Feminism, a term coined by philosopher Charles Fourier, has gone through successive waves of different meanings since 1837.
With the climax of the Conservative party leadership elections edging closer and closer, the candidates have come under extreme scrutiny regarding their personal life, views and convictions. Recently, Tory leadership hopeful Dominic Raab announced that he doesn’t classify himself as a feminist. This statement caused quite a stir, especially from Labour MP Jess Phillips, who criticised Raab for not previously showing any dedication to helping the status of women’s rights, either in the past or for the future, thus dampening the actual message Raab wanted to get through.
Not many of us can actually identify what a feminist is anymore. We would all like to think that the roots of the term still apply, in trying to achieve equality of the sexes. However, as Raab has demonstrated, the word is so heavily politicised that it has either several meanings, or even worse, none. The power of the term has been taken away by the way in which it is used today. Through his opinions on gender equality, Raab made it extremely clear that he is a champion of women’s rights, showed clearly through his proposals to both increase the length of paternity leave and ensure women cannot be made redundant during maternity leave and for six months afterwards. If you ask me, this sounds exactly what a defender of equality would propose.
Although Raab may have described some feminists as “obnoxious bigots” in 2011, and rightly so, his past language must be scrutinised. I am, however, inclined to agree with him. As is the case in any movement, there will always be fringes and extremes that do not represent what the base stands for. We can see this more clearly than ever now with any movement, whether it be conservatism or socialism. The way a term might have meant one thing when it was formed doesn’t mean that it cannot change or be twisted and moulded into something else.
Just because you don’t conform to a particular title or term, doesn’t mean that you can’t support what is right. To specify that equality must be a solid base for society, and that this base cannot be built through double standards, isn’t a crime.
I don’t believe that Raab was, for one second, trying to distance himself from equality of sexes, but merely from the term feminist which has slipped far from what it was founded on. Raab has come under heavy fire for declaring that he isn’t a feminist, but has explained clearly that sexism is wrong, whether it is towards a woman or a man. Is this not what feminism wants to achieve anyway?
Must we adopt labels as a crucial part of our identity if we want to make a change, or can we step back from tags and soundbites and look at the actual policies?