Opinion: Why is Feminism still a contentious issue?

Catherine McNaughton - New Writer

Image credits: Peter Kelly
Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes

Why is this such a difficult concept for many to grasp?

Since the movement came to prominence in the 1970s, it has not always been popular. Criticism, although, was not only from men. Equal pay, opportunity and respect are not outlandish ideas, nor even innovative but we are still living in a patriarchy. You could look at our own establishment and see we are still governed by the White Male Etonian elite. Our only ever female British Prime Minister was the epitome of polarising opinions. I fundamentally disagree with Thatcher’s economic and social policies and the destruction of mining communities will always remain a blight on our history. Yet, I must question whether some criticism originated from her sex. Over the course of his time in Government, Cameron has similarly reduced the rights of the Trade Unions and the right to strike. But, he is perceived on the whole as a moderate – by his own admission. Yet, it is also important to remember that Thatcher was the longest running Prime Minister since 1918 and, despite this achievement, did little to advocate the rights of women in Government. Whereas Cameron to a certain extent has. This does not take away the inherent and bias attitudes of the elite.

Peter Hitchens, journalist and author, spoke on the subject at the University of York in October 2015. When addressing the University, including many female students, he made a clear distinction between the sexes. Women will bear children, men will not. The idea that Women are unlikely to be as successful as men because they may or may not start a family is appalling. This is a typical view, and one displayed more often in the UK with the rise of more right wing politics in the form of UKIP. Why is it understandable, even commendable, for men to have a career and a family? Yet, women should have to choose between one or the other. Hitchens should remember that it is around 34% of female 18 years olds go to University in comparison to 26% of men (as of December 2014). Yet, if this is the case, it is important to ask why men secure more of the higher positions in society.

The lack of opportunities for Women is particularly prevalent in politics. In more recent years there has been a drive to appear more inclusive of women and all minorities in government. It has not dented the white male elite. An important case study is in both Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet.

In both Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron’s cabinets, men are in the “top positions” such as, the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor in the form of George Osbourne and John McDonnell. Corbyn is, however, notable for having such a large proportion of women. With 16 female MPs in comparison to Cameron’s seven, Labour is far more representative than the Tories. Corbyn’s inclusion of over double the amount of women in our actual Cabinet shows the importance of his election as Labour leader. Whilst this is not the point of this article it is interesting to compare both major parties. The Conservatives live up to their definition in the fact that, men are still the dominant force. Some even view the “top positions” as a male construct. This is seen with emphasis on the economy rather than the Arts. But, unlike Labour, the Conservative Cabinet does include a woman in a “top position” – Theresa May as Home Secretary. This does highlights that slow strides are being in made in Government.

It is evident that the system is outdated and with gender, race and even political parties, parliament is under-represented. Women constitute for 29% of MPs following on from the 2015 General Election. This is in actual fact a record high. As the House of Commons library stresses, this is “Parliament has changed since 1918, when women first became eligible to be elected as MPs”. But, is it showing progress to have only increased women’s representation by less than 30% in a century? Without looking at any statistics, it would be sensible estimate that women constitute for around 50% of our population. In which case why is it not represented in Parliament? The problem lies in the pool of recruitment and thus, highlights the lack of opportunity for many women.

The solution, as with many social problems in the world, lies in education. With more women than men attending universities this would appear to be easy. But, it must start earlier than that. Children should embrace equality from their earliest moments. This would need an overhaul in society’s longstanding view of the world, so inevitably will not happen any time soon.

Is the feminist perspective so radical? Should we not endeavour to have an equal society? Would it not benefit all discriminated groups in the UK?

One could argue that the word “feminism” in itself creates a divide between men and women – instead we should call it “equality.” This is a convincing sentiment and one that many choose to uphold. Yet, I don’t think it acknowledges the oppression many have faced. Feminism is the idea of equality from the perspective that women are not equal to men. To ignore this, is to ignore reality. So, Feminism remains such a contentious issue because it is an unresolved one.

About Catherine McNaughton 6 Articles
Catherine McNaughton is currently a History undergraduate student at the University of York. She enjoys writing about global affairs and the under-represented views in politics. She is also interested in the history of America, particularly in terms of development of diversity. Follow Catherine on Twitter @__CatherineMac