Aisha Iqbal: Feminism is my favourite ‘f’ word

Jack Knight cartoon re 100th anniversary of women getting the Parliamentary vote.
Jack Knight cartoon re 100th anniversary of women getting the Parliamentary vote.
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As ‘F’ words go, feminism is one of my favourites. But, when did it become a dirty word?

It’s a question I have asked myself a few times over the last few days, as the country has marked 100 years since some women were granted the vote. I have serious issues with that word ‘granted’ as well - but let’s save that one for another day.

While we rightfully celebrate the great strides we have made towards equality over the last century, something keeps pulling me back again and again.

Because when all the celebrations are done, and the headline friendly milestone has passed as milestones do, we will - I fear - return to our daily lives and the current woefully regressive status quo.

I am definitely a feminist. But that doesn’t make me a bra burning zealot, it makes me a normal, decent, right thinking human being. At least I hope it does.

But the everyday use of the word ‘feminist’ is accompanied - more often than not nowadays, it seems - with a sneer. It has been hijacked by a particularly insidious type of misogyny posing as something else. A sexist wolf in anti-chauvinist sheep’s clothing.

It’s time for all decent folk - of whatever gender or none - to reclaim the word and its core principles.

That’s exactly what I will be hoping and helping to do at Leeds Civic Hall today (Friday), where I will be joining with hundreds of other ladies to mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act was enshrined in law.

But alongside the celebrations there will be some reflections on how far we have actually come and what more needs to be done, both at regional and national level.

I shall be proud to sit side by side with a host of women doing wonderful work across our great city.

Sisterhood and solidarity, that’s what it’s about today.

But there are myriad reasons why we aren’t quite there yet: the gender pay gap; period poverty; little girls wearing hijabs/high heels/make-up (and people arguing wether they should or shouldn’t); little girls growing up wanting to be Katie Price or Kim Kardashian rather than Marie Curie, to have their own reality show rather than their own business; sexual harassment and the #MeToo campaign; the pro-life/pro-choice debate. And so it goes on and on.

So let’s not pat ourselves on the back too hard, there is a long way to go.

At today’s event, topics on the agenda include safety; employment; violence against women; mental health services for women; poverty and voice/influence.

Why is it that 100 years since the start proper of our emancipation journey, we are still trying to find solutions to the same problems?

I know we have come a long way in this country. Across the world, women living under brutal chauvinistic regimes can only dream of some of the freedoms we enjoy in the UK. But even at home, recent events point to as many failures as successes in the wider gender equality fight.

I do sometimes wonder if we have we lost the plot and in fact started to regress into a patriarchal parody of ourselves. Emmeline Pankhurst would probably be turning in her grave at some of what goes on.

Feminism, for me, is not a political movement but an ideal that embodies the best of womanhood: grace, eloquence, perseverance, idealism, passion, sisterhood and motherhood in its most complete, universal sense.

What is often lost in the cacophany is that some of the earliest champions of feminism have been men. As far back as 1748, the English classical liberal philosopher Jeremy Bentham spoke for complete equality between the sexes including the rights to vote and to participate in government. Even further back, the Prophet Muhammad married a businesswoman 15 years his senior and together they built the foundations of the one of the world’s most influential religious and political movements.

The fight for gender equality does not have to be about men VERSUS women, it should be about women working alongside men for a better, fairer society.

And yet, in the 21st century, we seem to be going ever backwards.

True equality, for me, is not really about abandoning our femininity or our biology. It’s about genuine enlightened thinking, and having faith in ourselves and each other.

Feminism is not a dirty word. It’s the best of us - and in us - all.

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