Ellie Levenson: Feminism was something for our mothers

Related Topics

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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness