I was born in the early 1960s, and spent my early life understanding that men traditionally had all the rights, all the power, all the say, and that women were considered to be second-class citizens, less important than, altogether less than their fellow men. The law, through inherently privileging men’s rights over women’s, implicitly indicated as much, therefore I knew it must be true. And as in those days, laws were pretty much made by men, for men, it was still relatively easy to maintain the status quo. It was a very different world from today, the last bastion of a thoroughly patriarchal hierarchical world that I was born into half a century ago.
Feminism tends to get a bad press these days from the younger generation, has been reduced in our 21st Century minds to little more than petty squabbles and smart-ass silliness over the etiquette of who opens doors for whom, who asks who out, who pays for the resulting dinner, and other such trivial inconsequentialities. But for me, feminism across the whole of the 20th Century from Women’s Suffrage to Women’s Liberation was always about women fighting against the unfair gender biases inherent in the male dominated establishment for the right to be considered legally equal to men in all things.
To have the right to vote, the right to maintain our own legal identity in marriage and not simply be subsumed under our husband’s patronage, the right to apply for divorce on the same grounds as men, the right to be granted custody of our children after divorce, the right to have access to the same educational and career opportunities as men, the right to be paid equally for doing the same work, the right to choose not to be restricted by our own biology. Everyday hard-won rights that today’s younger generations in western culture, both men and women, simply take for granted in their lifetime because they have never known anything different.
So it becomes all too easy these days to bicker about and belittle the real benefits of feminism, to pronounce the need for men’s rights, to deliberately court controversy. There is no need for anyone to behave rudely – after all, letting doors slam in anyone’s face, regardless of gender, is sheer bad manners whoever and wherever you are. And when it comes to continuing the old traditional wedding ceremony where the veiled, virginal bride is ‘given away’ by her father, and ‘handed over’ to her new husband – well, why not? Everyone knows it is nowadays an entirely symbolic gesture, no longer a business transaction between two men, an exchange of goods from one head of a household to another.
But the fact remains that during the last century feminists here in the UK fought hard for every woman’s right simply to make her own choices in life, in the same way as most men expect to be able to do straight out of the box, no more, no less. In so many ways we have legally achieved that goal, and that, to my liberated mind, is something to be celebrated, not to be casually dismissed…