Feminism: the conversational turd

Have you ever dropped into conversation the fact that you’re a feminist? I have, and some people continue to react like you’ve dropped your trousers, squatted, and taken a crap in front of them. You get a raised eyebrow accompanied by embarrassment, as if you’ve said something indecent.

The crazy thing is, if you broached the conversation in a different way, and didn’t mention the dirty F-word, most rational adult people would probably agree with you. They would think it’s pretty reasonable that women want to be paid the same as men, that trafficking women to use as sex slaves might be a Bad Thing, and maybe a bit unpleasant for the girls involved. Genital mutilation? That’s maybe not a lot fun either, and since they’re your bits, maybe you should have a say in what happens to them.

Stop complaining!
Some colleagues of mine made the point recently that as a working woman in the UK, I don’t have a lot to complain about. I do know what they mean. The UK ranked 18 out of 135 countries in the 2012 Gender Gap Index. I had a free education, and unlike Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, no-one tried to shoot me when I went to school in the mornings. I live in a developed society where there aren’t rape-mobiles masquerading as legitimate forms of transport. I live in a country governed by laws that mean I could prosecute and seek redress if I were raped or sexually assaulted. I know all of that, and I’m genuinely thankful. But that doesn’t mean that feminism doesn’t have a place here.

Take gender inequality, and the following ire-inspiring research I discovered. A researcher at Yale University submitted 2 identical CVs for roles in science; the same qualifications, the same experience. One was male and the other female, and on average, the female was offered a lower starting salary – by $4000. Based on gender and NO other factors. Wouldn’t it be nice if people were paid based on their actual qualifications and experience, rather than their possession (or otherwise) of a penis?

Yes, I know that’s in America. But in the UK, that’s not a problem, right? Wrong. You don’t need to go all the way to the States to experience gender inequality – just toddle on down to your nearest Boots, where the science toys are stored under ‘boys’ and all the fluffy pink shit is left for the girls. You want a chemistry set? Sorry love, you look more a tea set kind of girl. Not for you.

Boots display of toys 'for boys' and 'for girls'

Then there’s sex. A fellow blogger spoke very eloquently how society views men who have lots of sexual experiences as players, while women are sluts. And there was the charming piece online (that I can’t now find) about how ‘nice girls are rarer than unicorns’. The gist was that we’re all to stay at home guarding our virginity, while the male writer has the freedom of unlimited sexual experiences. He’s joking, right? I’d love to think so, but sadly I think not.

Love sex, hate sexism

That brings me to the intimidating and sinister side of sex, and how women are treated in the UK. Passing over the incident where I was grabbed by the crotch in a club a few months back, last week I read that barrister Barbara Hewson proposed the age of consent be lowered to 13. I totally disagreed with her, as did many others. But here’s the creepy bit – people were tweeting this woman and threatening to rape her.

Let’s be clear, her suggestion was controversial and unpopular. But if a man had made it, would he have been subjected to that?

She’s not alone here – Rebecca Meredith, one of the Cambridge University students who objected to sexist comments made during a debate, received her own set of rape threats. Specifically, whether or not it would be preferable to rape her using a knife, or keep her as a sex slave. Because she and her fellow debater disagreed with some men. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s OK. And it’s just one reason why we still need feminism.


10 thoughts on “Feminism: the conversational turd”

  1. This is exactly the reason why people think we don’t need Feminism… And exactly the reason that we do! Women might have the same legal rights as men, and I’m hugely grateful to live in a country where we do, but there’s a very real undercurrent of sexism that has become so normalised that people generally don’t notice it.
    Looking forward to your next post – keep us updated on your Women’s Network!


    1. I know what you mean re an undercurrent of sexism. I think part of the reason it has become so embedded is because feminism seems a dirty word. I love though that so many people are now writing & blogging about it. Quite excited about the women’s network – will no doubt post about that too at some point! 🙂


  2. What exactly is “feminism”? I’ve heard it used in various contexts and situations by people who call themselves feminists, people who hate feminism, ect.

    I still really don’t know what exactly it means. I’ve met ALOT of different feminists who didn’t fit into the current set of assumptions that one makes when the word is dropped.

    I’ve always been somewhat dismissive of the concept of feminism because I believed most feminists to more about preferential treatment and not about equality. However, that isn’t the case with all or perhaps most feminists.


    1. I think round the fringes feminists have specific women’s issues that they’re more passionate about, but the unifying belief is equality of treatment for men & women. To me, this works both ways – gender inequality has a negative effect on everyone. I read recently about changes to maternity leave (to be replaced with shared parental leave) – so that a couple can decide who is in the better position to work or take leave. This would combat the unfair stigma still attached to men who want to spend time with their kids if the woman earns more.

      At a personal level I have a kind of domestic & foreign policy approach to feminism, as the issues facing women in the developed world are different to those in developing economies. Here in the UK the issues (as I see them) are wage inequality, insufficient female representation on company boards/in politics, objectification of women, and victim blaming re rape and sexual assault. In developing countries, women are still fighting for the right to education and to enter the workplace (although rape and sexual assault is obviously a problem here too).

      Thanks for your comment!


  3. Superb site you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any message boards that cover the same
    topics discussed in this article? I’d really like to be a part of community where I can get comments from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Appreciate it!


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