Talks, Readings and Discussions

Does Feminism Need Start Over Again? Prospect Debate

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Posted on 10th March 2011

Bath Literature Festival with speakers Finn Mackay, Kate Mosse, Mary Fitzgerald and Daisy Goodwin.

The Guildhall, Bath.

5th March 2011.


Almost a year ago, I found myself half-watching Geri Halliwell on Piers Morgan's Life Stories where Morgan predictably leads a spruced up Halliwell into an indulgent stupor. Morgan asks her about feminism; my ears prick up. "I think its an ugly word...I think it's all levelled out, hasn’t it?” The myth of why the definition of feminism can be interpreted as ugly, the confusion about equality; levelling out a playing field where women equal men or creating a space where both can peacefully co-exist together or separate and be accepting of each other, and the alarming permission seeking that, illustrated by Halliwell here, still appears to be going on, is exactly what has brought this debate 'Does feminism have to start over' to the Bath Literature Festival.

Author Kate Mosse leads a discussion with founder of the London Feminist Network - Finn Mackay, journalist - Mary Fitzgerald and author and television producer - Daisy Goodwin. After a quick introduction from Mosse, and a majority show of hands from the audience in agreement that this is a worthy discussion in 2011, definitions of feminism begin.

Daisy Goodwin mentions the ubiquity of porn and how it objectifies women, the male expectancy of body hair, or rather lack of expectancy, and asks the question; 'is it gender difference or a difference of socio-economic class?’ Mary Fitzgerald agrees with Goodwin about economics and says for her it is about men and women having equal rights to pay, building on what has already been achieved by feminists and the Women’s Liberation Movement but challenges the exclusion of men in women only marches as 'not fair'. Finn Mackay passionately supports feminism as a political stance. She states; "Feminism is a global political movement to challenge and change women's subordination to men". She pin-points with sharp perspective that feminism remains of utmost importance today than ever before with a number of acutely researched examples including the 'feminisation of poverty' under male dominant governments in all countries including our own, the rather heart-sinking fact that there are more lap dancing clubs than rape crisis centres in the UK, which is only going to get worse with the current government, that alarmingly two women per week are murdered by a violent male partner in the UK. The hard facts hit home and move the audience to, in my case tears and, rapturous applause.

With Mackay’s words resounding the discussion becomes what it should be: a serious political debate.  The speakers go through a variety of points and perspectives: employment, equal pay, childcare, visibility in the arts, male role, political stereotypes, quotas, comparisons of examples of other countries like Liberia where women fought for the war to end and won etc.  Slowly the realisation of how entrenched we actually are by cultural history, which Mackay says is ‘something that is made therefore it can be unmade, ’ sinks in and in turn the debate gains more importance by the second.  Referencing Kate Millet’s essay on Sexual Politics, an important turning point in feminist theory which examines patriarchy and a society which is complacent and accepts the ‘in-place male establishment’, Mackay makes an important distinction between what is accepted for a male role; competition and aggression is associated success for a male but when those characteristics are attributed to women they are seen as the opposite. She goes on to make clear that feminism’s vision of power is ‘not to have power over someone but something that is shared’ and says that feminism is for men as well as women.

Questions from the audience come pouring in, one of which is a question about whether feminism needs to change its name because of the ugliness and confusion attached to the term, perhaps to ‘equalitism’? In other words does feminism need to start over again? Finn Mackay solidly answers ‘it’s not that we need to rename it, we need to reclaim it’. So the definition is important, the language in which feminism is talked about is crucial; it doesn’t mean ‘man-hater’ or sexism for girls, its more than a coffee table magazine subject or an after thought of a busy day but is ‘a global political movement to challenge and change women's subordination to men’.


Miss Gardiner.

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