Clare Forestier’s blog explores some of the current trends around feminism in the workplace and society.
I’m worried … a straw poll in my office of (largely young) women suggests only a third of them would classify themselves as a feminist.
To me being a feminist means simply believing in the concept of gender equality, but many of my young colleagues appear to equate feminism with misandry and bullying. While not quite fully paid up members of the Women Against Feminism movement, characterised by social media selfies of those who disapprove of the modern feminist, it demonstrates a worrying trend.
One of the world’s most famous businesswomen, the Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg admits in her book, ‘Lean In,’ that she stands, “on the shoulders of the women who came before us.” I’m not in Ms Sandberg’s league when it comes to success and no, that’s not classic female self-effacement – just a healthy dose of reality – but I have to wholeheartedly agree. As I sit here with a good wage and an interesting career, I know that the activists who battled for women’s rights had my back.
And that battle must rage on. Sexism still exists in the workplace, whether blatant or subtle, as does discrimination, and sexual harassment. The gender pay gap, the disproportionate impact of austerity on women, and under representation in local and national government; those issues are very real still. So how can any woman deny feminism with these goals still unreached?
The F word insult
And yet it’s not easy to bring up the issue. The ‘Every Day Sexism’ project points out that “it seems to be increasingly difficult to talk about sexism, equality and women’s rights in a modern society that perceives itself to have achieved gender equality.”
Like the ‘Women Against Feminism’ movement, the Kenyan newspaper columnist, Jowal Jones believes it is because the issue has been hijacked. “What I have against mainstream feminists is they propagate abhorrence and vitriol against men under the aegis of feminism. Feminism has evolved into a hideous movement with a sole aim of pitting women against men; man-hating is their main agenda.”
That sense of feminism as female chauvinism is what seems to have turned off my young female work mates, and we should be frightened of it. It’s insulting. It’s taken a positive and turned it into a negative. The freedom fighter has become the terrorist. The word itself has become divisive and open to interpretation and, while it may well be that we need to address the semantics, when Time Magazine suggested we find an alternative word, it was hit by a barrage of complaints.
The male feminist
However men are starting to declare themselves feminists. John Brougher, founder of the blog, MaleFeminists.com, says, “I’m a feminist because I believe that men and women are and should be equal, but we’re not treated equally right now … and until we get a more equal world, I’ll claim that title of “feminist” proudly and shout it from the rooftops.”
The US actor, Mark Ruffalo made it clear what he thinks of the Women Against Feminism movement in an impressive Tumblr rant: “You know not what you speak of. You reap the rewards of these women’s sacrifices every day of your life. When you grin with your cutsey (sic) sign about how you’re not a feminist, you ignorantly spit on the sacred struggle of the past 200 years.”
In the UK, celebrities and politicians, Nick Clegg, Bill Bailey, and Benedict Cumberbatch, among others, have all been lauded for wearing The Fawcett Society’s “this is what a feminist looks like” tee shirts. I think it’s a good thing, but I am concerned that feminism needs validation from male celebrity.
A badge of honour
I feel the actress, Emma Watson, dealt with that concern, with her speech at the UN last year, to launch the ‘HeForShe’ campaign. She said it is not the word, ‘feminism,’ that is important “but the idea and the ambition behind it.” Watson invited men to become feminists. “Gender equality is your issue too.” In other words: in terms of reclaiming the F-word, all allies will be welcome. We’ve still got a lot of work to do and you should wear it with pride.
I could leave you here with an inspirational quote from the famous feminist Gloria Steinem, you know something like: “though we have the courage to raise our daughters more like our sons, we’ve rarely had the courage to raise our sons like our daughters.”
But I’m more from the Caitlin Moran school of feminism, and so I’m “neither ‘pro-women’ nor ‘anti-men’. I’m just ‘thumbs up for the six billion.’”
Clare Forestier is a journalist who works for Meet The Boss TV where she moderates virtual business roundtables, interviews thought leaders, and writes and presents blogs and programmes on business issues. She has a background in broadcast news journalism and worked across the BBC and for UK commercial radio and television for 19 years. She has broadcast news to regional, national and international audiences, as a reporter, presenter, producer and online journalist. She has also worked as a media trainer, instructing scientists, academics and civil servants in media skills.
You can connect with Clare on Twitter