In which I wonder if we get too hung up on the f-word

I’m a feminist. I’ve described myself as such since I was about 14 and I’m not about to change now.

I think that girls across the world should have just as much right to go to school as boys. I think that women and men should be paid the same for comparable work. I think that on the three separate occasions during job interviews when I’ve been asked whether I felt I’d be taken seriously in the role I shouldn’t have just sucked it up and got on with the interview; I should have queried why the interviewers thought that might be an issue. I think that expecting the man to automatically pay on a first date is dumb. I think that a man holding a door open for a woman is fine, but I think a woman holding a door open for a man is fine too – generally letting doors slam in people’s faces is bad; that’s not actually a gender issue. I think that conviction rates for sexual violence against women are shockingly low. I think that the tendency in the media to describe women by their age and appearance first, and job or role second is depressing and damaging. For all those reasons I’m a feminist, but.

But, I also think that we need to accept that the term ‘feminist’ has become a bit tricksy of late. Various celebs have declared themselves ‘not a feminist’ and there was recently a spate of ‘I don’t need feminism’ selfies, where women held up signs explaining their reasons for rejecting feminism. This was followed, inevitably by a much bigger spate of ‘I need feminism’ selfies, which I absolutely support, but I worry that by simply responding with a chorus of ‘Oh yes, you do,’ we’re missing a point. If you do an images search for ‘I’m don’t need feminism because’ you’ll see that there are two repeated themes in the rejections of feminism. The first is that feminism is about supremacy over men, and the second is that feminism encourages a victim-mentality by defining a range of inconveniences as gender oppression.

The first of those perceptions is, in many ways, the easiest to reject. Feminism isn’t about saying that women are better than men. It is about rejecting the automatic reverse assumption. It is about rejecting the notion that an area of life/work has less value because it has historically been primarily undertaken by women. It is about rejecting the notion that gender should be a primary decider of your path in your life or career. And that works for men and women. Hurrah for the male nursery nurses, and dental nurses, and just plain nursing nurses.

The second problem is the perception that feminists see oppression everywhere and revel in the role of victim. Well, here’s the thing. Some people revel in the role of victim. Some of those people will be women. Some of those women will be feminists. Don’t confuse personality trait with wider philosophical message. Nonetheless, the perception that we are the girls who cry wolf, is damaging to the cause of equality. It legitimatizes the patting of women on their collective head, and the shuffling away of grievances onto the pile marked ‘women making a fuss.’

The saddest thing is that all those young women holding cards saying, ‘I don’t need feminism because… I’m not a victim’ or variations on that theme are making a feminist statement. They’re saying I’m not defined by oppression. They’re saying that they believe in their own ability to take life’s opportunities and make the most of them. But they’re rejecting the political and social force that got them to a place where posting a picture of themselves in a public forum making a political statement is permissible behaviour for a young lady.

Ultimately, ‘feminist’ is just a word, and maybe it’s a word that both sides of this argument need to be less hung up on. If you believe in equality of treatment, choice and opportunity for men and women, then what label you put on that should be secondary. Feminism has become a troublesome word because, at some point, the people who say ‘I am a feminist’, and the people who say they’re not, started using the same word to mean different things. If feminist meant man-hater, or eternal victim then I’d be lining up with the girls holding those ‘I don’t need feminism..’ cards myself, but to me it means something quite different. And that’s the problem. If we don’t agree about what it is that we’re embracing or rejecting how can we identify our disagreement and our common ground?

So a question for the comments section: Would you describe yourself as a feminist? And why or why not?

In which I wonder when showing one’s actual face became laudable

Now from that title you might be expecting me to weigh into the issue of Muslim women wearing a full face veil. Well, sorry if I disappoint but that ain’t going to happen around here.  Wear a veil if you want to; don’t if you don’t. I really have nothing more to say on the issue.

What I do have something to say about is this – the Children in Need Bearfaced Campaign. Not wearing make-up has, apparently, become so socially abhorrent, so embarrassing for women, that they can get sponsored to spend 24 hours without foundation. Hold the front page! There are pictures of some women showing the actual unadorned skin on their noses and foreheads. Try to control your inevitable feelings of horror at the sight.

What? I’m sorry. We’re all familiar with Children in Need sponsorship options – you can sit in a bath of beans; you can wear a duck costume to the office; you can undertake some form of physical task (sponsored walk, bike ride, swim, hop etc etc). Leaving the house without make-up on isn’t a sponsorable activity. In fact, at the risk of causing horror amongst whole sections of society, for a huge number of the women, and nearly all the men, it’s just normal. We get up and leave the house without painting on a better face than the one we’ve been lumbered with every single day. And here’s another shocker – nothing bad happens as a result. No children are scared. The police aren’t called. We aren’t carted back to our homes and required to mascara-up before we venture out again.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing to wear make-up. I personally only paint it on a couple of times a year – in the photo on this site, for example I believe I’m wearing lip gloss, but I think that’s it.  Wearing make-up every day just makes me feel sweaty and like my face is on too tight. There is, however, nowt unfeminist about an interest in sparkly pretty things. Some women enjoy wearing make-up, in the same way that I enjoy stroking shoes I can’t afford to buy (and would probably break an ankle in if I could). That’s fine and dandy. But wearing make-up shouldn’t be such a self-evident expectation of womankind, that not wearing it is viewed as hardship or faux pas. There shouldn’t be anything brave about not bothering with eyeliner.

To nick a thought from Caitlin Moran, a good basic starting point for rooting out sexism is to ask yourself, “Are the men worrying about this?” Are male office workers, or indeed male tv presenters, actors etc, getting up half an hour earlier every day to paint out their blemishes? Well on TV, to an extent they are, but we’re talking a brush of powder to take the shine off, rather than an intricate layering of primer, concealer, foundation, bronzer and more.

Your face is your face. If you like to paint bits of it pretty colours, then that’s fair enough, but as soon as we start applauding women for being prepared to show their faces make-up free, we accept that doing so is an act of courage, and it just shouldn’t be. A face is a face is a face. Some of them are a bit blotchy. Some of them are spotty. Some of them are wrinkly. Some of them have slightly hairy top lips. And none of those things matter, and all of them are entirely ok.

So, wear make-up if you want to; don’t if you don’t. Just don’t embrace the idea that not wearing make-up is brave or empowering, because as soon as you do, you also accept that it’s Not Normal, and the bigger, broader and more inclusive we make our notion of normal the more people we share common ground with and the happier we will all be.

And that ends this week’s sermon on the subject of lip gloss. Thanking you all muchly for your time.