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It's time to consign the word 'feminism' to dustbin of history


Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It is a constant source of irritation to me that women are still fighting the feminist battle. Surely feminism has run its course and the word should now be banished from the English language.

I was interested to see last week that Sweden is to distribute a copy of best-selling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's book 'We Should All Be Feminists' to every 16-year-old student in the country.

It is hoped this works as a stepping-stone for a discussion about gender equality and feminism.

The book is adapted from Adichie's renowned TED talk of the same name, and aims to offer a modern definition of feminism and outline the discrimination and oppression facing women in the past. It is really interesting and, by putting feminism into historical context, is very useful.

The book asks the question I am constantly asking. Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that? Adichie does attempt to answer this in her book, saying to declare you are a believer in human rights rather than a feminist would be dishonest. "Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general - but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender."

She says it would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.

"It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human." Adichie concludes by saying that for centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups - men and women - and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group.

"It is only fair that the solution to the problem acknowledge that."

I don't think what Adichie allows for, though, is the fact that men and women are "divided", for want of a better word, because they are different in lots of ways.

For a start, men and women are physically different. The way a woman's brain perceives information is different from how a man perceives it because women develop very differently from men. This is a scientific fact. And blame the X/Y chromosomes, but men can never be pregnant and give birth.

I have said it here before but women - and indeed men - can't have it all. We have choices to make. Some make those choices gracefully and get on with their lives. Others do so kicking and screaming and in denial. I have seen some great women friends suffer because they fought to have it all - the high flying career, the glam lifestyle whilst being super mom at the same time.

I am constantly amazed still that in this day and age we have the feminist brigade all over the world flying the well-worn feminist flag and bleating about lack of equality and opportunity.

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When will women wake up and acknowledge the huge strides that have been made - we are 20 years too late with the feminist mantra. We burned the bras (although why beats me, as we do actually need them. Men don't!)

The more we highlight the issue of feminism, the more we are setting ourselves apart from men. I have a 24-year-old daughter who I reared to believe she can do most anything that a man can do - and better - without having the feminist chip in her shoulder.

I have also taught her that its okay to make a choice and to decide she doesn't want to do something to prove that she is equal to a man.

My hero is my mother Kitty, feisty as ever at 80 years of age and with more energy than I have.

She would be appalled if she was labelled a "feminist" - even though in truth she was one of the early feminists in Ireland. Labels she would prefer to apply to herself, I imagine, would be hard-working, determined, business-minded, stoic, focused, tough.

She was one of those civil servants in the early 1960s who had to give up her job because she married. Hard to believe that nowadays. She went into business with my father in the late 1960s. When he died suddenly aged 45, leaving her pregnant with her tenth child, she had two choices. Fall to pieces or, as she says herself, "get on with things".

She got on with things, reared us all and saw the business (selling horses, very much a male domain) become a huge international success.

She taught her five daughters that with hard work, dedication, fairness and compassion anything is possible. She never told us that we couldn't achieve anything because we weren't a man.

Equally she taught us that it is okay too to be a woman and to recognize there are differences, and not to be unrealistic and to put ourselves under pressure to do it all.

It is interesting that Adichie's book is being distributed in Sweden to not just 16-year-old girls but to 16-year-old boys too. It helps put feminism in historical context. But let's park the feminism word please. And move on.