Saturday 17 August 2019

The curse of the 'F' word - Rosanna Davison isn't the only one rejecting the label 'feminist'

Rosanna Davison was caught up in a furious row over her stand on feminism this week. She's not the only one who doesn't embrace the label... it's become a global movement.

F-word: Rosanna Davison
F-word: Rosanna Davison

Tanya Sweeney

Rosanna Davison took to the press circuit to promote her new website last week, and one little word meant she got more publicity than she bargained for.

The former Miss World was caught up in a furious row about her stand on feminism; namely, that she didn't like to embrace the label. After a Twitter backlash gathered pace, Rosanna was forced to row back on the comments made in the Sunday Independent. When asked why she didn't support the feminism label, Rosanna was quoted as saying: "I think a lot of people think that feminism is about being anti-men… but I don't hate men. It's a pity that the word has those associations, but it does, so yeah, I'm slow to use it."

It's not the first time that Davison has mused that she is reluctant to embrace the 'F' word. In a 2012 interview, she declared: "I don't know if I would use the term feminist. I don't know if it is applicable anymore."

A storm in an 'F' cup, certainly… but when it comes to voicing reluctance at being called a feminist, Davison isn't alone. In fact, some of the world's biggest, most powerful and most influential female stars have dismissed contemporary feminism. Beyonce Knowles may sing songs about women running the world, but even she seems cowed by the term. "That word [feminist] can be very extreme," she said in an interview with Vogue, before adding: "Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything?"

Taylor Swift seemingly doesn't much see the need for feminism either, saying: "I don't really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life."

The original advocate of Girl Power, Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, has voiced her reasons for disliking the F-word. "It's about labelling. For me, feminism is bra-burning lesbianism. It's very unglamorous. I'd like to see it rebranded."

It's not just pop stars rowing in: business powerhouses are also slow to welcome the term. "I don't think that I would consider myself a feminist," says Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. "I think that I certainly believe in equal rights... but I don't (have) the militant drive and the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that." Actress and former first lady Carla Bruni has also explained her aversion to feminism: "I'm not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I'm a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day."

In civilian circles, the anti-feminism movement is gaining traction. Young, modern, professional women are taking to social media to declare feminism not just as a negative concept, but a redundant one. A Tumblr account entitled Women Against Feminism ( has seen thousands of photos posted since its inception in July 2013. "I don't need feminism," reads one. "As a Christian I follow the Bible commands that I submit to my husband in all things. Feminists would never open their minds to this, they will only just and attack me for my beliefs."

"Generally I don't like being 'tagged' and certainly would avoid 'labels' when referring to others," says Rosemary Delaney, editor of Irish magazine Women Mean Business. "I would say many women of all ages would share this view. However, that is not to say that I don't respect and acknowledge how hard women fought in past decades to pave the way for me today."

Perhaps Geri Halliwell is right: feminism in its current incarnation is in need of a branding reboot. After several waves of revolution, today's young women seem to think of feminism not only as elitist and isolating, but aggressive and man-hating.

Lucy Bellery, who runs the blog A Sex Blog Of One's Own, wrote an open letter to Big Bang Theory actress Kaley Cuoco. When Cuoco was asked by Redbook magazine if she was a feminist, she replied: "Is it bad if I say no? It's not really something I think about. Things are different now."

"Yes, it is bad if you say no," wrote Bellerby. "If you say no, it means that you don't believe men and women should be equal. It doesn't mean you have to start sporting pubic hair that grows halfway down your legs. It just means that you want women to be as safe, as happy, as well paid and respected as men are. I've never been forced into marriage, but I still care that it happens."

Bellerby has received swathes of misogynistic abuse for sticking her head above the parapet… from both men and women: "I've received really abusive comments online, to the point of receiving death threats," she reveals. "People have said, 'if you believe this, you must be really fat and ugly'.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but these voices seem to stem from a basic misunderstanding of what feminism is," she adds. "The term is so feared these days. I've heard people say, 'I'm not a feminist, but I'm an equalitist'. If you believe in equal rights, but don't like to call yourself a feminist, you're dismissing a culture outside our white, privileged one. We might not need it as much, but some do."

The uneasy truth is that when it comes to gender equality, western culture has some way to go.

The latest figures from the EU Commission show that the gender pay gap in Ireland is still significant: women in Ireland are paid 14pc less than men (an increase from 12.6pc in 2009). According to EU statistics published in October 2013, Irish women make up just 10.5pc of board members of the largest publicly listed companies in Ireland, significantly below the EU average of 18.6pc. Add to this the grim reality that only 16.3pc of TDs in Dáil Eireann are women, and suddenly the picture in relation to gender equality starts to look a little more complex.

"I believe that until we have a more balanced approach to business - and by that, I mean gender balance - we do need to continue the fight," says Delaney. "We are far too under-represented (in the workplace). In Ireland, we account for almost half the working population. In Europe, women represent over 60pc of all EU graduates, and yet, we see less women in decision-making positions. Men have and continue to play a pivotal role in the progression of women. So yes, an acknowledgement that there is inequality and a drive to bridge injustices like the pay gap and the talent gap is very much needed."

"A lot of this is fear of the unknown and fear of change," surmises Bellrby. "Some people think that feminism is a threat to a traditional way of life, but what they don't understand is that feminism is all about having the right to choose. A real feminist will never tell another woman she shouldn't be a stay-at-home mum, but the point is that women have the right to choose these things and feel free to live the way they want to."

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