How not to be a feminist

Do we need schools to teach girls how to be feminists? Or is that a contradiction in terms for a movement that believes in inclusivity and free choice?

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A new course that teaches feminism to young people will run at Bristol University this weekend, with “over twenty practical workshops on feminist tactics and techniques”. Hooray! I thought. Not only will they teach the principles of feminism, but they’ll give practical examples of how to deal with everyday discrimination. Like when you find out your male colleague is paid more than you for doing the same job, or when someone says something very patronising like, “Of course I wouldn't expect you to be interested”, and then only hours later when you're at home in bed do you realise they were being a misogynistic pig. The course could teach you to recognise those moments, then give you some solutions. That would be brilliant. Unfortunately this isn't that course.

The UK Feminista course, by marketing itself as a “UK Summer school” plays into the current idea that to be a feminist you must first learn how to be one. The press release is peppered with exciting words like “tactics” that make it sound like you have to somehow earn your feminist stripes and then you will be part of some sort of elite force, a club of men and women who know the Jedi-like secrets of the feminist arts.

More disturbing are the details of the actual classes, which include lessons on how to “stop lap-dancing clubs opening in their communities”. On the face of it, this may sound reasonable. Lap-dancing doesn’t exactly further the cause of female liberation. However, when you consider what these lessons might entail - it's basically telling women they can't be strippers. And what's wrong with that? It means telling women it is wrong to make a free choice about how they earn their living. That's something the patriarchy is already doing, and we shouldn't play into it.

Telling men and women the alleged rights and wrongs of feminism seems too dogmatic and prescriptive, and it risks putting people off. This is exactly the brand of rarefied feminism that Caitlin Moran's ironically titled How to be a Woman was battling against.

Telling men and women the alleged rights and wrongs of feminism seems too dogmatic and prescriptive, and it risks putting people off.

Instead, here's a simple way to test your feminist credentials: Do you have a vagina? If yes, then you are a woman. Do you believe women should be treated as equal to men? If yes, then you are a feminist (vagina optional).

A weekend of feminism 'dos and don'ts' isn't what feminism at its core should be. Surely feminism shouldn't be an exclusive club, but more of a big field with an open door policy? Because together we are stronger. This summer school should rethink its inherently exclusive rhetoric and instead fling its doors wide open.

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