Ellie Levenson: Feminism was something for our mothers

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The Independent Online

Most women my age don't like the word feminism and don't choose to identify as feminists. I know this because I have spoken to many women born in the Seventies and Eighties over the past couple of years as research for my book, The Noughtie Girl's Guide To Feminism, which is published today. In fact "I'm not a feminist but..." has been one of the most frequent refrains I've heard, with women then going on to tell me they are in favour of equal pay for women who do the same jobs as men, better paternity leave so that men and women can share childcare, and more sharing of domestic chores. But they don't want to be dictated to as to what they can and can't wear and they don't hate men. Some are not in favour of abortion. Some want to change their name when they get married and believe that not just name-changing but marriage itself is something feminism does not want them to do. How can they be feminists, they have asked, if they want these things?

And these are completely valid questions. Because feminism in the past has been characterised by po-faced earnestness, It is a movement where all too often humour has been missing. Not only that but previous generations of feminists have given the impression that you have to subscribe to a specific set of views, and agree with all of them, to be a part of it. What is more, you have to look a certain way be it keep all your body hair or wear shapeless clothes. No wonder young women today feel alienated by some feminists that have gone before.

Feminism for the Noughties seeks to reclaim individuality and choice when it comes to feminism. It doesn't prescribe a set of belief other than that men and women should be given equal opportunities and equal choices. Within that, we can do whatever we want. I am out and proud as a feminist and some of my choices reflect traditional feminism, while others don't.

I am married but I use the title Ms and have kept the surname I was given at birth, and there was certainly no being given away at my wedding. I do not do all the cooking or laundry in my house. On the other hand, it's not that unusual for me to play on the fluffier image of women when it comes to things like DIY or mowing the lawn. Sometimes I walk past a building site and am annoyed if there are no wolf whistles, even though traditional feminism would be hugely angry if there were wolf whistles.

That's because Noughties feminism sees life as a mass of contradictions and let's us choose how we live it. And, unlike many of the feminists who went before, we believe that, as long as women's decisions are real choices, then she can be a feminist whatever those decisions are. So if she wants to take her husband's surname, be a stay at home mum, do the majority of the domestic chores and shave her legs every day then this is fine, just as it is fine to do none of those things.

Some time ago at a book reading in New York, I asked the feminist writer Ariel Levy why so many women my age have the "I'm not a feminist but..." attitude. Rejecting the term is our way, she said, of rebelling against our mothers. But I think it's more than rejecting the term. It's about rejecting the judgemental attitude of some previous feminists, and the humourlessness that comes with it.

Pregnant Coleen joins the jet-ski set

It was great to see pictures yesterday of Coleen Rooney, six months pregnant and giving it her all on a jet-ski. It's hard to get the balance right when it comes to pregnant women – do you give up your seat on the train or do you give them the ignition key to a jet-ski and watch them zoom off?

I'd say do both – she'll know what she needs at any given time, and what she is capable of. The pictures reminded me, though, of a friend of mine who, when pregnant, kept a tally of who gave up their seat for her most on the train, men or women.

It turned out that it was other women who did this most frequently with men either not noticing her bump or not caring. Given how gruelling riding the London Underground at rush-hour can be, I bet she wished she had been able to emulate Coleen and could take a jet-ski from her home in Hackney up the canal and down the Thames to her office at Westminster instead.

The comforts of a global organisation

A man I know nobbled me at an event this week. He had recently started to work at English PEN, a writers' organisation that campaigns on behalf of persecuted authors around the world.

As my own book comes out this week, he suggested that I join, which I will gladly do. I am fully in favour of solidarity with people in your profession around the world and, following my conversation with the man from PEN, this was on my mind as another guest introduced himself to me as working for Bell Pottinger Sans Frontières, part of the Chime group of communications and public affairs agencies.

I wondered if this was another solidarity organisation like English PEN, or Reporters Sans Frontières, which does the same for journalists. I like the idea of Lobbyists Sans Frontières, an organisation that ensures all lunches with politicians are up to scratch, no matter where you are in the world, and was disappointed to be told that alas it was just another communications consultancy with no campaigning role.