The F Word

I have this truly remarkable friend. She’s incredibly hard-working (driven, in fact), very intelligent, and also blessed with a charming face, lovely figure, enviable dress sense – you get the drift. In short, if she wasn’t my friend, I’d probably loathe her. Let’s call her Miss S and I have a lot of respect and love for her.

Anyway, the other day, we found ourselves discussing feminism. I’d just seen an advert which I thought was terribly old-fashioned in its views, and in consequence insidiously sexist. To give you a brief idea – it was for a floor cleaner, a fast acting one – and in the advert, there is a princess in a tower. She spies her prince battling to rescue her, and then realises, horror of horrors, that the floor of her tower is filthy! Thankfully, this amazing cleaning product is on hand, so, not only is she able to spruce up her tower in record time, it also leaves her with enough minutes to make sure she’s looking lovely to receive her prince.

The issues I have with this are a) why should a princess be in a tower waiting for a prince to rescue her? I can let this one slide to be honest as they were only playing to a fairytale stereotype. Then there’s b) why should the woman have to feel concerned that her flat isn’t in a condition for a man to see? Why should the housework be her sole domain in the first place (apart from the fact she’s locked in a tower by her own, and has no one else on hand with a mop)? And finally c) why should the message be that this express cleaner also gives her the chance to tart herself up in time for the arrival of her man?

At the time, when chatting to Miss S, I thought my conclusions were logical, but she had other thoughts. Lo and behold, she began to lay out a perfectly well-reasoned argument that not only would she feel the need to tidy up her flat before she allowed anyone (man or woman) through the door (and wouldn’t I? Well, yes, probably. Cue me hanging my head in hypocritical shame), she’d also always appreciate the time to re-do her make up and what have you before opening the door to said man (see previous bracket!). And she still considers herself a feminist.

I countered that the same advert, with reversed gender roles, could look unbelievable – and therefore, if Caitlin Moran’s very simplified definition of sexism (“Are the men doing it? Are the men worrying about this as well?… Is this making Jeremy Clarkson feel insecure?” Answer: No.) is anything to go by, then it’s sexist, and that’s a problem.

Her response is that most of the people who would pick up on such an issue are intelligent enough to realise that it’s not to be taken seriously, or literally. My response? Not everyone is fortunate enough to have been given an education where they realise that what they’re watching is no longer relevant to today’s society, and that is the damaging insidiousness of the whole thing.

And so we went on. Miss S thought a friend of hers was overreacting when she launched a war on a high street shoe shop who had marketed their boys’ shoes as needing to be tough, while their girls’ shoes were pink and pretty, but I found myself agreeing with her friend.

We moved on to Hillary Clinton (big jump, I know!). Since her daughter, Chelsea, announced her pregnancy, there has been serious speculation that Hillary will no longer run for the presidency. Why? Because she’ll be a grandmother, and will therefore wish to spend more time with her family, and not have the inclination (or the capacity?…) to function in politics. It’s the most ridiculous piece of sexism I’ve heard in a long time, and no one has mentioned that several of her male competitors are also grandparents (but they’re men, right? They can compartmentalise). Both I and Miss S were joined in the laughability of this; so now, suddenly we were back on the same page, but at what point would our opinions differ again?

I almost didn’t write this post because I worried that I’d be ‘tarred’ with the ‘raging feminist’ brush. Feminism has become a huge issue again recently (and rightly so), but I very much feel, personally, that I’m wading through unknown and potentially treacherous waters. I find myself worrying that I don’t know at what point something is sexist, or when it’s just a bit of light-hearted banter. I worry that I’m letting the ‘sisterhood’ down, or that I risk becoming a ‘bore’. At what point do you just sit back and say, ‘this doesn’t really matter’, and at what point do you grab your soapbox, up-end it, climb on top, and say, ‘this is a problem’?

To be a feminist, apparently all you need to do is agree with equal rights for men and women, which I do, but I can’t help thinking that’s it’s a lot more complicated than that.


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