Last week there was much ado about Netmums, the website which produced a poll pronouncing the end of feminism, on the basis that only one in seven of a group of women they surveyed self-defined as a feminist.
To dismiss feminism as ‘dead’ (as many media outlets promptly did) on the basis that one woman in seven constitutes an embarrassingly low turnout is interesting in itself, given that those figures would give it a nationwide ‘membership’ numbering just under four and a half million…more than ten times the membership of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties combined.
Young women were declared particularly averse to the movement, with those aged 20-24 least likely to call themselves feminists. But it is worth remembering that this survey, widely reported as if it reliably summed up the views of all women, canvassed only Netmums users. Whilst I’m sure there are plenty of young feminist mums out there, it’s probably fair to say that if you wanted a representative sample of how many young women aged 20-24 would describe themselves as feminists, surveying only those who are members of a parenting website probably wasn’t the most unbiased way to get it.
But regardless of the reliability of the figures, to ‘measure’ feminism as if it is some kind of card-carrying members club is to misunderstand the whole ethos of the movement. Somebody who works to further women’s rights and achieve gender equality is a feminist activist. But to be a feminist, you only have to believe that men and women should be treated equally – it’s that simple; not something many people even stop to think about, much less put a label on.
Want to know where all the feminists are? They’re the Oxford University students who are so fed up with the sexism they encounter that they’ve set up a Facebook page called “Misogyny Overheard at Oxford Uni”. The woman who set up a blog just to record her experiences because she couldn’t bear the constant sexual harassment in silence any more. The 22-year-old man who spends his time explaining women’s rights to other guys. They’re the recent graduates who’ve set up a network for young professional women to connect with female entrepreneurs and businesswomen. They’re the 48 male and female welfare officers at Cambridge University who wrote, brilliantly, to the student paper to denounce an article claiming women should avoid the ‘risk’ of being raped. They’re the young men proudly tweeting photographs of themselves wearing No More Page 3 T-shirts. The four-year-old girl who wonders why boys have to buy superheroes and girls have to buy princesses. Every little girl who doesn’t know why she gets the toy cleaning set or the cooker when the ray gun and the baseball bat look so much cooler. Every little boy who’s ever been shushed and ushered away because he wanted to play with the dolls.
Feminism isn’t a paid-up club or a badge-wearing photo opportunity; it’s an idea. And 10,000 women who’ve had that idea have written about their experiences on the Everyday Sexism website, simply because it didn’t seem right that they were treated differently because of their sex. That’s 10,000 feminists right there.
When a woman writes on our website:
“My shorts are a practical choice of clothing for the sport I train in; not an invitation for stranger's comments/judgements. I shouldn't even need to justify that”
That’s feminism. Would she have self-identified using the word on a Netmums survey (which also included the option to deem feminism “too aggressive towards men” just to make it really clear what the right answer was)? I don’t know. But honestly, it doesn’t really matter.
I can’t tell you how many feminists there are by percentage, or geographical location or ratio. But I can tell you there are a lot. Far more than you might expect of a ‘dead’ movement. I can think of no corresponding concept which critics and media alike are so wildly keen to loudly proclaim ‘Dead!’ ‘Finished!’ ‘Over!’ on the basis of the flimsiest of evidence. And that, in itself, speaks volumes.