Ball breaking? Coming out of the feminism closet.

A recent survey by the Equal Opportunities commission was used by the media to brand feminism as "outmoded and unpopular." Lorraine Smith conducts her own survey, and wonders whether feminism needs an image overhaul before people would be willing to embrace the term. Could we draft Kylie in to help?

Lorraine Smith, 19 July 2003

Seventy-five years ago, UK women won the right to vote. Today it seems, they just don't care any more. For whatever reason, no one seems to vote any more, and no one cares about the changes in women's lives since they won the right to choose not to vote. People seem to think that feminism was about suffragettes or bra burners; with the emphasis on the 'was'. A recent report commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has highlighted current attitudes on equality and, distressingly, reveals that feminism is regarded by some as outdated and a term describing a hatred of men.

I have come across this feeling an awful lot. After my boyfriend semi-jokingly suggested that I was about to leave him simply because I was reading this very website (with that nasty 'f word' in the banner), I decided to conduct a small and not very scientific survey of my own to find out if it was me or my other half who held the majority view. I posted polls on the forums of two websites that I use regularly, which are aimed at women but also have a few male users. Then I came up with four options that I thought would cover the majority of feeling on the subject. My choices to describe feminism were: Caring about serious women's issues; Campaigning for equal rights; Totally irrelevant these days; and Scary moaning lesbians. The results were interesting to say the least.

People seem to think that feminism was about suffragettes or bra burners; with the emphasis on the 'was'

Only 62 votes were cast over the two polls, but this is still a larger sample than the 35 questioned for the EOC's report. Still, it means that the results are 'indicative rather than representative' so we mustn't get too carried away. Nevertheless, 31% of those voting responded to the question 'What is feminism?' with the option 'Scary moaning lesbians'. In other words, man haters. I didn't mean this to be offensive to lesbians by any means, I was simply pandering to the Loaded/FHM mentality that if your woman is calling herself a feminist then she must secretly be a Birkenstock wearing, tofu eating, bra burning, man hating rug muncher. Perhaps that's why the other half seems to think that by expressing my femininity in my own way (i.e. with my choice of reading material, opinions and views), I'm repressing his masculinity.

Still, some of the other votes cast showed a tad more promise. 26% agreed with me that feminism is more about 'Caring about serious women's issues' these days, while 24% went with the traditional view of 'Campaigning for equal rights' which is something I too had dismissed until faced with the reality of there still being a 19% gap between the hourly rates of pay for men and women. I don't think we need to guess who is on the higher side of the gap. Although the 19% who thought that feminism is 'Totally irrelevant these days' were in the minority, they still represent almost one fifth of those polled which is quite a sizeable chunk of people thinking that we already have equality. Whatever that means.

Perhaps feminism needs a complete image overhaul?

On July 2nd, The Guardian interviewed four prominent women to accompany their (amusingly) page three piece on how feminism is now 'Outmoded and Unpopular' and all seem to agree that women have never really been keen on calling themselves 'feminists'. I have to admit to having kept my views on the subject between myself and like-minded individuals for fear of not having the knowledge, debating skills and vocabulary necessary to argue my point well in the inevitable heated discussion that would follow any admission of feminist tendencies. Although a lot has changed in the last seventy-five years, there are still plenty of subtle yet complex problems facing women but this all seems to now be the concern of the individual rather than the group. Women agree with many recent changes in the status quo that improve their lives yet are still reluctant to call themselves feminists. Perhaps it needs a complete image overhaul.

Instead of feminism, we could call it...

But that's the thing. What would we call it? I searched for Latin words that were relevant and could be used for a 'cut and shut' name, but we're back at feminism again. French, Italian, Spanish and German gave me nothing but silly sounding non-words when the same trick was tried. It seems you need the help of a qualified linguist to come up with anything that's not laughable. Instead, I wondered if keeping the name but revamping the image would help. Get a top advertising agency on the case, rope some intelligent and attractive female celebrities to front the campaign and feminism would be back on its feet before you could say 'girl power'. But who would fund all this nonsense? Perhaps a better idea would be for us all, across the globe to put one pound/dollar/euro in to hire Kylie for a photo session and interview. Once the antipodean temptress had reassured our doubting sisters and frightened men-folk that feminism is really nothing to be scared of, we'd all be ready to come out of the closet in no time.

About the author

Lorraine Smith

Lorraine Smith is drawing an 'I Love Feminism' t-shirt onto her 2003 Kylie calendar as we speak. The boyfriend will be left to draw his own conclusions.

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