights, but I don’t like the word ‘feminism’.
- Some worry that “feminism” implies women who believe in gender equality also hate men, but this is not true. Instead, many feminists would argue that the name is important simply because women historically suffer more than men. Labels can be an important way of understanding a movement, but in the end, feminism’s name is less important than its outcome.
- Feminism in London
- There will be talks on human trafficking, street harassment and forced marriage, and an attempt to draft a “bill of women’s rights”. On Sunday night, the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize will be awarded to a woman who has worked to raise awareness about violence against women and children.
- Sandi Toksvig
- The broadcaster and writer co-founded the party with author Catherine Meyer and journalist Sophie Walker, who is also its leader.
- Feminism’s “first wave” campaigned for women’s suffrage (the vote) which was awarded to some women in 1918, and on equal terms with men in 1928.
- Female MPs
- Since 1918, 450 women have been elected to the House of Commons; there are currently 459 male MPs.
- 35% of women
- Statistics from the World Health Organisation.
- The UK Independence Party has campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union for several years, and gained 12.6% of votes in May’s general election. The UK will hold a referendum on its EU membership before the end of 2017.
- In a patriarchy men hold authority and power largely to the exclusion of women.