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2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Fixed Show

I taught a class the other day. A mixed class, slightly more than half girls. It wasn’t on feminism, but the issue came up. Out of interest, we did a straw poll. Not everyone would have called themselves a ‘feminist’. So far, so what I expected. Some of the girls didn’t. OK – not everyone does, not everyone HAS to. That wasn’t the worrying part.

The worrying part was that none of the girls spoke. None. In a class of twelve. Not a big group. Some of the boys spoke sensitively and eloquently on why they were feminists, or expressed a feeling that women should enjoy social and economic parity with them. None of the girls spoke.

Long long ago in the days of my youth, when I was an undergraduate at Oxford, that free-thinking bastion of the universe – feminism was a dirty word among the undergraduates. This wasn’t what I had expected, and things certainly developed while I was there, not least in part due to the unflinching feminism of the female tutors I was lucky enough to come across. This wasn’t “read the Vagenda, go out protesting in dungarees” this was the continual and emphatic support of me as an equal with my male peers, with as much of a right to speak as theirs. By the end of University – hell, by the end of first year, I was a loud and proud feminist.

I’m not saying that everyone should turn out the same way. Not at all. Nor do I think that you have to use the word ‘feminism’ to live a life of equality and understanding. But why wouldn’t you? Why does it have to be a dirty word that female celebrities shy away from? “I wouldn’t say I was a feminist but…” comes up so often.

I’d hoped that in a post Emma Watson, post Beyonce world, things might  look a little different.

Why can’t we talk about this? Why do people feel shy to say that they believe in the complete equality of the sexes?

Part of this, I fear, is to do with the idea that feminism isn’t sexy. From the twitter Lothario who said that he and his friends wouldn’t date feminists, to the reluctance of TV “hotties” to use that word. Why isn’t it sexy? What’s wrong with the thought that someone might have wholeheartedly chosen you as an equal, rather than submitted to you as a superior?

I’d like to think feminism was sexy. After all, there’s nothing more attractive than being found attractive. How can you find someone’s attraction genuine unless you are an equal? Am I just misunderstanding the whole thing?

Just imagine how many people, if asked, “do you believe in the social and economic equality of the sexes”, would say yes. It’s only a fraction of those who would say “yes” to being feminists. It’s still seen as a dirty word. It’s going to be a gradual process, but this has to change. We have to say that we feel OK with promoting equality, if we want to see any social change in the future.

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