What do you call a feminist who doesn’t want to be called a feminist?
It sounds like the start of a bad joke: “What do you call a feminist who doesn’t want to be called a feminist?”
We all knew that feminism had a bad name. The small but very vocal group of people around the world who actively campaign against women’s rights have done a very effective job in rebranding this movement for freedom. (When I told my teenage daughter that I was taking on the job of leading the Women’s Equality Party she whooped – then immediately recoiled and said worriedly: “But Mum, if you’re going to be a feminist then everyone will hate you.”)
Yet Fawcett’s report doesn’t spell an SOS for feminism. Far from it.
For while only 7% of people in the UK describe themselves as feminist, a full two-thirds of people support equality for women and men.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Thousands of people have joined the Women’s Equality Party because they understand that Britain’s society and economy can only flourish when everyone is equal. Barely a week goes by without another report from the City on the positive impact on company profits of having a diverse staff that includes senior women in leadership. Year after year, the gender equality model that is being lived in Nordic countries yields data showing that men living a feminist life have a higher standard of living and lower rates of depression, divorce and suicide.
Twitter trolls insist daily to me that because I am a feminist I must be a man-hater and a liar, but these vituperative voices of misogyny that have been so amplified by the event of social media are also, I believe, contributing to the upswell in what Fawcett calls ‘the hidden feminists’ – a group far larger and stronger than the anti-equality activists that strongly disagrees with such attitudes.
That group sees how glacial the pace of change has been since the 1970s, when the first feminist wave helped to produce landmark legislation like the Equal Pay and the Sexual Discrimination Act. That group grew up with the result of the backlash against those feminists as men in senior positions of government and business roundly failed to lean in and make the new legislation work. And while that group may have absorbed the negative PR around feminism, it has also absorbed the impact of living in a society where women earn 19 percent less than men every year and are kept out of the top jobs; where two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner; where men outnumber women in Parliament by two to one.
That group includes men. It includes women. It includes people from ethnically and socio-economically-diverse backgrounds. It includes people with disabilities and people from the LGBT community. All of those people support movement towards a fairer and more equal life and many of them are actively contributing to that movement.
That group is joining the Women’s Equality Party. That group backed campaigns by schoolgirl activists Jessy McCabe and June Eric-Udorie to ensure that women’s voices and experience are reflected in the national curriculum. That group participated in Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism project, cheered the No More Page 3 campaign and marched to Reclaim the Night in cities around the country. That group is working in boardrooms and classrooms and councils to create a more equal country.
What do we call them if they don’t want to be called feminists? Who cares? I will always be proud to call myself a feminist, but I don’t care if others choose not to. We’ve spent too long arguing about what to call each other. Far better just to get on with the work. Together.
Until everyone is equal.
Sophie Walker is leader of the Women’s Equality Party
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