A response to Angela Epstein

Congratulations Daily Mail, I have finally succumbed to your baiting.

Before I tear the barb from my lip and get on with my life, I’ll address a few points from your post by Angela Epstein.

In the article she writes about her appearance on Newsnight with Mary Beard (LEGEND) and Natasha McElhone.

Here’s her response to host Emily Maitlis’s enquiry as to whether she would call herself a feminist:

“I hoped my blow-dried hair and figure-hugging dress would give her some clue as to the answer.

“Feeling a little mischievous, I was tempted to ask her whether I looked like one of those grumpy women in bad clothes who spend their days in a state of agitation about whether it’s right to let girls play with dolls.”

So, as a feminist, here’s my response:

  • I don’t blow dry my hair because it doesn’t work. Even hairdressers haven’t cracked it. A visit to the hairdressers is akin to others’ fear of the dentist. There is nothing anti-feminist about having your hair cut.
  • I’m not a thong fan, therefore figure-hugging isn’t really my style
  • I’d like to see a picture of one of these  ‘grumpy women’ please – this is pure speculation
  • The ‘pink stinks’ campaign, and others like it, is not about removing dolls from the arms of little girls, it’s about removing gender bias from children’s toys. So in other words, boys can play with dolls and girls can be free to dress up as doctors

Then Emily takes affront with the simple, but effective, Everyday Sexist Project, which allows users to submit their experiences of sexism directly on the site or via social media

“Rather than campaigning to help women, feminists today are more likely to be picking fights on Twitter, or dressing up petty grievances as proof of rampant ‘sexism’.”

If  you don’t tell someone that calling women sexist names, groping the body parts of women in clubs entirely uninvited, kerb crawling after school girls and making comments is wrong, then who will? Emily’s issue with Everyday Sexism is the fact that it does as it says ‘on the tin’; it reports ‘everyday’ sexism. If women (and men) don’t reject the tiresome, patronising comments or don’t resist behaviour, it becomes (and remains) acceptable, as it has. Hence the rise of ‘LAD culture’. I used to be scared to walk home in the dark as a school girl. As an adult, occasionally that feeling returns.

On Friday night I went to St Moritz in Soho, celebrating the last performance of Bouncers and Shakers, two plays performed at the BBC (as part of a BBC Club society). Now, I have problems with Bouncers as a play – the behaviour it depicts is so laden with misogyny, you feel playwright John Godber but be against it, but then so much of it comes at you in the hour-long duration of the play that it’s possible to feel offended rather than inspired to do anything; that you as a woman are a solitary object – the butt of a joke – and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Issues with Bouncers aside, I was following my friend to the club’s cloakroom when a young man said to his friend rather loudly; “I’d like to set them on fire”.

Just like that, tripping off his tongue like it was something everyone was thinking.

I turned around and said “excuse me?” and joined the man at his table. I questioned why he felt so strongly in his reaction to me walking across the room (calling out “Are you in there?” to my friend). I stated that my loud voice may have been irritating but was surprised that it would evoke such a response. We had a calm, humorous conversation about the ‘fiery phrase’ (ahem, sorry!) Ten minutes later, he’d taken what he’d said back, apologised, called me ‘very cool’ and we parted with a handshake.

The problem is of course, that I don’t get to have these conversations with everyone, but I think it’s important that we have them whenever we can. That’s one of the reasons I’m not commenting directly on the Daily Mail article. Because here I can respond in a controlled, collected way. In a comments section, it’s hard to have a face-to-face style discussion. There’s very little chance for a structured debate and the increase of frustration is commonplace.

Back to the article; feeling incensed (or perhaps proud, given that she is being paid to write her article), Epstein takes a potshot at the Twitter users who have commented on her Newsnight appearance;

“Firebrand feminists who pit sister against sister… those who claim to champion women want to bully me for saying I don’t believe in a cause they have bastardised

Now, I’m surprised at this. Firstly, I never feel like I have been attacked by another feminist – on Twitter or otherwise. Also, disagreeing with someone’s opinions on social media is not bullying. Trolling someone – saying that they should die, are ugly, too old, etc… – is what happened to Mary Beard, not Epstein during her Newsnight appearance. By writing this article, Epstein is pitting herself against an entire community. As an educated woman (as she’s keen to point out in the article), she will be aware of this.

“Indeed, what the sour Lefty Twitterati won’t admit is that all the great battles on which feminism was founded have been won – including political representation, and equality in education, the workplace and other areas of public life.”

(My first reaction to this was “well this is a pile of…”) I’m going to try and be constructive here. They haven’t been won. There still aren’t enough women in Parliament – in fact in general, the government does not represent a cross-section of British society. Sexual discrimination is still rife (did I ever tell you the story of how the all-male staff of Sports Direct in Maidstone had a competition to see who could touch my chest when I wasn’t looking? Boxing Day 2007. I never went back.) Women in comedy are still in the minority – the boring ‘are women funny?’ debate proving popular with ‘but they aren’t’ commenters and let’s not get started on women in radio and sports, the fascination with women’s post-pregnancy weight in the media and pretty much all of the Daily Mail’s ‘sidebar of shame’. Oh and Robin Thicke. (Needless to say, the ‘ass float’ in his most recent video wasn’t the biggest ass on screen…)

“An emancipated, financially independent woman couldn’t care less whether Jane Austen is emblazoned on a tenner. I don’t: I just care that I’m being paid enough of them”

I’m an emancipated, financially independent woman, took my eleven plus exam to go to a girls’ grammar school and went to University – just like Epstein. I carved out a career for myself. I don’t have the husband or kids yet. I don’t reject the idea, nor to I reject it – so therefore, there are potential parallels in our lives. However, I care that a major female figure was set to be replaced on a bank note by another ‘white male’ (as campaign organiser The Woman’s Room describes it) – currency is part of a national identity after all.

“One survey found that women who own businesses earn nearly 17 per cent more than men in the same position. That’s my definition of feminism – not some spurious insistence on female quotas and women-only shortlists.”

Two things to comment on here:

  • This is a survey about women who ‘own businesses’, it doesn’t represent women who work for someone else. Business is such a wide area, it’s fairly impossible to take such a statistic seriously – what kind of businesses are we talking here? Banking? Bakeries? A venues group?
  • Feminism isn’t defined by ‘quotas’. It’s not defined by women owning their own businesses either. The option for this to happen is obviously part of it, but I doubt you’ll find ‘quotas’ in the dictionary under ‘feminism’.

This quote really does sum up Epstein’s unsteady line of fire quite well:

“If I ever was a feminist, I can’t be now – not according to those who loathe the fact I see marriage as more than a piece of paper, that I believe women have no place in a combat zone, and that I know my daughter won’t be stereotyped for playing with dolls.”

Here, Epstein brings up three unsubstainsiated thoughts:

  • Feminism doesn’t disagree with marriage – however the old fashioned vows that saw a woman declared a ‘man’s wife honouring and obeying’ are agreed by many to be outdated, even by some religious organisations.
  • Where did a debate about women in a combat zone come in? Surely that’s another complex issue she should devote a whole article to rather than bringing it up at the last moment? Should women not be bringing their strategy and medical skills to the battlefield as well as on the front line itself? Or should women be banned from the armed forces altogether? Be clearer, Epstein!
  • Girls aren’t stereotyped for playing with dolls – the issue people have is that the dolls themselves are usually stereotypes.

“So ashamed and depressed am I by a once-laudable movement which has corrupted its heritage and condemns me for saying so.

“For that, I think any sensible woman will join me in feeling saddened by how irrelevant and niche modern feminism has become.”

I don’t feminism isn’t corrupted, I believe it is fighting corruption before it itself becomes heritage. If the suffragettes were around today, of course they would be talking on social media. It’s a totally modern, intuitive way of linking up voices around the world. How amazing is that? If there wasn’t a reason for people to agree, that voice would have died out a long time ago.

Instead, those who don’t agree with feminism decide to try and drown this global voice instead, but it’s not working. Those who oppose it are more than welcome to sit down with me in Soho to talk it out. And that includes you, Epstein.