It’s Far From Over

Anyone who lived through the 1960s could be forgiven for thinking that feminism has reached its sell by date. Girls now overtake boys at school, outnumber men at university and many earn more than their male counterparts. But, even as the pay-gap closes, the 21st century has seen feminism roar away like never before, emerging as one of the hottest modern brands. Its founding principle of ‘equality for women’ now underpins just about every facet of public and business life.

You can’t open a newspaper today without reading a feminist critique of just about anything: the justice system, mainstream politics, the internet, movies. And while no other movement enjoys quite as much media validation, its increasing influence on how we live day to day also makes it one of the most divisive.

Grown Like Topsy

Once the ideology of a group of female academics, the suggestion all women should shun domestic duty for careers and independence was popularised by the 1963 best seller The Feminine Mystique.Betty Friedan’s description of 1950s housewives living in a  “comfortable concentration camp” and suffering from a “problem that has no name” was enough to inspire a whole generation to leave home and head for the cites and jobs.

But feminism’s recent surge in profile in books, films and even as a backdrop to the raunchy music industry demonstrates its current potency.  Beyoncé’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in front of a screen emblazoned with the word “feminist” made it a top celebrity issue.  This sparked competition between ingénue stars like Emma Watson who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films and Stephanie Meyer of Twilight, usually known for their sweetness and innocence, to become the foremost celebrity faces of a cause which is anything but. (Below: Emma Watson, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.)emma watsonThe movement entered the public conversation so often that TIME Magazine suggested the word feminist should be banned. Gender, sexism and the role of women today was openly discussed by leading candidates in the recent US Republican and Democratic primaries.  Here in the UK, even the lightest of feminist infractions between men and women wield inflamed discussions which go viral on Twitter.

(Beyonce’s latest views on feminism can be found in THIS interview with The Huffington Post.)

What’s fuelling its star appeal?

It’s controversial nature. The tendency of new feminism to seek to rearrange, not simply law and politics, but also human biology by ignoring fundamental gender differences is deeply divisive. Over the past half century, relations between the sexes have soured rather than improved.  Feminist claims that women in the West are living in a “sea of misogyny” and face daily horrors, online and off, are seen as hypersensitive and disproportionate, particularly when set against real world stuff such as the recent sex attacks in Cologne and  barbarous behaviour by  Islamic extremists.

Secondly, the fact that it is pervasive and entrenched. Feminist culture is now touching on how people think and speak and with what words they use or images they view in a way never seen before. Feminists constantly demanding that women be depicted according to their ‘correct’ values are impinging on freedom of speech.

Where will it go next?

It will continue, because no one wants to really go back to the past. Even backward thinking Saudi Arabia has made moves to climb on the feminist bandwagon. Last December women cast ballots and stood in municipal elections for the very first time in their country’s history.  But to endure, feminism will be forced to soften its rhetoric and refocus its message to make it more acceptable.  Rather than the progressive and enlightened movement it was, it is now seen as radical and male-intolerant.

Ultimately feminism will have to face up to the misgivings being voiced about why society is falling in so readily with remodelling social behaviour in a way that we have never had before in history.