In-fighting injures feminism

Ellie Levenson, author of The Noughtie Girl’s Guide To Feminism, wants an end to the in-fighting…

One of the defining characteristics of the feminist movement, as well as other liberal movements throughout history, has been the in-fighting and internal spats which have at times becomes so important to the participants that they overshadow everything else, taking over as the primary cause on which people focus their efforts.

What I had not realised though is that these spats don’t necessarily happen organically, but are pushed upon you by others who, wanting a good story, would rather a good fight than a co-ordinated campaign. I’ve specifically noticed this over the past week while promoting my book, where some branches of the media are only interested in it if it can be written about in terms of an argument between feminists, or as one person put it, a bitch fight. Clearly this language isn’t helpful, and neither are such spats.

In some ways I have gone along with this for publicity. I wrote a column in which I claimed that previous generations of feminists have let us down. Have they? Well, in some sense they have. After all, feminism has moved on and criticising us, which many older feminists do, for our clothes, our sex lives, our alcohol consumption, is not helpful. But they also achieved much for which we should be grateful.

Other publicity opportunities I have been less keen to take up – an national newspaper article, for example, that wished to pitch my mum and I against each other each talking about feminism from the perspective of our own generation. We have things to say on this, of course – we agree with each other on about 80 per cent of feminist issues, and strongly disagree on the rest. But we didn’t trust the editors not to make us out to be having a major argument. After all, it’s not just my mum and I who largely agree with each other but most feminists have more that binds us together than tears us apart.

Of course my book, which looks at issues affecting women’s lives in today’s western society, has lots which other feminists may take issue with. To start with, the cover looks like “chick lit”. This is a deliberate decision to try to bring in readers who wouldn’t normally pick up a book on feminism. If my book is only read by people who already consider themselves to be feminist then it will be a failure.

And the lines I take inside the book will no doubt rile many feminists. I do not think that you have to believe in abortion to be a feminist, though I am pro-choice and would like everyone to be. I don’t have a problem with short skirts, high heels or pink. I do think that when a man buys you dinner it is disingenuous to think you haven’t given him the impression that something sexual may happen.

And I am guilty of not being sisterly towards all women in it. I have an issue with Fay Weldon who I call a ‘misogynist in feminist clothing’ for example. And it’s not in the book but I have written before against the journalist Liz Jones, who I think does women a huge disservice with her writing.

I know that many readers of The F Word will take issue with many of the things I say in my book. And they should – discussion is how we develop and form our own ideas. Similarly I don’t agree with everything on The F Word, though I have found it very helpful in informing my own thinking and have quoted it in many places in the book. I suspect that over the coming years I will find myself speaking on a platform with many of The F Word’s contributors. And I expect that in some of these cases the organisers will have invited us so that we can have our own spat.

I very much hope that we manage to avoid this, whether we disagree or not on the issues, as feminism will only succeed when we stop the internal fighting and agree that as long as you make your own choices in life, whatever those choices are, if they are made freely then they are feminist choices.