Lily Allen is right: feminism needs women to stop being horrible to each other

The last 2000 years has given us a lot to be angry about, but let's not attack each other

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The Independent Online

The battle for gender equality is in danger of turning into a bitchfight. First, it was the suffragettes v the suffragists, then it was femininity v feminism. Now, just as the 'f-word' is enjoying a resurgence, Lily Allen has weighed in, saying it’s women rather than men who who objectify the female body and that she hates the word ‘feminism.

Speaking to Shortlist she argued that “girls are pitted against each other” and women need to “stop being so horrible to each other” if we want to see a more equal society. Her words have already sparked a backlash. If there’s anything we feminists hate more than being told how to be woman by a man, it’s being told how to be a man by a woman. Especially one who says "Why is there even a conversation about feminism?"

I understand feminist anger. From repression to abuse, harassment to assault, the last 2000 years have given women a lot to be angry about.  Yet we need to channel our ferocity or we reduce feminist debate to whoever shouts the loudest. As feminist writer Paris Lees said after receiving condemnation for explaining why she doesn’t mind cat calls: “if you attack women who share their thoughts on feminism honestly, even if you hate those views, you're pushing people away from feminism.”

It’s time to stick together. Debating gender rights is emotive but women’s issues will be undermined if we don’t support one another. That doesn't mean we have to agree with someone on every single point they make: that would be unrealistic. But let’s not write off feminism completely.  To quote the (amazing) Hilary Mantel, for a woman to say 'I'm not a feminist' is [like] a lamb joining the slaughterer's guild.“

Over decades, veins of misogyny have bled through our patriarchal society and stoked mutual distrust. It’s not our fault we’re so keen to fight amongst ourselves. We think that we need to better our female competition, to be considered according to a society that for so long has given value to women based upon male standards of beauty.

Lily Allen is right when she says that women “are their own worst enemy.” The meanest magazines about women are ones written by women for women. Some of the most insidious prejudiced venom is spat from lipsticked mouths. Heat magazine has an infamous “ring of shame” for cellulite, sweat patches and ugly toes. This self-defeating stuff sells. Our thought patterns have been infected.  As Allen admits: “I know that when I’m sitting in a restaurant and a really beautiful women walks in who is skinny, I instinctively think, “Oh she’s really skinny and beautiful and I’m really fat and ugly.  Every man I speak to always says they find that kind of woman gross and prefer a bit more meat.. So it’s more of a competitive thing. It’s weird. We should stop being so horrible to each other.”

Especially because women are brilliant and even more so together. There is a bubbling, intimate atmosphere amongst a group of women drinking together, sharing their peculiar sense of humour, much sharper, darker and funnier then anything a mixed group offers.

So as long as we can fundamentally agree on the following four things, then there’s no need to for us to fight. Gender equality worldwide is more important than disagreement about the details. Getting along makes it’s easier to achieve this goal. I don’t care if society thinks you’re better than me as long as you don’t. And please always laugh at my jokes.