Soundbite: A feminist, not an equalist #100years
Students always ask me why I term myself a feminist, rather than an equalist. Don't get me wrong, I'm a believer in equality of all sorts, but I believe that we still live in a world with a specific need to fight for gender equality. And that movement is called feminism.
When I was younger, I was quite resistant to the philosophy of 'affirmative action'. The idea that in some way we must compensate for historical oppression and repression with positive discrimination. It felt unfair. And even though as a woman, and a scientist, I might have been on the receiving end, I didn't feel it was necessary, and actually was somewhat patronised by the concept.
As I have grown older, my views have changed (surprise surprise). I have come to recognise that I was incredibly privileged to have grown up without feeling discriminated against in explicit ways that I was aware of, and that this was the exception, not the norm. Seeing other people overcoming challenges specific to their gender, race, class, or religion, I am now swayed by Hill's call for affirmative action.
By feeling patronised, I was displaying my privilege, and my ignorance of others: the extent to which I was wrapped up in my own world, and my own talent, my own need to beat everyone else on their own terms.
Today we are celebrating 100 years of votes for women. Some women. Property owning women over thirty. So I wouldn't be able to vote. I'm not yet thirty (although I turned twenty-nine yesterday), and I sure as hell don't own any property. And it's an important day. Some of my students will be giving JAW (a kind of assembly) tomorrow on the women's suffrage moment. I have been inspired by this fiery letter by Bertha Brewster, a Bedales alumni.
Letter to The Daily Telegraph 26th February 1913
Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual.
Kill every woman in the United Kingdom.
Give women the vote.
So things have improved in the last 100 years. I can vote. In fact I've voted in three national elections. And I suppose I'm alive too. Which is a plus.
But I still think there is a need for affirmative action with regards to gender issues in this country. And that the action required is distinct from the action required to deal with racial, or religious equality.
For example, there is a recognised issue with the uptake of physics and computer science by girls. This gender specific issue crosses racial lines and class divide. This needs an influx of strategies, funding, and affirmative action, to recognise how much more girls have to overcome to get to, and succeed at A-level physics or computer science. The solution needs to be aimed a girls, not just the fluffy notion of 'equality' generally.
This is one of many examples. My students will probably give some during JAW tomorrow.
Talking about issues which are specific to gender, as issues of 'equality' in general, devalues the gendered nature of those issues, and ensures that any solutions are not focused on the gender driven problems inherent in them. We need to focus on gender specific issues, with feminist glasses on, and come up with gendered solutions.
And it is that belief that makes me a feminist, rather than an equalist.