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Well, the reality is somewhat different



Happy International Women's Day! What is it? Why does it exist? I have no idea and I am too busy multitasking to find out. But in the spirit of the positive sisterhood it suggests, here is some good news: equality lives; feminism is dead. Finally, women can pipe down.

The bearer of this happy message is Lily Allen, who declared this week that she hated the word feminism. "Because it shouldn't even be a thing anymore," she said. "We're all equal. Everyone is equal. Why is there even a conversation about feminism? What's the man version of feminism? There isn't even a word for it. Menanism. Male-ism. It doesn't exist."

This looks more provocative than it is. I think it is Allen's mangled way of saying that there is no need to keep harping on about feminism when it is obvious that men and women are equal and should be treated as such.

That is a fine sentiment, if Pollyanna-ish. The problem is that in theory everyone is equal, but the reality is somewhat different. One of the boons of being an international pop star is that one does not bump one's head on the glass ceiling too often; it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

While many of them live in a rarefied world where things like childcare provision and unequal pay do not come up, female pop stars do like to talk about feminism. It is at least partly because they are asked about it constantly, possibly tediously, in a way that their male counterparts are not. Does Alex Turner have strong views on discrimination in the workplace?

What does Harry Styles make of the gender pay gap? It doesn't come up, oddly.

The result is a regular drip-drip of woolly comments — some brainless, some misguided, some downright damaging — from Beyoncé's assertion "I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like 'Bootylicious'", to Lady Gaga's "I'm not a feminist. I love men."

In the light of pearls like this, one might sympathise with Allen's desire to close down the conversation.
That is not a solution, though. Feminism is, and should be, a broad church — it is just another word for equality — but there are better and worse arenas for the debate.

The weight on women in the public eye to represent their gender is crushing to the point of being self-defeating.

Why should the token female panellist on a comedy quiz show carry the can for an entire gender's sense of humour? Why should a pop star "come out" as a feminist?

Allen made her comments in a men's magazine she has guest-edited on the theme "How to be a man", which is troubling in itself.

She edited the magazine because she is releasing a new album, which she has named Sheezus, creating her image, Eve-like, out of Yeezus, the last album by male rap phenomenon Kanye West.

Given the context, it is probably unfair to expect too much in the way of nuanced gender politics.

Still, two rules suggest themselves. If you are a woman in the public eye and you don't have anything nice to say about feminism, think about not saying anything at all.

And if you are a reader faced with another set of provocative comments, check whether the person saying them has a record to sell, add a pinch of salt and move on to a more reliable role model.

The Independent


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