Andrew is a lawyer based in Chelmsford. He is Deputy Chairman of the Saffron Walden Constituency Conservative Association.
Feminism has been hijacked. What started as one of the noblest causes has descended into farcical man-hate. It will be difficult to wrestle back control of the feminist agenda, but Conservatives owe it to future generations of women to try.
Feminism, properly understood, is undeniably a force for good. Women’s rights have moved on massively since the Representation of the People Act gave the vote to 8.4 million women in 1918. In the same way that trade unions have helped improve the lot of workers, feminism has facilitated huge strides in women’s rights through public discourse and effective protest.
The vast majority of women do not identify as feminists. Yet feminism is being discussed more than ever, with the Merriam-Webster Dictionary selecting feminism as its word of 2017. The Trump Presidency and the Me Too movement have undoubtedly had an impact, and this spotlight of publicity provides opportunities to push further for gender equality.
But here lies the rub. Young women coming to feminism for the first time are increasingly disillusioned by the extremist fringe now in charge. Where the focus was once on female empowerment, it is now squarely focused on cutting men down to size. Much like the eight-year-old who screams and shouts for not being treated like an adult, the hardliners are making feminism a laughing stock. Few women find this zero-sum game appealing.
The universities are partly to blame. Campus ‘safe spaces’ have allowed deranged conspiracy theories such as “toxic masculinity” and “patriarchal oppression to fester”. It is no longer about changing the system to bring about equality; it is about taking revenge against mankind for historic wrongs. Perhaps #manmustfall will be upon us sooner than we think.
All this was brought home to me at a recent event I attended at the former Mermaid Theatre in Blackfriars. The debate centred on whether quotas are the only solution to tackling women’s inequality. Arguing for the motion was someone from the Women’s Equality Party alongside a lawyer who made headlines a few years ago for rebuking a male solicitor because he complimented her LinkedIn photo. The scoundrel!
The lawyer opened with the salvo “I am an angry feminist”. Angry they certainly were. Their flimsy arguments for quotas at company board level were predicated on the idea that women cannot make it alone and must be given what is rightfully theirs, a sort of Mugabe-style approach to corporate governance. Their lack of belief in women staggered me.
Quotas do not work. Worse than that, organisations that implement them often fail to look deeper. Instead of asking how the working environment and structures can better encourage women, they say “we’ve done our bit” and move on. Moreover, women in jobs arising from quotas start on the back foot. There are invariably doubts about their ability. They are looked down on. Ann Widdecombe made this point brilliantly when arguing against All Women Shortlists for MPs in 2008. The former Maidstone MP noted that the Suffragettes wanted equal opportunities, not special privileges.
There is certainly work to be done. Sexual harassment and domestic violence remain significant issues facing too many women. In the world of business and politics, barriers undoubtedly remain. But the answer is not quotas. Nor is it to attack masculinity and place all ills at the feet of men. The new brand of hostile feminism is inherently negative about the prospects of women. Now more than ever, women should turn their backs on the socialist-inspired matriarchs and have confidence in their own ability to succeed.