current affairs

The debate on feminism: a writers’ suicide note

Writing an article about feminism is playing Russian roulette—except all the barrels are loaded. Whatever you write, however you say it and no matter the strength of your argument, there

Writing an article about feminism is playing Russian roulette—except all the barrels are loaded. Whatever you write, however you say it and no matter the strength of your argument, there will always be a swarming mob to meticulously rip your viewpoint to shreds letter by letter.

It isn’t even as simple as “forgetting” to choose the most socially acceptable viewpoint. Conclude that feminists are asking for more than equality, quotas are wrong or even that their argument, in this case, is just plain silly and you will immediately be struck down by a tirade of comments ceaseless enough to scare you off the internet for good.


Decide on the other hand that the feminists have a valid point on the issue and you face the wrath of the “equality-means-no-special-treatment-whatsoever” brigade, who, trust me, can do an equally good job at sending you scuttling back to cyber obscurity.

Of course this isn’t to say that a debate on feminism is a bad thing. On the contrary, being confronted by views that challenge us is a key part of freedom of expression. It allows us to become better, more informed citizens and emphasise with other viewpoints. It is also the best way of challenging opinions we feel are wrong or discriminatory, even if it means reassessing our own values in the process.

Passionate slanging matches

However feminist issues in developed countries have now become something of a trigger for passionate slanging matches online, with little or no common consensus and agreement rare. Whether the issue is women in boardrooms or gender balancing at the NUS, it seems there is no easy answer to the “equality issue” and little room for compromise on either side, particularly when the issue comes down to the representation of women within any given body.

The debate was reignited again within the past week, as the Bank of England revealed that for the foreseeable future there will be no women on our banknotes, aside from the obvious exception of the Queen. The reaction has been furious. Forty-six MPs wrote to the Bank to ask them to reconsider their decision alongside several other organisations.

Dawn Bonfield of the Women’s Engineering Society told the BBC the message the Bank of England is sending out is not only wrong but crucially important. “Why do we have the same white man as usual?” Bonfield said. “Do we want to tell the same stories all the time? We need something that you see every day. It’s there without you even noticing – so it’s an underlying reinforcement.”

Banknote portfolio

Yet, as we wave goodbye to Elizabeth Fry and welcome Winston Churchill, the Bank of England insist that their criteria is both clear and fair. Candidates must have made a lasting contribution to society, have a widely recognised name, not be controversial and there must be good artwork available. Providing the selection of such figures it done based on such criteria, regardless of their gender, it shouldn’t matter whether we have four women in our banknote portfolio or none.

Of course, as several historians have pointed out, these criterions have not always been followed to the letter. Do we really have any idea what William Shakespeare looked like? Did anyone really know who Elizabeth Fry was until she appeared on the back of our fivers? Does anyone really know who she is now? But this alone does nothing but prove the selection process is biased against females.

Biased against females

In a truly equal society we shouldn’t be including women on our banknotes, in boardrooms or anywhere else for that matter because they’re women—we should be including them because they’re there on merit. Enforcing quotas of women in any area is degrading—whatever I achieve in life should be because I am deserving of it, not just because of what is not between my legs.

Of course that’s not to say sexism isn’t still alive and kicking, but mandatory gender balancing is not the answer. It is a whitewash that masks a real problem. Education, however, is part of the solution, but we can’t expect social change to happen overnight. Neither should we continue to quantify our success in numbers. It bears no reflection to anything in a truly equal society.

If we take anything at all from our obsessive debates over feminism it should instead be a dialogue of how we can evoke lasting social change.

Now come at me and prove that I’m wrong.

What do you think? Should more women be on banknotes? What is the role of women today? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.