“Be yourself, because if you can get away with it, it is the ultimate feminist act.”
Liz Phair – American Singer/Songwriter
According to the Oxford English Dictionary Feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” The two words that jump out of that sentence are rights and equality. Surely every woman has the right to make her own choices and live her own life as she sees fit. You see, for me feminism is as much about choice and freedom as it is about equality.
And that right there is why I often find myself getting very depressed when feminist women (rarely men) get angry when a woman puts forward a vision of fulfilment that doesn’t rate climbing the career ladder her major priority in life.
Over the last few days we have had another stunning example of how we women seem to find it next to impossible to accommodate views that do not fit neatly with ours. Kirsty Allsop is the latest feminist to find herself in very hot water with the mainstream feminists who have been ranting and raving about her in our newspapers and on social media. You see Kirsty has opinions and has never been afraid to express them. Surely this is what feminists are all about? Having women’s voices heard? Not apparently if your opinions run contrary to the mainstream feminist view which seems to be all about achieving in education and career.
Ms Allsopp had the audacity to say in a wide ranging interview with The Telegraph that she thought that “women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward.”
She went on to say that if she had a daughter (she has two sons) she would advise her to postpone university and to concentrate on having a family while she was young and doing the career and university thing later on. She further said in an interview with Newsnight that she would have the same conversation with her boys.
Whether she is right or wrong is irrelevant. The point is that she has every right to express her opinion. She wasn’t saying that this is what every woman should do but that it is what she would advise her offspring to do. But the immediate rubbishing of her view along with plenty of derogatory commentary concerning her background (which is reasonably wealthy by all accounts) and her work with interiors, design and crafting surely runs contrary to what feminism should be all about?
For generations women have passed down wisdom and stories along with recipes from mother to daughter; precious nuggets of knowledge borne from experience of our grandmothers. In our enthusiasm for full equality we have narrowed our vision about what it is to be a woman – what it is to be a feminist.
Some of the greatest feminist women I know are working quietly in the home, caring for children, their aged parents and their household. They have little if any interest in board rooms or glass ceilings. Are there views on life less worthy? Are these women some lesser species of feminist?
We need to be very careful of becoming too macho in our pursuit of full equality and freedom. Actress Natalie Portman said “I want every version of a woman and a man to be possible. I want women and men to be able to be full-time parents or full-time working people or any combination of the two. I want both to be able to do whatever they want sexually without being called names. I want them to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad – human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a “feminist” story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.”
Before we can change the world we must change ourselves. As a women’s movement we must recognise that we women are as different as we are the same. We don’t all necessarily want the same things. Equality is essentially about choice. The choice to be yourself. It is vital that we recognise the right of each woman to make the choices that are right for her. And we need to support each other regardless of how we personally view those choices.
So if Kirsty Allsopp wants to tell her children that they might consider fertility and plan a family early and put off career advancement till later, that is fine. It is another way of doing things. No more and no less valid that waiting until you are established in your career for the babies.
But women can we please stop being so critical of other women whose views don’t chime with ours. We are often our own worst enemies… Ni neart go cur le cheile (no strength without unity)
Very well put and refreshing to see a calm and measured response the interview. I've been really dismayed by the negative comments Allsopp has received, not necessarily because I agree with her but because I think she has a right to express her views. As an early career academic with two very small children I'm struggling with the family/career question as we speak and not finding any clear answers.
Well said, Barbara. As a woman of 36 who is trying (so far unsuccessfully) to have a baby, I can see Kirsty Allsop's point. With everyone living longer, many of us having several careers and young people often being clueless as to what they really want to do in life, Kirsty's thoughts make total sense to me. A woman's fertile years are limited and this is something that – in our haste to impress upon women that they can be more than mothers – we have neglected to tell young women.
I totally agree that it is about choice . I had my children in my twenties , went to university in my thirties and then started my career . Worked for me if not for all
I think what myself and most of my friends found so frustrating about Ms Allsop was not necessarily her point of view but her stance that she was right and everyone who questioned her was wrong. She gave her opinion and was no doubt paid handsomely for it, so she should be able to take criticism and others opinions without resorting to the tantrum like tweets she has posted ever since.
Well said Barbara. A fair and balanced article. Feminism is about ALL Womens personal choices as to how they live their lives. Anyone who claims to be a feminist but belittles another woman (or man for that matter) because their views differ is not a true feminist. It seems to me some women like superiority more than equality. If women/women and women/men get caught up in silly divisive arguments we risk damaging any hard won progress already made.
I agree with her analysis of the problem. I had a issue with her answer to it.
One was that in the interview she aimed it at her virtual daughter. I'm glad to hear she plans to say it to her actual sons.
The other is that it won't work. I got a decent job from school (one that is closed to school leavers now). Neither me nor any of my cohort could afford a flat or house on a single salary (and this was preCeltic Tiger). Given that, I can't quite see how the 2014 school leaver is to manage. Either parents will have to chip in (many cannot) or something needs to change. This is one case where individual choice may not be enough.
Well said Barbara – what is feminism if it is not about a woman's right to choose?
You make some great points there Barbara, I agree that we don't all want the same things, but I think that Kirstie missed that point. She had some validity in what she said, particularly about fertility and I've put my own words down already about the rest. I love the Natalie Portman quote, we'll know we've arrived when we stop judging each other and start supporting instead I guess.
This is great to read about this, I was bout 14 when I started my work with my studies and this is not because our government did support but the reason I have to be on my feet, Today I have a son right now he is watching Free Tv Video Online and happy but when I was his age do not have these things.