Charlotte Vere is not a feminist, thank you very much. The former Conservative candidate and mother-of-two last shaved her armpits “this morning” and she’s definitely wearing a bra.
Huffington Post, 1972 2012
As I write this, not only I am wearing a bra - a Debenhams “age-defying” uplift one, no less – but I am sporting a recently shaved area far more intimate than the mere underarm. Does this make me more of non-feminist than Charlotte Vere? Or is it not just what you do but what you don’t do?
Here are some things which I suspect Charlotte Vere, founder of the Woman On think-tank – which “campaigns for women, but not at the expense of men” – does not do: wear dungarees, shave her head, live in a commune, eat lentils for breakfast, act as muse for the Millie Tant strip in Viz. In addition, I’ve a feeling she also avoids the following: having principles, showing compassion, thinking “hard” thoughts.
Vere is a bit – well, a lot – of an idiot. According to the bizarre Huffington Post write-up, Woman On was “designed to highlight what the fairer sex think about issues from food prices to defence spending – and plenty in between”. Indeed, “the fairer sex” – what do they want? All sounds rather patronising, doesn’t it? But don’t worry – as Vere assures us, when considering what might make women’s lives easier, “it’s not going to be about lipstick or make up, it’s not as simple as that” (no, of course not. You need to add cupcakes and shoes to the mix. Although actually, doesn’t lipstick count as make up anyhow? That would be one less item to worry about).
Vere wants “to make it OK to talk about women”:
Because I find so often, in most places it’s not normal. If I go to a party and I say to people ‘I’m setting up a think tank about women,’ I can’t tell you how many people sort-of roll their eyes and expect me to become some Harriet Harman figure. They automatically assume that I’m going to start talking about very radical things. And I’m not, I just want it to be normal to talk about half the population, which any normal person does.
In her focus on “normal” people – or rather “normal” women – she’s not unlike Neil Wallis with his female Sun-reader and her mundane, utterly non-feminist concerns. Except there is one point of disagreement; while Wallis berates feminists for apparently not caring enough about female genital mutilation, Vere is keen to take a step back from such matters:
I think you can start getting into ever-more minority debates the second you start talking about women. It’s not long before people start talking to you about female genital mutilation. I just want to bring the discussion back to mainstream ideas.
Oh. So which is it, anti-feminists? Are we meant to be bothered about FGM or not? Since you can’t make up your minds, I’ll give you a hint: it is perfectly possible to campaign against the abuse of others while worrying about paying for the weekly Asda shop. Indeed, you can even have a ponder about DV or sexual assault while browsing the frozen veg aisle. The notion that our brains can only cope with mainstream – or rather, self-centred – thinking is ridiculous (or perhaps it isn’t if your brain can’t cope with too many pesky thoughts at once).
Vere doesn’t like the word “feminist”: “there’s a new word for feminists, I just don’t know what it is yet”. Here’s a suggestion: anti-feminists, since if the reason you’re not a feminist is because it’s too “radical” – or rather, too feminist – such a word would seem appropriate. Of course, Vere might want to run this past Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom, who earlier this year were claiming in the Guardian that “Conservatives make better feminists”:
At a recent debate on female genital mutilation led by our Conservative colleague Jane Ellison MP, we achieved a significant breakthrough when the minister agreed to implement health passports for “at risk” children travelling abroad. Not a single Labour MP attended.
Well, that’s just extra-confusing. So now Labour MPs are less interested in FGM – and hence more in touch with “the normal person”, as defined by Vere – than Conservative ones. How does this all work?
The answer is, it doesn’t. The lines that Vere, Wallis, Rudd and Leadsom try to sell have nothing to do with what is or isn’t “real” feminism or what is or isn’t a “real” woman. All of these people set up straw-man arguments and skirt around them, vying for votes and approval. They tells us nothing about what feminists are and do, and nothing about what can be achieved for all women (not just those who have, for the purposes of one particular article, been deemed “normal”).
We’ve reached a point at which whether or not one cares about the mutilation of another person’s sexual organs has become simply a debating tool – a smug means of identifying what sort of a person your opponent is and how best to mock him or her – and yet we can’t even get consistency on that. What a messed-up, callous, misguided gaggle of people these anti-feminists are. I only wish they were a bit less real.