'In a 2018 poll, only 34% of UK women said they were feminist'
Who are you?
I am a feminist.
In researching this article, I was consistently alarmed by two things. One is how many women I know and love struggled to stand up and say they were feminists. The second is that when I googled ‘modern feminism’ the first page of results all fell along the same lines. ‘Why feminists are bad’, ‘I’m female and not a feminist’, ‘feminism is as sexist as the misogyny it claims to be fighting’.
For clarity, the basis of my feminism and the definition I’m using for this article is that which is mostly associated with fourth wave feminism. It is the simple, undeniable and untouchable belief that every person is equal and should not be discriminated against because of sex, gender or race.
Only 34% of UK women said they were a feminist in a 2018 poll. That is less than one in five. But the same poll went on to find that eight in ten women agreed with the fundamental principle of feminism, equal treatment for all. So why are so many of us, so scared to grab the pin badge and say the word feminist?
It’s time for some cold hard maths, which I researched and ask for help on because I am fully aware of my own numerically based weaknesses. So let’s dive in.
The UK gender pay gap for 2018 is median of 18.4%, in real terms that means for every £1 a man earns, a women would earn about 82p. In 2018, on November 10th women effectively started working for free.
BAME women however, they’re earning roughly 25% less than their white male colleagues. They stopped being paid on October 1st.
In cold hard terms, that is according to the Young Women’s Trust UK women are missing out on about £9,000 a year each. So the UK is missing out on an extra £2,000 a month in tax on women. With 15 million working women, that’s an astonishing £30 billion. That is almost triple the entire NHS budget for mental health in 2017/2018. Would you label yourself a feminist now?
What is it about the label of ‘Feminist’, the word itself, that puts so many of us off? I would put money on the fact that the most common response to ‘I’m a feminist’ seems to be ‘oh, so you hate men and want to see women in power on top.’ Well actually, yes. Women should be in positions of power, but men by default shouldn’t be.
Feminists do not hate men. Or at least modern ones don’t. Angry with them, maybe. Many feminists love men. Many do not love men. Some are probably apathetic to men. Some feminists are men. Feminism is not even about men. It’s about women. So let’s just all collectively agree to stop letting that drive the conversation.
They’re our experiences, our pay, our opportunities that we are fighting for. We don’t have time to hate or fight with men, when we are fighting to just be allowed in the room. Assigning yourself a political label is a commitment, it’s scary. But in this label, more than half the world should be with you. So take the leap, love the label.
While on the whole feminism is a rousing brilliance that I will support endlessly, it is impossible to ignore its biggest flaw. That most feminism is only suited to advancing the rights and freedoms of white, probably middle class women. It’s great if for a job, the employer chooses to interview five men and five women. But it’s not equal opportunity if everyone in that room is white.
The rate of death from pregnancy or both in black mothers is 1 in 2,500. The rate for white mothers is five times smaller than that. As mentioned, BAME pay is lower. As a journalist I work in newsrooms that are overwhelmingly white. Black MP Dawn Butler has spoken of racism she has experienced in the House of Parliament when she was using the members only lift, only to be told by a white man that ‘it wasn’t really for cleaners’. You can guarantee no white female MP would have been told that. It is wrong. All equal. There is no other way.
We have to work to create a feminism that is inclusive, but recognises the differences in our individual experiences. The struggles of BAME women that as a white woman I will never have to face. To recognise that this imbalance and privilege exists. The bias might be unconscious, but it’s there.
Feminism is not sexist. It is not militant. It is not scary. I am feminist, are you?
Emma Gant, freelance journalist & reporter - Writing for Well Defined.