Don't pension off feminism now, young woman - Life and Style - The Independent

Don't pension off feminism now, young woman

The spirit of the suffragettes may have waned in the Nineties, but equal rights are still a mirage, says Julia Brosnan

Early one morning recently, six old ladies dressed up as suffragettes chained themselves to the railings outside Manchester town hall in protest against their meagre pensions. I went along, notebook in hand, bearing the assuredly temporary concern of one who is several decades short of retirement. My main aim was to congratulate them on their magnificent publicity stunt (long dresses, funny hats, menacing chain collection, and all over 70), so it was a surprise to find myself thrust upon a journey into the meaning and purpose of pre-millennial feminism. After all, they'd only donned a few pinafores.

Let me rewind a few years. I grew up when girls were women and the local consciousness-raising group expelled anyone who got it wrong. Life in the late Seventies/early Eighties was something of a forerunner to Mrs Merton - one long heated debate. Not about the pros and cons of feminism (we were sorted on the fact that patriarchy was the problem) but the minutiae of particular strains.

Then a new Eighties generation arrived, including many who would have been expelled from a whole range of groups but for the fact they had no interest in joining. By the time the Nineties got going, everyone was a girl decked out in industrial-strength lipstick and reinforced bras. Meanwhile the anti-feminist backlash kicked in. The men's movement claimed society was overrun with feminists (witness all the High Court judges, MPs, etc) and women-only car parks. (Where are they? Has anyone ever seen one?) And post-feminism came up with the original idea of putting down women in favour of men. Both have been deconstructed by a new generation of feminists, the results of which look remarkably similar to what was going around 25 years ago. But thinking you've seen it all before is but a sign of age - which brings me back to the railings.

"Do you know the story of the suffragettes?"asks Gertie, stalwart of several pensioners' action groups.

I give the sort of patronising "Naturally" that I hope no one gives me when I hit the twilight zone. If they do, I'll punch them.

The ladies then dive into their own heated debate on the subject, and it dawns on me: I am completely ignorant. All I know is the cartoon- and- slogans version involving railings and "Votes for Women" badges. "The suffragettes fought to improve the terrible working conditions of women who were often in low-paid, temporary, unsafe work, just as they are today," says Joan, president of the British Pensioners and Trade Unionists Association.

"The pensions issue is relevant because many women are still in non-pensionable jobs and need career breaks. This is why talk of private pensions is so worrying: many women of our generation couldn't even afford the full stamp and are now amongst the poorest in our society."

Hearing these pensioners talk about the brute facts of existence threw the anti-feminist backlash into even sharper relief. How can feminism be "finished" when many of the things that its forerunners fought for over 100 years ago haven't been achieved? And does anyone still care?

I went looking for some women in their early twenties to sus out their heated debates. I found Kat in the students union. Is she a feminist? "No. I'm not into dividing people up like that. I'm more post-gender and pansexual." Pardon? "I don't want to judge people according to their gender or sexuality."

Does it work in practice? Kat tells me that after living with a girl friend she flat-shared with someone who happened to be male. She was amazed: "It was horrible - he was everywhere. He took up so much space and he never did any housework." Didn't this change her views on feminism? "Oh no," she says. I make a mental note to ask her again in five years' time.

Then I meet Beena. "I do believe in equality but I wouldn't call myself a feminist because of the taboo," she says. Really? "Oh yes - the media stereotype of a woman who's bitter and not getting on in life is very powerful. The word 'feminist' ties a noose around your neck, although I do think the media handle women's issues very unfairly - they're in the dark ages." Did she discuss this at college?

"No, the word 'feminist' never came up - not in the three years I was there." I find this a bit incredible.

"Students were more concerned about paying off their loans. And being Asian, race was a bigger issue for me." Like Kat, she isn't sure whether she'll vote: "I haven't ever voted. I've lost faith; I don't think things will change."

Feeling about 105, I bump into Jo, who turns out to be a modern- day suffragette: "I'm proud to call myself a feminist. As a young women with a career, I think we should have equal opportunities (which we haven't at the moment) and I also think that young working- class women with babies should be integrated back into the education system and given a chance."

Do many of her friends share her views? "Oh yes. I became a feminist at 16 through a group of strong friends at school (a girls' grammar) and a teacher who taught women's history. I did a project on the suffragettes and I'm very proud of what they did - that's one of the reasons I will always use my vote."

In her world, at least, things seem to have come full circle. Jo, who is also well up on the whole "post" thing (modern, gender, feminism etc), tells me that Camille Paglia is absurd. I tend to agree. After all, what has she ever said about Serps?

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

    £50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

    SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

    £50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

    Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week