I don’t consider myself a feminist. I never have. I consider myself absolutely equal to any other human. There are people who are more intelligent than I am. Better sportsmen and women. Superior writers, artists, entrepreneurs, activists, aunts etc, etc. But none of them is more human than me. Of that I am, and always have been, absolutely sure.
So it pisses me off mightily when someone discriminates against me because of my sex or my colour. And before anyone gets up in arms about the colour statement, it pisses me off mightily when anyone is discriminated against because of their colour. It happens all the time, it is a complex and unconscionable thing and definitely has affected one race more than others. To those who may be thinking right now that I have no idea what I am talking about because I am white – you may well be right, but please remember that I grew up in a country where racism was made a law, given a name and allowed to spawn 50 or so ugly years of institutionalised fear and loathing. I was aware then, I am aware now – and I try to call it when I see, hear, smell or read it. Regardless of who is bearing the brunt.
For the record, it also pisses me off mightily when someone gets discriminated against because of their faith. And I use that word advisedly. Faith and Dogma (as represented by organised religion) look like very different things from my corner of the sofa. The former often gives hope (I see it in my country every day), the latter always causes problems (oh, just look around). Believe what you want to believe, just don’t kill anyone because of it. Or refuse to allow them to marry who they wish to marry, live somewhere safe or attend the rituals that give them comfort. Most especially – don’t discriminate against your fellow believers because they are women.
But I digress.
Many decades ago I realised that one of my work colleagues was earning over 40% more each month, than I was. I figured it out during a casual conversation with his wife, in which she was telling me that they were house hunting. She wasn’t from the UK – and so was trying to get her head around what mortgage they could afford. I explained the formula to her, and she spent a moment figuring it out. “Oh”, she said, “so we could afford a house of …”, and she named a sum. I blinked …. “really?”. She nodded. “Yes, so we should be able to get something nice … no?”
The next day I was waiting for my boss when he walked in. “Let’s talk about my salary”, I said. “Oh God”, he replied. “Why am I earning 40% less than Mr X?” He got annoyed, “How do you know what he is earning? You guys are not meant to discuss that.” I told him. He started to blush and fluster: we had a row. It included him telling me: “why do you even need to earn that much? He has a wife and will have kids one day. You get taken out for dinner.” It ended with his boss making up the difference and back-paying me from the start of the year. But the message was clear – although Mr X was junior to me by title, he was senior to me by penis. And I was only too aware that he had been earning more than me, because of it, for years.
The ruckus I created and my determination not to be ‘little-womaned’ caused the company to re-look pay parity. And salaries were brought into line. But not completely – I was accidentally copied on the bonus schedule later that year: on average the men were receiving 38% more than the women. But not my department. Our bonuses were on par. I said nothing – I had learnt to acknowledge a battle won. Which I had done with the support of our Chairman, a man. It was a start, but the bigger war was on-going.
So, I guess I was a feminist then: vocally chipping away at good-old -boy bullshit. But I’m not fooled – I know things haven’t changed that much. Maybe it’s just me, but we seem to be advancing backwards. Re-creating a cult of male entitlement. Dancing around their poles in movies and videos. Allowing them to call us “ho” and “bitch” and believing them when they tell us that “baby mama” is a term of respect and that they won’t wear a condom because “it doesn’t feel as good and I want to really feeeeel you baby”. And we bring up that baby alone. Working two jobs where one would do if only we were paid the same.
There is work to be done, and I hope the women that are coming up are equal to it.
Emma Watson is. The actress, a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador for the past six months, gave an impassioned speech on feminism and gender at the U.N. headquarters in New York over the weekend. She was launching “HeForShe”. A campaign that aims to galvanize one billion men and boys as advocates for ending the inequalities that women and girls face globally. She knows women can’t do this work along
Watson’s speech, which was met with a thunderous standing ovation, not only called for action from male allies, but clarified a persistent misconception about feminism in general. She said:
“I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me.But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive.
Why is the word such an uncomfortable one? I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.”
Watson was pushing back against recent campaigns like Women Against Feminism. As Watson puts it elsewhere in her speech, the feminist cause is portrayed as “man-hating.” By involving both genders in the HeForShe campaign, she hopes to abolish the “us vs. them” mentality.
The actress, as you may remember, portrayed Hermoine Granger: the smart, complex, universally adored heroine of the Harry Potter series, in the films. Hopefully this will give her an ‘in’ with the movies’ younger viewers. But Watson isn’t taking that for granted. Addressing the potential for a backlash in her speech:
“You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN? It’s a good question and trust me I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better. And having seen what I’ve seen—and given the chance—I feel it is my duty to say something. English statesman Edmund Burke said: “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing.”
A favourite quote of mine, and one I hope will strike a chord with Emma Watson’s generation. A group with the power of the internet as a mobilisation and communication tool. U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon made a bit of a sketchy joke in response to Watson’s speech: “She’s been waving a magic wand. I hope you use your magic wand to end violence against women!”. But then English isn’t his first language and I think he is on board. Watson is serious, and I hope her audience don’t laugh off her message as a witch’s trick.
If they do, they have a lot to lose.
Watch Emma Watson’s full speech here.
* Quote by Virginia Wolf