I am a feminist. Are you?

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I am a feminist.

Quite resolutely and unequivocally I am a feminist. There is no denying it, and why would I want to?

Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

Oxford Dictionaries

In 1928, all women over the age of 21 got the vote. This was a monumental and resounding success for the feminist movement but is nonetheless quite simply not enough. Women are equal to men and so should be treated equally in every regard, and I don’t think we’re there yet. For example, less than 10% of executive directors at FTSE 100 companies are women. This might stun some, but it does not shock me. Things take time to evolve and time to take hold.

In the 1640s, a group founded by John Lilburne called the “Levellers” materialised. The Levellers believed in meritocracy and the right for all men to have the vote, not just the aristocracy. We now look back on the “Levellers” as a fairly ineffectual movement, but in actuality they sparked ideas which would bubble away until the “Average Joe” got the vote.

Before 1832 the right to vote depended on three things:

  1. Gender. Only men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote.
  2. Property. In order to vote, an individual had to own property over a certain value.
  3. Location. Small rural boroughs were able to elect more MPs than much larger towns and counties

BBC Bitesize

If we trace back democracy to its roots in Ancient Athens and ask “Who was allowed to vote?”, the answer is, you guessed it, just male citizens. Women, slaves, and children were all not allowed to vote. So, when you ask “Why are women not 50:50 in the top jobs?”, I would answer that the process takes time and it is happening now at a faster rate than ever before. A parliament, of sorts, can be traced back to 1215 at the signing of the Magna Carta, made up entirely of male members. Any man, from 1430 onwards, who had property in excess of 40 shillings could vote. It took just under 500 years from this point to grant women suffrage. So, when we look at the relatively short time since 1928 and the amount of development which has occurred, it fills me with great hope and confidence for the future.

This said, though I believe there are ways to achieve female equality I’m not sure the Women and Equalities select committee have the answer. Their report into representation within the Commons shines light onto the fact that just 30% of the Commons is made up of women. I would be over the moon if we had a Commons that equally represented both genders, but is it fair to implement their suggestion of all-women shortlists? This is a system whereby in certain constituencies only women can put themselves forward as parliamentary candidates. I challenge the principle of this. If 30% of the Commons were men, would there be a big uproar? Would there be a clamouring for men-only shortlists? Or would this be seen as an attack on women?

All together I’m not sure. Men and women should have equal opportunities and if men currently happen to be the better candidates, then so be it. If in 2020 more than 50% of the Commons is women then this should only be because they are the better candidates and not because parties feel an obligation to fill a quota.

I believe the solution lies in getting more women into politics in the first place. The introduction of primaries in the UK, like those in the US, might see the number of female candidates increase. If the electorate then decided to pick 70% women candidates or 60% men this should be accepted.

There is no doubt that men and women are equal and women should have the same rights as me: everyone should be a feminist. However, selective discrimination is not the right way to go. Meritocracy is.