Um, what?

// 3 March 2008

[Edited for correct spelling]]

When I saw the headline of this opinion piece in the Independent, I thought: ‘Oh, lord, I am too jet-lagged to tackle this one.’

Luckily, Jean Edelstein’s piece “Equal gender rights shouldn’t be defined as a feminist issue” is so light-weight and ill thought out, I can tell you why she’s wrong even in my zoned-out state.

Or rather, I don’t have to, because she doesn’t actually make an argument.

What Edelstein does is compile a list of some of the many gender inequalities that remain in our society and beyond. That’s it, her fabulous argument against feminism.

Will women achieve equality in the next 100 years? I’d like to think so, although the deep entrenchment of sexism across many aspects of society seems to make it unlikely. I like to think we – and by “we” I mean everyone who values a progressive and free society, no matter what the composition of our chromosomes – will keep trying. Equal gender rights should not be defined as a feminist issue and they shouldn’t be defined by cultural contexts. Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are something we should never stop striving for.

Which is precisely the point. Feminism is already about human rights. I’m left wondering -what was the point of this column, except to bash feminism? None as far as I can see. Shame on the Independent for printing something that is at best ridiculously misinformed.

Comments From You

Gauntlet Girl // Posted 3 March 2008 at 7:09 pm

I wonder if the author means only to suggest that equal gender rights are something for everyone to worry about, regardless of whether or not you define yourself as a feminist. (Which of course leads to a vigorous debate about definitions of feminism.)

Jean Hannah Edelstein // Posted 3 March 2008 at 10:39 pm

Hi Jess,

Indeed, Gauntlet Girl is correct about the point that I was trying to make – which perhaps was slightly obfuscated due to the fact that they cut half of the words in the piece, because of space constraints in the hard copy of the paper. Such is the nature of journalism as I’m sure you are aware.

Unfortunately, they also spelled my name wrong!

Best wishes,


Anne Onne // Posted 3 March 2008 at 11:52 pm

It’s a valid point that they are very important issues, regardless of whether people define themselves as a feminist. I like to think that if we can encourage those who aren’t ready to accept the label because of societal pressure, they might eventually choose to identify with the cause of their own choice. Then there’s women of colour who feel that feminism leaves them out, that it makes them feel tehy ahve to choose between their race and gender, and focuses on white women. Whilst I believe feminism in its truest sense is for every woman, I an understand why some choose no not use the label.

Then there’s people who notice inequalities, but have been too blinded by the anti-feminism to do some reading and see feminists aren’t a bunch of man-hating castrating lesbians. It could well be that in this case the author was making a very feminist point, but then you get lots of people saying they’re not a feminist or anything (not like those humourless feminazis!!) insisting that they believe abortion should be legal, but are not pro-choice etc. There can be very meaningful reasons to not identify as a feminist, but for many women the reasons are society’s feat of empowered women who complain about ineqality. We need to deal with this, because it’s not going away.

I definitely agree that we need to frame feminism and subjects such as violence against women as not just women’s business but everyone’s business. Because after all, for every woman being victimised, there’s someone out there (usually but not always a man) doing the victimising. And without shopwng people that this issue is everyone’s responsibility, we can’t change it.

joanne // Posted 4 March 2008 at 12:17 am

I think this is quite an unfair post and unnecessarily harsh on the author. I would’ve liked her to have gone into more detail (and maybe she did and it got cut!) but I don’t think there was anything sexist about suggesting that issues of equality are not just for feminists. Of all the horribly sexist things I read every day, this is not one of them.

Jess McCabe // Posted 4 March 2008 at 4:02 am


Yes, I too think there are some valid reasons why some people may hesitate to align themselves with feminism.

As Jean has explained that her piece was cut, we can give her the benefit of the doubt that she fleshed out her arguments some, and perhaps touched on why this is the case. However, the article as it was printed did no such thing: it implied a blanket dismissal of feminism.

Of course, it’s important for everyone to care about gender inequalities, and to an extent it doesn’t matter what you call it as long as it gets done.

But I think that it’s very important to understand that a great many of the reasons people feel antipathy towards the term feminism have their roots in those very same inequalities. As you mention, anti-feminists have constructed this idea of “humourless feminazis” and “man-hating castrating lesbians”. But those terms are themselves symptomatic of the problem, and I don’t think it’s the answer to go “oh, well, people don’t want to risk homophobic abuse and/or being belittled as humourless for speaking out against sexism, so let’s just ditch the contentious term and start again”.

We need instead to call this crap out for what it is, and understand that there is a powerful dynamic by which belittling of feminism is used to uphold gender-based oppression. I don’t think we can short-cut this process by moving away from the scary word feminism.

Anne Onne // Posted 4 March 2008 at 3:23 pm

I agree, Jess. The problem people have with feminism won’t go away if it somehow miraculously gets a new image. And it shouldn’t have to, because the principle that people deserve a voice whatever their orientation, looks or interests is central to feminism. I wasn’t trying to argue that society’s fear of feminism and subsequent misrepresentation of it is acceptable – I think that it’s obviously the reason many women don’t identify as feminist, as opposed to the other reasons listed. It’s something we need to try and get around as a group, and it won’t be easy.

I suspect one of the biggest problems we face is that there is this myth floating about that ‘women have equality already’ that ‘feminism was important and right in the 70s, but now they just want power over men’. These myths are damaging, because they try to persuade women that their experiences of inequality are isolated, that there is no problem. That by complaining, they are allying themselves with man-hating harpies who just want power. It’s not true, of course, but people are very suceptible to societal pressure. A lot of people believe that there might be sexism elsewhere, but in the West, it’s all good and dandy. If we can get it into public consiousness that we AREN’T equal – not in the world, not even in the UK, and make women’s issues everybody’s issues, we will be able to make much more of a difference.

That’s the great thing about the net. Sites like this one are a great place to send people who are curious. It’s much easier to browse feminism FAQ than it is to read up on complex literature on the subject (not that books aren’t cool, too!), and makes it much mroe accessible to those who are casually interested or starting off. I’ve found the internet a great help to point out the problems women face to people, and although that’s on a small scale, I think we’ve got a big ally in the internet.

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