The F-Word

A political article about burkas, Beyonce and the meaning of feminism.

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1. The F-Word

Forgive the ramblings of a 15 year old girl. But for the love of all things good in this world, like jammy dodgers and the smell of vanilla and orange crayons, there is an insatiable itch at the nape of my neck that must be scratched. It is a word shaped itch, stocky and full of potential, but it’s also scuffed; chapped at the fraying corners, like cigarette burns. 

The word is feminism. 

I go to an all-girls comprehensive school in the east end of London. The ethos that we are surrounded in is meant to bring out the intrinsic sense of girl-power within in us. And I’m not talking about the half-baked Spice-Girls calibre. We’re ruthless young women, prone to hormonal typhoons, but laced with venomous potential, nonetheless. However, we’re having a conversation about feminism in class one day. Take your pick of the best responses to the topic:

“I don’t like girls.”

“I swear all feminists are, like, lesbians?”

“Where’s feminism? Is it in Russia, or something?”

“That ain’t fair. Men and women should have equal rights.” 

It’s at times like this that I want to hug myself tightly and rock back and forth and say nice things to myself like “No, no, hush, no more talking, please stop talking, Oh God, Oh God.” 

Not all 15 year old girls are like this. In fact, most of the young women I know are exceptional and astute and witty and funny and kind. They know that knowledge is power and that the abominable fact of modern day life is that girls need as much know-how as possible. Because this world belongs to its men. My father and grandfather and uncles and cousins and teachers may not be ample reminders of this. But the statistics are. And, most sadly, Malala Yousafzai is. 

I am told that history teaches us so much. Sure. For five minutes, as my Mother says. Then we forget. It took a bullet through the head of a teenage Malala to show us that millions of girls around the world are being denied an education. We are sleeping, and others are dying. 

Remember that. 

Now, I don’t know why these girls are so opposed to feminism. They certainly don’t get it from our school, who may as well have designed the WRENS conscription posters. But I have a few, as of yet, unproved theories. 

Let’s start with the nation’s adopted Grandmother: Mary Berry. 

“Feminism is a dirty word… I would always stand up for women, but I don’t want women’s rights and all that sort of thing.” 

Come again, Mary, dear?

As well as being an excellent example of an oxymoron, Mary Berry’s interview demonstrates a clinical lack of understanding. And if teenage girls can’t relate to successful elderly bakers, then who better to seek empowering advice from than Katy Perry?

Oh, wait. She’s at it too. So is Lady Gaga. And Beyonce. Yes. Beyonce. And Taylor Swift. And Madonna. 

“I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” 

“I’m not a feminist… I hail men. I love men.”

These women and their incongruency! Maybe I’m wrong, but by saying frankly stupid and unprecedented things such as this almost excuses general misogyny. Ignorance is passed on as swiftly as flu, as gross as that simile may be. There are little girls who look up to them as items of success. In fact, we should hear this kind of stuff more often: “If they can do it, so can I. I am a powerful young woman and I can achieve anything. Except flying. Or transforming myself into an elephant cyclops. Or folding a piece of paper in half more than 8 times.” But feminism is a curse. It is an F-word. It makes the atmosphere at the dinner table suffocatingly intense, and you certainly don’t want to catch your children using it. It’s dirty. Better to stand by your man and not to make a fuss. 

Feminism isn’t about shouting at men, or burning bras, becoming lesbians, or living in tiny secluded women-only Andean cul-de-sacs. Feminism is not misandry and it is not based on extremism or hatred. It is the desire for co-equality. Simple human rights, man. It means loving your mother and your sister and your father and your brother (this is starting to sound a little like the lyrics to “Word Up”, now). You do not have to be fat or thin or tall or small or gay or straight or passive or aggressive or young or old or man or woman to be a feminist. You simply need to believe that women deserve life. And if that means free education for all, as a prerequisite, banning the burka or keeping it, ending prostitution to stop human degradation, adding Jane Austen’s face to the £10 note and creating better paid jobs for the female working minorities, then so be it. Whatever it takes. 

I am 15 years old. I don’t talk much. I am a girl. I believe in the rights of men and women so if I’m a feminist, then I’ll wear that label. Because labels don’t weigh much, after all. 

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