Freya Berry: Our generation needs to reclaim feminism

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The Independent Online

A few years ago, Germaine Greer appeared on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. The feminist sat opposite the pop starlet Gabriella Cilmi, aged 17 at the time. "What do you think of feminism?," Simon Amstell asked Cilmi. Cilmi's response was to giggle, blush and say: "Er, I don't think people should say bad things about women? I don't know."

"It's like it was all pointless, isn't it?" said Amstell to Greer.

The problem is that my generation, like Cilmi, really don't know. Perhaps uniquely since the Pankhursts, we have grown up without any obvious feminist figurehead. Many of my peers take the view that, in the UK at least, women won the battle for equality long ago. Yet this is simply not the case. The attempt by MP Nadine Dorries to give abortion counselling to "independent providers" – i.e. pro-life companies – is just one recent example. Meanwhile, a leading sociologist, Catherine Hakim, in her poisonous book Honey Money, dismisses "Anglo-Saxon victim feminism". All this in a decade where the pay gap between men and women remains at 17 per cent, and my own university college is 70 per cent male.

It is inexplicable that so many, like Dame Judi Dench in a recent Guardian interview, declare themselves not to be feminists. The word has apparently been "tainted" by women who think they should be given "more rights than men" and like to hold bra burnings on Sunday afternoons. But the new post-feminism world is starting to look like the old chauvinist one. If you are a university-age male who has always allowed your mother to do the housework, telling a girl to "get back to the kitchen" is not ironic. Neither are pole-dancing classes, recently offered by a college at my university. Nor even are those recently-discontinued Topman T-shirts sporting such hilarious slogans as "Nice girlfriend, what breed is she?" Yet apparently, in a country where one in seven women has been coerced into sex, girls my age are supposed to see it all as a big joke.

Since so many view women's rights as no longer a problem, this trend for misogynist statements has increased alarmingly. It is not OK for our peers, or even the Prime Minister, to tell us to "calm down, dear". Feminism is, simply, the march for women towards equality. My generation needs to reclaim the label and end this tide of casual misogyny that masquerades as a joke.