Why feminism isn’t a dirty word, but it is a stupid question

I saw a Telegraph article today, about Ella Henderson (no I’d not heard of her either) and her PR, who was given the moniker “Rude Bloke” in the article due to his gruff refusal to “let her” answer the question “Are you a feminist?” in an interview.

The journalist decides to use this to argue about whether or not “Feminist” is a label to be avoided by “popstars”, and frame this as a PR person doing the opposite of their job and making someone look stupid.

I think this kind of misses the point.

What is the point of asking “Are you a feminist?” Is there a “right” answer to this question?

Lets pretend, for a second, that she said “Yes! I am a feminist!” What does this say? Does it say “I agree with Julie Bindel and other vocal feminists – men are mean, and I am a Victim by virtue of Birth and Society and Patriarchy and it’s Not Fair. While I’m at it, trans women aren’t really women, they’re blokes in skirts, and if you dare criticise me I’ll strop and bring out my army of straw women to belittle whatever argument you have.”

That would most likely not be what she meant, but someone would be able to read it like that – hence the PR panic.

Now lets pretend she said “No, I don’t call myself a feminist.”

What does she mean now? Does she mean “I don’t believe in equality, I shouldn’t be allowed to do everything men can do, and what’s more, I wouldn’t want to!”

Well, probably not. But that is absolutely what would be interpreted. Again, hence the PR’s reluctance to give an answer.

I’m not going to say anything about the ways and means one could get their point across about not wanting to answer a question without inviting a “Rude Bloke” label. I’m not going to comment on whether it’s a question which should have been predicted and a nice middle ground answer constructed.

I think you can believe in equality of PEOPLE regardless of their gender (or class or race or IQ or geographical location or accent or skin colour or dress sense or occupation or health or whatever) and not call yourself a feminist. I also think you can call yourself a feminist and show limited understanding of or interest in equality or justice.

It’s a meaningless distinction, highlighted by anyone tempted to respond to my reductio ad absurdum argument above with “oh but it’s a broad church”.

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