Feminism: just too many girlie vowels?

by isabelrogers

I’m about to come over all hysterical. Or – controversially – put forward a reasoned argument with my smaller brain mass and consequently inferior synapses. I’ll try to concentrate until I get to the end without fainting or having to loosen my corsets.


It’s 2013. Women can vote. We have education. Sometimes we speak. For some, feminism has done its job and we are all post-feminist. It’s all good, yes? Here are some flowers in my garden.

Except that it isn’t. Even the word ‘feminism’ has some people curling their lips as if merely saying the word means instant hairy armpits. It’s all those ‘i’s and ‘e’s. I blame the daintily pronounced ‘pink’. Not manly enough, like the ‘o’ in ‘bloke’ and the hearty ‘a’ in ‘man’. Who’d have thought vowels are gendered?

This week I’ve read three depressingly similar articles:

  • The new Doctor cannot possibly be female. This is the alien who completely rewrites an entire body’s DNA every regeneration, yet spookily produces white skin and XY chromosomes every time. Two hearts, apparently. That’s ok and perfectly normal.
  • MP Anna Soubry called female GPs who worked part-time after having children ‘a tremendous burden’. Training two ladies when one man would do is such a terrible waste.
  • Just today Judith Woods wrote a nasty, misogynistic piece in The Telegraph slamming Kate Winslet for having three babies by three different husbands.

I don’t know if it makes it worse that two of those are women talking about other women. We don’t need men to do it: we can do it ourselves! Huzzah. Full circle, right there. I’ll draw you a diagram with my crinoline.

I’m reminded of Dylan Thomas’ character Polly Garter in Under Milk Wood (1953). Polly is a single mum of many children:

Me, Polly Garter, under the washing line, giving the breast in the garden to my bonny new baby. Nothing grows in our garden, only washing. And babies. And where’s their fathers live, my love? Over the hills and far away.

And later, Captain Cat talks to her:

Hullo, Polly my love, can you hear the dumb goose-hiss of the wives as they huddle and peck or flounce at a waddle away? Who cuddled you when? Which of their gandering hubbies moaned in Milk Wood for your naughty mothering arms and body like a wardrobe, love?

Thomas makes the point that it was the ‘gandering hubbies’ who were just as responsible for making the babies. Polly didn’t cheat on anyone.

‘Twas ever thus.

It feels like the right time for a good old poke of fun at silly attitudes. Jessica Hynes has written a marvellous sitcom to do just that: Up The Women’s first episode last week made me nod conspiratorial nods all the way through as her character negotiates Edwardian society. She must feign ignorance of all things practical and scientific in order to allow gentlemen to explain, as they feel they should.

The worrying thing about watching it in 2013 is that we realise not enough has changed. That really isn’t funny.

  • When parental leave is truly shared, it will cost the same to employ either gender. It would be a thought-crime to wonder about any employee’s fecundity. We share the fun bit of breeding. We can share the nappies and school runs. Get over it.
  • When male contestants on The Apprentice are slathered in foundation, squeezed into constricting clothes and made to teeter on four-inch heels, then that competition will be on a level playing field. It will have to be, because it’s bloody difficult to walk in heels that high.
  • When book covers are gender-neutral and men’s eyes don’t slide off the pinks towards bold monochrome silhouettes, we can agree that words are just words. We all use them. Or is that away into the fantasy genre?