Happy International Women’s Day! What is it? Why does it exist? I have no idea and I am too busy multitasking to find out. But in the spirit of the positive sisterhood it suggests, here is some good news: equality lives; feminism is dead. Finally, women can pipe down.
The bearer of this happy message is Lily Allen, who declared this week that she hated the word feminism. “Because it shouldn’t even be a thing any more,” she said. “We’re all equal. Everyone is equal. Why is there even a conversation about feminism? What’s the man version of feminism? There isn’t even a word for it. Menanism. Male-ism. It doesn’t exist.”
This looks more provocative than it is. I think it is Allen’s mangled way of saying that there is no need to keep harping on about feminism when it is obvious that men and women are equal and should be treated as such.
That is a fine sentiment, if Pollyanna-ish. The problem is that in theory everyone is equal, but the reality is somewhat different. One of the boons of being an international pop star is that one does not bump one’s head on the glass ceiling too often; it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
While many of them live in a rarefied world where things like childcare provision and unequal pay do not come up, female pop stars do like to talk about feminism. It is at least partly because they are asked about it constantly, possibly tediously, in a way that their male counterparts are not. Does Alex Turner have strong views on discrimination in the workplace? What does Harry Styles make of the gender pay gap? It doesn’t come up, oddly.
The result is a regular drip-drip of woolly comments – some brainless, some misguided, some downright damaging – from Beyoncé’s assertion “I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like ‘Bootylicious’”, to Lady Gaga’s “I’m not a feminist. I love men.” In the light of pearls like this, one might sympathise with Allen’s desire to close down the conversation.
That is not a solution, though. Feminism is, and should be, a broad church – it is just another word for equality – but there are better and worse arenas for the debate. The weight on women in the public eye to represent their sex is crushing to the point of being self-defeating. Why should the token female panellist on a comedy quiz show carry the can for an entire gender’s sense of humour? Why should a pop star “come out” as a feminist?
Allen made her comments in a men’s magazine she has guest-edited on the theme “How to be a man”, which is troubling in itself. She edited the magazine because she is releasing a new album, which she has named Sheezus, creating her image, Eve-like, out of Yeezus, the last album by male rap phenomenon Kanye West. Given the context, it is probably unfair to expect too much in the way of nuanced gender politics.
Still, two rules suggest themselves. If you are a woman in the public eye and you don’t have anything nice to say about feminism, think about not saying anything at all. And if you are a reader faced with another set of provocative comments, check whether the person saying them has a record to sell, add a pinch of salt and move on to a more reliable role model.
Goodbye to a comedy training ground
Nothing brings on the urge to hide all the pens like a celebrity petition. On the axing of BBC3, though, the many famous faces corralling outrage might have a point.
The channel has been responsible for Snog, Marry, Avoid?, F**k Off, I’m Ginger and eight whole series of Russell Howard’s Good News but its deletion is still bad news for comedy talent and fans alike.
It has always been a mixed bag – part proving ground for alternative Britcoms, part repository for salacious teen docs and reality rubbish. Despite the widespread rending of garments, putting the channel online may well be the forward-thinking thing to do.
It may also spell the end of the successful slow-burning sitcom, such as Gavin & Stacey, which started as a silly sapling on Freeview before becoming a mighty, fun-for-all-the-family comedy oak on terrestrial. As for glorious oddities such as Pulling, Him & Her and Uncle, where will they now find their first home? On Sky, probably. Where their audiences will be smaller but budgets far, far bigger.
Food for thought
It has not been a good week if you like food. First, high-protein diets were revealed to be as harmful to health as smoking. Then the WHO suggested people should halve their daily sugar intake. Carbs, as Dr Atkins has told us in no uncertain terms, are still the enemy. Fat is the devil in tasty form. That leaves fruit and vegetables, which are likely crawling with pesticides. So what to give up for Lent this year? I suggest all reports about nutrition which do not boil down to four words: balanced diet, more exercise.
Fitting memorial to a wounded people
The Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg has been selected by the Norwegian government to create an artwork to mark the 2011 Utoya massacre in which Anders Breivik killed 69 people. Dahlberg’s proposal is extraordinary: he will slice a 3.5m slit into the peninsula which faces Utoya, literally cutting the end of it adrift to make a “symbolic wound” where the atrocity took place. Its walls will be lined with the names of the dead.
The earth excavated to make the void will then be used to create another sculpture on the site in Oslo where Breivik’s car bomb killed a further eight people. Simple, raw, effective and a powerful expression of loss.
There is a tendency, certainly in the UK, to deride, reject and criticise the financing of public sculpture, but every so often a piece comes along that stops everyone who sees it in their tracks. “Memory Wound” will be such a work.