Thursday, 31 January 2013
I have to write of 'my feminism' because there seems to be a confusion about what feminism is since the wonderful Jill Tweedie died.
Tweedie was a writer of clear thought, wit and humanity, whose column in the Guardian was entitled, "Letters from a Faint-Hearted Feminist". I used to read her stimulating columns in the 1970s and 80s and feel that she was speaking for all women.
Sally Belfrage wrote, in Jill Tweedie's obituary in The Independent on 13th November 1993 :
"Finely tuned to the most urgent needs of others, she saw everything with dignity and grace, integrity and sense so that we felt good about ourselves, though not in a phony way. Her feminism, which sprang from the heart of one who loved men, made another kind of sense from the 'wimmin' caricatured by Private Eye and others."
In a tribute the following day, Linda Christmas wrote :
"She reflected the excitement, energy, and optimism of liberal feminists who were prepared to argue their cases with wit and humour ........ not for her the stridency of the radical feminists who were to split the sisterhood and set back the cause."
Liz Forgan, writing in the Guardian in 2000, on the reprinting of Tweedie's book, "The Name of Love", wrote that in her Guardian column Jill Tweedie made :
"a bridge between the revolutionary battlefields of the 70s and the next generation who rightly took their freedom for granted and saw no reason whatsoever to agonize about boiler suits or PhDs."
Today the agonizing would probably not be about boiler suits but about the "pinkification" of life for little girls, as against the real issue of tuition fees. There are articles of various degrees of seriousness about "What do women want?" To quote Jill Tweedie herself, what woman want above all is:
"to become real, to discard the mannered feminine mask and to reveal the human being beneath, a person who is neither The Virgin Mary to be put on a pedastal, nor Lillith to be obsessively desired, nor a Martha to wait at table; but simply a person sufficient to herself, with her own talents and inadequacies, her own idiosyncrasies, good, bad or indifferent."
Oh! Dear Jill, I wish it were so. That is my kind of feminism. But while millions of women throughout the world are subject to oppression by cultural or religious leaders, or by their own families; while young girls are denied education; while women are exploited or taken into slavery by people who trick them with tales of a better life; while any woman is whipped, stoned, mutilated or executed; I feel that I cannot depend on my kind of feminism any more.
I felt shamed by the schoolgirl who was shot in the face for campaigning for the right for girls to go to school. Shamed by her courage and by the fact that in my education I never had to face such discrimination against women and girls.
Discrimination does still exist in our country, though not as blatantly. It is mainly women who work for the minimum wage; and it is women who are under-represented at the highest levels in every aspect of political and business life. It is usually women who take on the caring tasks for the elderly and infirm in families, even when they have to fit it in with a job. I know that there are honourable male exceptions, but it is still the case that "carers" are mainly women.
So I have had to revitalise my feminism. I feel that until all women and girls are able to be, "a person sufficient to herself", feminism should not rest. Forget debates about the colour pink and heel height and skirt length and ladettes; for some people being a woman is a matter of life or death.
Feminism needs to look at itself and to feel shame. Shame for the splits, for the nit-picking and for forgetting the sisterhood.
And after the shame comes the work. Let us write letters of support, let us encourage talented young women without envy, let us join in protest at inequalities and injustices. Let us give what we can, to wherever women are in need. Let us be brave, generous and unyielding in the face of oppression, together.
Please let me know what you think. And if you find yourself in the National Portrait Gallery, look for the photograph of Jill Tweedie with Mary Stott, Polly Toynbee, Posy Simmonds and Liz Forgan; wonderful women all.