I think of course I'm a feminist. I believe, profoundly, that women should not be treated differently because of their gender. That they should have equal pay for an equal job. That they should have the right to choose with whom they have sex, when, where, and indeed how. That they should not be barred from medical care, employment, social activities, sports or anything else purely because of being what they are.
I have never, once, thought of myself, a woman, as less able, less capable, less entitled than a man. Any man*.
Of course I'm a feminist. Aren't we all? Women and men?
But I also wax my legs (not as often as I should), wear make up and bras (I've breast-fed four children, of course I wear bras), take the primary role in caring for those children, map-read rather than driving, cook the majority of the meals, accept that sometimes employing a woman (me) who goes off on maternity leave three times in five years is less than convenient or ideal and realise that there are some things that men and women do, and will always do, differently.
Am I a feminist?
I've been thinking recently that what I really am, above anything else, is a chronic relativist. I find it very easy to see the other side and, as a result, very difficult to come down on one side or the other. There is very little I'm certain about. Very little on which I have a hard, unshakeable opinion. Very little on which I cannot see that perhaps the others may have a point.
I'm sure it makes me very irritating. But I'm also sure it doesn't stop me being a feminist. Whatever those others may think.
Wikipedia (of course) says
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.
And I find myself thinking: Well, yes. Naturally. But what does "equal" mean?
Caitlin Moran's a feminist. She's written a whole book about it: How to be a woman. A (her words) funny, but polemic book about feminism.
And I wanted to love it. I wanted to agree with everything she says. I wanted to shout about it, and make every woman, and man, I know, read it. But I couldn't. She made me laugh, lots. She made me nod my head in agreement, lots. But somehow she didn't quite convince me.
There's the premise for a start. She would have me believe that she doesn't know how to be a woman. That she was an ugly, ungainly teenager desperately wondering how to be a woman. That works as an idea. It even works with her self-deprecating stories. It just doesn't work if, like me, you spent most of your teenage years wondering not, how to be a woman, but how to be Caitlin Moran. Terrifyingly clever, terrifyingly cool, undeniably a woman.
More importantly, I'm not sure her arguments work. She's very keen on flirting, for instance. She describes herself as a natural flirt. (Another reason, incidentally, I find it hard to believe she ever struggled with being a woman: in my experience, natural flirts sail through life on a sea of half-raised eyelashes, coy glances and witty asides. Life for them is much easier than it is for the rest of us). And she says, I heartily believe that, should they wish to, strident feminists are allowed to flirt their way to the top. Her logic is that it's just the same as male bonding, and if it gets you where you want to go, then you should do it.
But I'm just not sure. She approves of flirting your way to the top, but she loathes, loathes with a passion, lap-dancing clubs. And I can't help but feel that one is the top of the very large slippery slope that leads to the other. Not that I'm saying that flirting is the same as lap-dancing, but I am saying that it seems to me that if you flirt your way to the top you are using your femininity to exploit men's weakness for that femininity to your advantage.
Is that really that different from using your nice bottom and pretty breasts to convince men to stick £50 notes in your pants, if you are not being coerced or forced into it and if that is what you actively want to do?
I also think she misses a big, glaring, probably pink, elephant in the room. She covers pants (should be bigger), bikini "grooming" (not necessary and actually probably rather damaging in more ways than just the obvious), weight (doesn't really matter as long as you're healthy and happy - and oh, isn't she missing something with that innocuous "happy" at the end there?), how to cope with your body and what it does and men's bodies and what they do, pregnancy, motherhood and abortion, sexism, feminism and it-bags and she's very shouty on all of it, very funny on much of it, and terrifyingly accurate on most of it. But she doesn't deal with the one issue which for me hits right at feminism in the West in the 21st century.
How do we combine our hard-won right to work, to fulfill ourselves, to get to the top of whatever it is we do, to be the best, be paid the best and enjoy all of the privileges that brings with the fact that, however you cut it, we're still the ones that have the babies. What does feminism say about that fight? About that argument? About the juggling act that is what got me blogging in the first place?
And when will we stop being judged for it?
She doesn't say. And I'd really have liked to know.
And maybe it's my chronic relativism, or maybe it's just my experience, but I think that that one fact: the fact that we have the babies, means that after we've done that (and, as she says, it doesn't really matter whether you do have babies or not, you will be asked about it and judged on it), life is always, to some degree, a compromise, and a compromise that men will never have to make. Because even if you model yourself on Rachida Dati and go straight back to work from the maternity unit, you will be making compromises one way or another and, perhaps more importantly for feminists, you will be judged for doing so. No-one, but no-one will sit back and say "Oh well, it's her choice, I'm sure she knows what she's doing".
Not a chance. They'll analyze, and criticise. And comment on how quickly (or otherwise) you've got your figure back while doing so.
And they'd never (they'll never have to) do that to a man. Especially the figure bit.
So sorry, Caitlin. I enjoyed your book, I really did. But it hasn't taught me how to be a woman. Or a feminist.
I guess I must have been both already.
I should mention that the book was, very kindly, sent to me by Emily O. A million thanks.
*Caveat, because, as I say, I'm a relativist too: I'm clearly not as fast as Usain Bolt, or as witty as Stephen Fry, or as beautiful as Andrej Pejic. But that's not just because I'm a woman. Honest.