by LUCY CHESTERTON AND JANE CARO
Jane: I was lucky enough to get to meet Lucy in person on a panel about feminism on Mornings on Channel 9 recently. I was able to apologise –again – but this time on television for hitting “send” in anger, in response to Lucy’s piece about feminism on Mamamia.
We also found that while we differed in some ways, fundamentally our belief in the importance of feminism is the same. If you saw the program, you will know that Lucy and I agreed to co-write an article about feminism and what it means to both of us. Here it is.
Feminism seems to confuse many people. They seem to believe that wanting to be equal means wanting to be the same. It doesn’t, it never has. It simply means wanting equal opportunities, equal pay for the same work and an equal right to control and manage your own life and decisions. A feminist believes that a woman is of equal value to a man, not the same as one, but she is also someone who wants to be seen as a human being first and as a woman second.
As a feminist, I seek respect over love – though I also believe that without real respect there is no real love – and this means I have largely (but not entirely) freed myself from the need for approval.
Feminism is not an organization. There is no sisterhood, no hierarchy, no tabernacle. I believe that feminism is actually a point of view; a way of seeing the world that puts a woman at the centre of her own life, rather than on the periphery of someone elses, and does not then call her selfish for doing so.
Moreover, feminism is an entirely honourable movement. Since Mary Wollstonecraft penned “Vindication of the Rights of Women” in 1792, women have slowly made progress – at least in the West – to full human rights. Feminism gave us the right to an education, the right to vote, the right to higher education, the right to our own earnings and inheritance, the right to have custody of our children, the right to say no to sex in marriage and the right to say yes to it outside of marriage and the right to know about our own bodies and reproductive organs.
It has given us (at least on paper) equal pay, access to contraception, abortion and no-fault divorce. Nobody gave us these rights. Women, brave enough to call themselves feminists (which has always attracted abuse), fought for them in the face of trenchant opposition and withering scorn and ridicule. I am always saddened when women of any age disavow feminism and so the courage and self-sacrifice of all the feminists who went before them.
Yet feminists have never killed anyone in pursuit of their goals. They have never fought wars or threatened human life. The suffragettes smashed some windows, chained themselves to railings and went on hunger strikes in their campaign for votes for women. One killed herself by throwing herself under the hooves of George V’s racehorse to draw attention to her cause. But feminists have never killed anyone else. How many liberation movements can claim the same?
And feminism isn’t just about the freedom of women. It has also liberated many men from the stiff, rigid and stern emotional straightjacket of masculinity so prevalent in the past. Men carrying pouches with tiny newborns to a coffee shop on a Saturday morning to give their wives a morning off are direct beneficiaries of feminism. They are being given the precious opportunity to build a real relationship with their children in the only way anyone actually can – by doing the hard work of caring.