I sat next to an important, well-known at a fancy British film industry dinner recently. He asked me “what feminism was for” these days, and told me that he found some women confusing because they dressed in a way to make themselves irresistible, but then complained when they were attacked. As I opened my mouth to counter this extraordinary view, an excellent human called Judith leaned into the conversation to clarify. “It isn’t confusing if you realise that women are people,” she said.
In this one sentence, Judith supplied the answer to his first question. What is feminism for? Feminism is fighting to get power-mongers and legislators to realise that women are people and act accordingly.
Today (3 May) we woke up to headlines about the likely overturning of Roe vs Wade. American news outlets are reporting that over half of US states plan to ban abortion if the Supreme Court gives them free rein to do so. What this means is that citizens in those states – women, trans men and non-binary people of childbearing age – could be legally forced to carry a baby to term inside their bodies without their consent, rather than terminating a foetus. In other words, those small collections of cells are to be valued as more human than the women and people of marginalised genders whom they inhabit.
The matter is, of course, not about us here in the UK. But it is alarming because America is, in many ways, the cultural thermometer of the world. While it is unlikely that the Jacob Rees-Moggs of the UK will get their way and take away our rights to abortion here, it sets a precedent about human rights, and who is human enough to qualify for them – something that is very relevant for the UK.
Indeed, the British government is currently using its majority to make what Amnesty International is calling a “rights raid”. As an Amnesty ambassador I am pretty busy right now with briefings and actions as the government curtails our right to protest, our right to not have our passport confiscated, and our right to vote without photo ID through the Elections Act 2022. Enforcing photo ID at the polls is a well-known method of suppressing voters from disenfranchised communities who may have the audacity to vote in their own interests.
The more rights that governments can take away from us, the more we can be controlled and dehumanised; their greedy power grab is our loss of autonomy. So we should start watching what they’re doing and making some noise (although how much noise is now in the gift of Priti Patel, due to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act she just passed into law).
Spread the word: women are people. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are people. Refugees are people. Many of those people belong to more than one of those groups. Things get a lot less confusing when we recognise each other’s humanity and allow human beings to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.
That’s what feminism is for.