Why the feminist movement has to be inclusive

In her experience, TV presenter Charlie Webster has found that discussions about modern feminism can become confused and fragmented among all the divisive discourse about who belongs or doesn’t to the feminist movement.

I didn’t grow up to be a feminist. From a young age, I have been on my own little life mission, battling through, reaching out, developing my voice, trying to find courage and speak from the heart in spite of feeling vulnerable at times, and always, seeking that sense of worth.

As my career progressed, the question “Are you a feminist?” has come up with increasing regularity. Sometimes it feels less like a question and more like a challenge. I thought about the answer long and hard, more often than not getting confused about what feminism stood for, and slowly beginning to realise that being a feminist is less my own identity and more an opinion someone else has about me. I have my own strong beliefs and pride, but others challenged me as to whether I was a feminist or not based on the way I looked. It was a trick question. 

Feminism is and should be about empowering women, but the meaning of the word “empowerment” regularly gets lost. To me, empowerment is about giving a woman a sense of self worth. The word literally means ‘to enable or permit’. I believe enabling a woman to be herself to explore her potential as an individual, worthy of love and belonging, should be at the heart of feminism, and a woman’s identity should be her choice, whether it is focused on career, education or family.

The history of feminism and female empowerment is an incredible one, from the tales of Greek Sappho in 6th century BC who wrote poetry and ran a girls' school, to the strike by a group of women during the industrial revolution in an East London match factory that helped create the British trade union movement. A helpful and humbling reminder when we talk about feminism in the modern day, which in my own experience has become confused and fragmented among all the divisive discourse about who belongs or doesn’t to the feminist movement.

Feminism has resulted in major gains for women in education, security, opportunity and much more. However I am a completely self made educated independent woman who campaigns on social issues including domestic abuse and social change for young people, yet I have been challenged and judged by some feminists for the same reason I have been judged by some men – by the way I am perceived to look in my job as a TV presenter.

And I have seen feminists exclude men from activity, which has been directed at trying to change attitudes, which confuses me no end. Isn't it just as detrimental to exclude men from the discussion as it is to exclude women on other topics? We live in a society of both men and women, women have boys as well as girls, men are in most cases involved in the family unit whether they are fathers, brothers, sons, uncles or grandads. Isn't it just as important to teach a young boy about self worth and respect as it is a young girl? If attitudes in society are to change doesn't it have to be inclusive of both sexes? At the risk of stating the obvious, our society is made up of men and women. And going back to my point about empowerment, I believe men should be enabled to explore their potential as an individual worthy of love and belonging too.

Recently domestic abuse was categorised in some media as a women's issue...how ridiculous is that? How can it be a women's issue when it has such a detrimental effect on our society and the children who are theoretically supposed to thrive in it? How can this issue exclude men when they both play an active part and are affected by it? I'm not a massive fan of figures but on this occasion it says it all. Women’s Aid estimate the total cost of domestic violence to society in monetary terms is £23 billion per annum.

The reason some men use size and strength towards women and other men is that they struggle with their own self worth. Exerting their power and domination over others - men or women - is the only way they can make themselves feel like what they perceive as “real men”. If, as a society we change our focus to mutual respect and appreciation for the amazing things each gender can offer, public opinion would surely change and with it a movement away from the shaming, blaming and stigmatisation of victims of moral wrong doing. Ultimately men and women need one another, they always have done and I would have thought - dependent on technological advances in robots - always will. We all need intimacy, to feel safe and cared for, to have a companion through our journey. The difference between men and women shouldn’t be an oppression and it shouldn’t be a battleground. It should be embraced and cherished, and it is up to us women, as well as men to be inclusive and open to all members of our society, not just those in our own camp.

 

Campaigners, some dressed as suffragettes, attend a rally organised by UK Feminista at the Houses of Parliament in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

Charlie Webster is a TV presenter and founding ambassador for Britain’s Personal Best, a Big Lottery funded campaign to inspire the best in all of us: www.whatsyours.org.

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.